Have you recently been to a health food store looking for a protein supplement and been overwhelmed by all the choices and different types of protein? Is your mind immediately bombarded with all sort of questions? Which one is the best? What are the differences between the types of protein? The truth is, not all proteins are equal. Here is a guide that will help you navigate the waters and help you determine the best form of protein to suit your bodies needs.
Protein is essential to everyone, it is necessary for everything from immune function, muscle function and repair, metabolism and weight management, bone health, to growth and development. There are complete and incomplete proteins, which are found in different food sources. What does this mean? Protein in the body ultimately is broken down into amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids of which only twelve of those are non-essential amino acids. (which means the body can produce them). The other nine are known as essential amino acids, which must be obtained from diet. These essential amino acids are the reason why protein is broken up into to classifications: complete or incomplete. Complete protein contains all the essential proteins where as incomplete protein does not.
Protein powders also fall into two categories: animal-based protein (casein and whey) and plant-based protein (rice, pea, soy).
The Different Forms of Protein
Whey protein is a by-product from the manufacturing of cheese. Whey protein is the most common type of protein powder on the market.
Pros: It is a complete protein and is particularly high in branched-chain amino acids such a leucine, isoleucine and valine which can be helpful to improve exercise and reduce muscle breakdown.
Cons: Whey protein is a common allergen and can affect the immune system of individuals who may be intolerant to it. Also because it is derived from milk, lactose intolerance is a common side effects from consuming whey protein. Whey proteins are also notorious for causing gas and bloating which is a sign of the body’s inability to digest it.
Soy Protein which is derived from Soybeans. Similar to whey it is considered a complete protein and it is particularly rich in both arginine and glutamine which are two amino acids important for muscle formation and repair, an advantage for bodybuilders.
Pros: Plant based protein. Soy protein is comparable in digestibility to other complete animal protein sources such as dairy, eggs and meat. Soy has powerful antioxidant capabilities that have shown to provide significant health and anti-cancer benefits.
Cons: Although soy protein has been reported with many health benefits it has also been under fire with GMO concerns. Soy protein is commonly made from genetically modified soybeans, and the chemical solvent hexane, a dangerous neurotoxin, is often used to extract the protein from the soybean. Furthermore, it is suspected to interfere with proper thyroid function and can contribute to hormone dependent conditions like breast cancer. Soy is also a common allergen for people and can cause digestive upset in people.
Surprise! Rice contains protein too! As a matter of fact, it contains around 80% protein and can be a great alternative for vegan, vegetarians, and those with sensitivities.
Pros: Hypoallergenic, suitable for people with dairy sensitivities and for vegan and vegetarians. Slow digesting which will give you an even energy level and sustain you through out the day.
Cons: Rice protein has a more distinct taste than more other forms of protein powder and does not mix as well. It is not a complete protein as it lacks the essential amino acid lysine.
There’s a reason why you are told to eat your legumes, among other things they are high in protein. Pea protein is made from yellow split peas and contains around 80-90% protein.
Pros: It is easily digested and low in allergen. It mixes well and naturally has a slightly sweet taste. A good alternative for vegetarians, vegans and those with dairy or egg allergy. contains an ideal combination of essential amino acids for athletic performance: lysine for balanced nitrogen levels in muscles, arginine promotes muscle metabolism and a healthy heart, glutamine helps restore nitrogen balance after a heavy workout, and leucine, isoleucine and valine (branched-chain amino acids) help maintain tissues during exercise.
Cons: Pea protein is a incomplete protein. It lacks the amino acid cysteine and methionine. Pea protein can also increase the body’s production of uric acid and aggravate an existing gout conditions.
Rice and Pea Combo
On their own, they both fall slightly short of being the perfect protein but when you combine them what you get is a complete protein source.
Pros: The combination of rice and pea protein offer a superior amino acid profile -rice protein is deficient in lysine but has high levels of both cysteine and methionine whereas, in contrast, peas protein is rich in lysine but low in cysteine and methionine. Great texture- rice protein has smooth taste and is highly soluble (but is incomplete), and pea completes this protein source while conferring some gel forming properties. Hypoallergenic, vegan and vegetarian friendly.
Cons: Consuming pea protein can increase the body’s production of uric acid and aggravate an existing gout conditions.
Hemp protein is made by pulverizing the seeds of the cannabis plant and is considered a complete protein with all amino acids.
Pros: It offers a complete amino acid file and is nutritiously rich in essential fatty acids and dietary fibre. It is hypoallergenic and vegan friendly.
Cons: A very gritty texture, and low solubility therefore it does not mix as well. Often the most expensive.
Off to the Protein Aisle!
When it comes down to protein powders there is something for everyone. The right type of protein for you depends on how you plan to use it, your health needs and sensitivities and your palate. Remember, just because shakes are convenient to chug doesn’t mean protein powders should replace foods entirely. I believe protein powders are supplements, best used to supplement a healthy diet.