Confused about protein? Essential Guide by Danny McCrory

With the supplement industry exploding with various new labels and brands, buying supplements can be a pretty daunting and confusing task, especially when looking at the back nutritional label on a tub of protein, as many have trouble sorting through all the options and choosing the right one.

This article aims to help acquaint you with some of the different types of protein powder, what the key differences are among them and will hopefully equip you with the knowledge to choose the specific product that is right for you.


Whey Protein:

Whey protein is perhaps the most common name you will over hear when discussing types of protein, Whey protein is essentially a protein derived from milk, with the actual protein breakdown typically being derived from 20% Whey and 80% Casein protein.

However there are various types of Whey protein’s on the market, these primary types are Whey Protein Isolate (WPI), Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC), and Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH):

  • Whey protein isolates (WPI) are one of the quickest absorbing proteins available; typically with an absorption time between 30-60 minutes, whey isolates are typically low in carbohydrates/sugars and have the majority of fat and lactose removed due to the +90% protein composition making them ideal supplementation for those on carbohydrate restricted diets, also due to the quick absorption time this form of protein is perfect for pre & post workout consumption due to its absorption rate maximising recovery during the small recovery window.
  • Whey protein concentrate (WPC), typically the most cost effective product on the shelve as it has the largest variation in protein percentage, with some whey protein concentrates containing as little as 30% with most ranging more between the 60-80% range, usually the 80% range will have quite a decent amino acid profile containing the essential branch chain amino acids (I will address amino acids in a future post), however due to the varying percentage of protein the fat and carbohydrate levels will also vary greatly in the form of lactose (so keep an eye on the carbohydrate and fat levels, usually a good indicator).
  • Finally, whey protein hydrolysate (WPH), this form of protein is one of the most expensive on the market, hydrolysate protein is the fattest absorbing protein which profile includes highly absorbable peptides (amino acids) that have strong anabolic effect, with a +90% protein content it is a fantastic choice for those with sensitive digestive systems, this form of protein is excellent for both pre and post workout due to it having the fattest absorption rate of around.


Casein/Milk Protein:

Similar to Whey protein, Casein protein is another milk protein derivative, as the majority of protein in milk is Casein (80%), this enables Casein protein to have a high calcium content and a fantastic amino acid profile, the main advantage of this form of protein is that its slow digesting typically taking around 5-7 hours to fully breakdown within the body, due to this it is an excellent protein to consume prior to bed as your body will keep absorbing and utilising the nutrients whilst you sleep, meaning it has a strong anti-catabolic effect.

So to keep it really simple for you the reader, when selecting a product type it is useful to keep in mind the main time of day you will be consuming it, as if you’re looking for a quickly absorbed protein for post-workouts, then maybe Casein protein is not the choice for you. However if you’re looking for a protein to take just before bed then the slower absorbing Casein product may be an ideal option for you.


Soya Protein:

Soya protein (despite not being the most popularised product) is an excellent source of protein for those seeking a vegetarian alternative source of protein. Soya protein actually has many added benefits, as it contains high levels of Glutamine (which I will discuss in another article), and is packed full of Arginine (allowing dilation of blood vessels to enable nutrition to flow into muscles at a quicker rate), and boasts all eight branch chain amino-acid’s in its profile.

Soya has been documented to support healthy cholesterol levels, whilst boosting thyroid hormone outputs, having a knock on effect which increases your metabolism and in turn aiding fat loss. The absorption rate of Soya protein is quite quick making it ideal for pre and post workouts rather than consuming prior to bed; although it must be noted that Soya protein is notoriously known for its taste, as with most Soya protein products it has much to be desired when compared with other protein products on the market.

Extra Tips to keep an eye out for:

Manufacturers often add in extra enhancements to their products to help them seem more appealing on the labels, sometimes this can be just a sales technique and often this can be an added benefit to the product, so what beneficial enhancements should I keep an eye out for?

One enhancement to look out for is the term “Lecithin”, this is a healthy fat derived from Soya, it’s sometimes added to improve mixability of the powder itself, indicating that the product will mix quite well and not become clumpy.

The second term to keep an eye out for when reading the back label of a product is “Digestive Enzymes”, this is an added benefit as it enhances the digestibility of a product and improves absorption of large servings of protein, common types are “Lactase and Aminogen Digestive Enzymes”.

Finally the last common but important enhancement can often be adding an extended amino acid profile both essential and non-essential to protein powder which improves nutritional value, although most quality proteins will already contain all the necessary amino acids, adding the likes of Glutamine and Arginine will extend the nutritional benefits of the product.


Final Remarks:

So things to keep in mind when selecting the right product for you,

1) What’s your purpose for needing it, to help sustain muscle and aid recovery of muscle tissue or to supplement your nutritional intake with extra carbs, fats, and proteins?

2) What time of day typically are you wanting to consume your protein at, is it day time pre and post-workout? Or is it at night time prior to bed?

3) Finally cost, how much are you wanting to spend and is spending that little extra for taste or for ease of digestibility worth it?

Danny McCrory.