We’re all pretty clear on protein being a necessary nutrient for muscle growth. The protein supplement industry is massive and if you walk into any commercial gym you are guaranteed to see someone swigging from a shaker between sets.
But what is the protein actually doing when we ingest it? How are we supposed to know which the best supplement for us is and is a supplement even necessary?
Let’s get the science bit out of the way first!
Protein is 1 of the 3 macronutrients that we require for energy, the other two being carbs and fats. Unlike carbs and fats our body doesn’t store protein meaning we need a consistent supply of it to live. It’s commonly associated with repairing and building muscles but it also has a LOT of other important functions in the body such as immune response, hormone and enzyme production, fluid control, vision and cell repair.
A protein molecule is similar to fats and lipids all being made up from carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. The major difference is that proteins also contain nitrogen. The differing combinations of these elements in each protein determines the amino acid it will be broken down into by our bodies. Our bodies can produce 11 of the 20 amino acids and the other 9 need to come from the food we eat. These are called essential amino acids. The completion of all the required amino acids results in protein synthesis and our bodies can use it for it’s required functions…PHEW!!
Still with me?
So do we NEED supplements?
The short answer is NO we don’t!
The 9 essential amino acids we need from food can easily be found from a regular healthy diet which is rich in lean meats, fish, beef, vegetables, nuts, eggs, dairy etc etc. Animal products are generally richer protein and more frequently contain all the essential amino acids we need. A plant based diet can still yield all the essential proteins but will need differing plant sources and generally more of it. The only plant based food that contains all 9 essential proteins are soy beans.
The problem is, we’re all so damn busy these days. The reality is taking a shaker with protein powder ready to mix is easy and convenient! It’s time saving and easier than carrying around a breast of chicken in a Tupperware all day.
The industry is crammed with differing types nowadays and it’s not always easy to determine which is best for you.
Let’s break down the most popular one:
Whey is easily the most popular on the market but even that is broken down into differing types! ARGHH!
Whey is simply a liquid bi product that comes from making cheese. Once you remove the water and casein you’re left with whey protein concentrate. Decent whey protein concentrates today are usually between 70-80% pure protein and also include lactose, sugar, carbs and fats but in a small quantity. Today’s modern processing methods make whey concentrate a perfectly good choice of protein and it won’t break the bank.
Whey Isolate is essentially a much purer form of whey achieved using a different processing method, normally an alcohol or water wash. It’s usually up at around 90-95% pure protein and would be beneficial for anyone who suffers from lactose intolerance. Because of the processing methods it’s more expensive than whey concentrate but still affordable.
Hydrolyzed protein is expensive to produce and there expensive to buy. It’s produced for enhanced absorption which may benefit elite athletes and probably isn’t necessary for your average gym goer. To produce hydrolyzed protein water is added to protein polymers and broken down to form peptide groups. Each peptide group will typically have 3-5 amino acids in them which makes digestion easier.
Soy protein is becoming more popular as a veganism continues to grow in popularity and is now recognized as a high quality complete protein that is up there with Whey in terms of quality. It has very low levels of lactose making it suitable for lactose intolerant people and a plethora of other health benefits including cardiovascular health and enhanced immune function.
Be warned, the common moniker ‘you get what you pay for’ rings true when it comes to purchasing protein. Cheap varieties are likely to have a lower protein percentage a higher levels of lactose and fat-fillers. Spending a little more for a reputable brand with pay dividends in the long run.