Protein supplements can help provide all the amino acids you need for muscle development, appetite control, muscle repair and a stronger immune system. But when you’re standing in the aisle of a supplements store, the options can feel daunting. What type of protein do you need? Let’s break it down.
Milk-Based Protein Versus Plant-Based Protein
Whey, a byproduct of making cheese, is one of the most common ingredients in protein shakes and has some clear advantages over other protein supplements:
- It’s easily and quickly absorbed and used by your body
- It has a high amount of branched chain amino acid content
- It is digested quickly
But milk-based proteins, despite being on literally every shelf in a supplement store, aren’t your only options. If you choose to avoid animal-based products, or if you have a dairy intolerance, plant-based proteins give you a delicious and lactose-free alternative.
Comparing Whey Protein
There are a few common forms of whey protein that you’ll find in stores.
- Whey Protein Isolate: All of the lactose and fat have been removed, leaving 90% protein. This makes it suitable for many people who are lactose intolerant. It has a very thin texture and flavor, which makes it easy to mix into smoothies or drink on its own.
- Whey Protein Concentrate: Most, but not all, of the fat and lactose have been removed. It’s cheaper than whey isolate, and has a more milky and creamy taste that some people prefer.
- Hydrolyzed Whey Protein: It’s more of a niche product but growing in popularity. During the processing of the whey protein, different enzymes and acids are added to pre-digest the protein and make it easier for your body to absorb. More research needs to be done to see if this is actually beneficial.
- Casein: Milk is 20% whey and 80% casein. Casein is absorbed more slowly than whey. Some people find it beneficial to take in the evening, so they can enjoy a slow, time-released dose of protein while they sleep.
Comparing Plant-Based Protein
- Pea Protein: It’s one of the top choices on the market because it’s easy to digest, easy to absorb, and hypoallergenic. It has a light flavor that mixes well with other ingredients.
- Hemp Protein: It contains all eight essential amino acids and is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of healthy fat that many people don’t get enough of. This plant-based protein is easier to digest than the protein in many other beans, nuts and grains, and it’s a rich source of many nutrients.
- Rice Protein: While gram for gram it contains less protein than other supplements, rice protein is easy for you to absorb. For example, 60% of soy protein is digested and absorbed by your body, compared to more than 80% for rice protein.
Which type of protein to take is completely subjective to the individual's specific needs and preference. You can always test different types and more specifically the brands to see which you prefer and what works best for your desired outcome.