Protein Supplements Explained
We all know that protein plays a pivotal role in several aspects of our well-being. It influences weight management, promotes faster recovery from injuries, and supports a healthy immune system.
While whole foods undoubtedly provide a valuable source of protein, supplements offer a convenient and efficient way to bridge the gap between our dietary intake and the body’s requirements.
If you’re reading this, you probably know the influence of the supplement market too well. Constantly trying to get us to add more to our daily intake. It’s literally a firehose of options. Without the proper knowledge to understand which marketing campaigns are legit and which are just trying to make a dollar, we can be left extremely misinformed and confused.
This guide is meant to identify all different types of protein supplements so you can decide which, if any, to include in your routine.
Why You Might Want a Protein Supplement
Current research suggests that individuals seeking muscle growth and recovery should aim to eat between 0.7 – 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.
This means that a 150-pound individual should be eating between 105-150 grams of protein per day. When we consider that number, it can sound pretty daunting. That’s especially true if you’re not used to tracking your food intake consistently.
When we’re thinking about how to eat this much protein, we want to prioritize whole foods first and foremost. But eating 150 grams of protein through real, whole foods can be extremely difficult for many people. Enter protein supplementation.
We suggest aiming for at least 80% of your daily protein intake to come from real, whole foods, while the other 20% can come from residual protein in plants and grains and protein supplements. In practice, this might look like 3 meals a day that include an animal protein like meat, fish, dairy, or eggs, or a plant-based protein like tofu, seitan, beans, or lentils. This represents your 80% intake. The other 20% of protein might come from a whey protein shake, a scoop of collagen protein in your coffee, or a plant-based protein bar.
Types of Protein Supplements
Whey protein is derived from cow’s milk and is the most common base for protein powder. It’s a great source of protein because it’s easily absorbed in the body and has a great amino acid profile (includes all 9 essential amino acids). Whey is a great option if you’re interested in building muscle because it is high in leucine.
If you’re going to use whey, we suggest using an isolate form. This type consists almost solely of protein without carbohydrate or fat additives. Many protein shake formulas will include extra carbs or fats. Most of these options serve as a meal replacement. You’re going to want to grab the isolate option if you’re looking for protein alone.
Whey protein is a great option for a post-workout protein shake, a smoothie, for adding protein to other foods like baked goods or oatmeal, and for increasing your protein intake without adding a ton of calories.
Casein is also derived from cow’s milk. It’s a slower-digesting protein in comparison to whey protein. You’ll often hear of people taking casein at night for a slow release of amino acids while you sleep. Casein can be a great option during a calorie deficit. It makes you feel fuller for longer, but it can definitely be tough to digest and make you feel uncomfortable after drinking it.
Casein protein doesn’t dissolve well in cold liquids, so it’s best to use it in hot drinks. If you’re going to use casein, it’s a great option for a hot cocoa alternative and usually holds up a bit better in baking recipes when compared to whey protein.
Pea protein is derived from, you guessed it, peas. Like whey, pea protein has a complete amino acid profile, which makes it a great option for plant-based athletes. If you’re able to digest whey, we definitely suggest choosing that option, as whey protein is more efficient than pea protein in terms of muscle-building effects, due to the fact that pea protein has a lower leucine content. However, pea protein is the most complete plant-based muscle-building alternative. Pea protein is also rich in iron and fiber, which also means these powders will have added carbs that you’ll need to account for.
Like whey, you can use pea protein for a post-workout shake, add it to a smoothie or use it in baking.
Egg White Protein
Egg protein is another solid alternative to whey protein. It can, however, be slower-digesting and contain less leucine (aka, less muscle-building efficiency). It’s a great option for anyone with allergies and sensitivities. Plus, it’s usually a little faster digesting than plant-based alternatives because it doesn’t contain the additional fiber. We suggest finding an option with little to no additives if possible.
Egg white protein is also great for baking!
The great debate you’ve been waiting for – is collagen protein actually a complete protein? Should I count it in my protein intake for the day? The answer is yes. Here’s why.
Collagen plays a crucial role in the structure, support, and strength of your skin, muscles, bones, and connective tissues. However, it has an incomplete amino acid profile (8 of 9 essential amino acids), which is why it’s so controversial in diet culture.
At the end of the day, it’s a great supplement for your body. It’s just not enough when we’re talking about building and supporting lean muscle mass. Remember when we said that protein supplements are great when we’re only including them for about 20% of our total intake for the day? It’s because we need to ensure we’re getting all the essential amino acids. Just because collagen doesn’t have everything doesn’t mean we can’t use it. It just means we have to eat our protein too!
There are actually many types of collagen. We suggest taking peptides as well as Type II collagen for joint support. You can take the peptides in the form of a powder and the Type II in pill form. You can also search for more natural forms of collagen. This would include bone broth, fish with the skin still on, and chicken (you want to be eating from the whole chicken).
While collagen definitely isn’t essential for muscle growth, it will support your skin, hair, tendons, joints, and bones. Who doesn’t want that!?
If you’re not into drinking your added protein, you can always add a protein bar into the mix. These can serve as a great snack or even a meal replacement depending on the brand you choose. Protein bars are a great convenience option when you’re on the go. We also love to add protein bars to our daily intake as a special treat too. Especially because a lot of them taste like candy bars.
Nowadays, it seems like everyone and their mother is making a protein bar – even Snickers. You shouldn’t have trouble finding one that works for you.
When you’re looking for a solid protein bar, you want to find something that has at least 25% of the total calories coming from protein. Basically, you want to look at the nutrition facts and multiply the grams of protein by 4, then divide that number by the total calories. If the result is above 0.25, you’re good to go!
For example: if the bar is 200 calories, we want it to have 50 calories worth of protein (50 cals / 4 = 12g of protein minimum).
Remember that a lot of protein bars are simply just glorified candy bars. Finding one with a short ingredient list is going to be ideal, especially if you supplement with these often. Having said that, a protein bar is still going to be better than a straight-up candy bar when it comes to hitting your protein target for the day. We just suggest limiting your intake to 1 per day at most.
As you incorporate protein supplements into your diet, always prioritize quality and personal preferences. Choose products that align with your dietary needs and macro targets, but don’t forget that protein supplements should complement, not replace, whole food sources of protein.
Eating adequate protein goes hand-in-hand with a great training plan. Luckily, you’re in the right place with Paragon Training Methods.
To learn more: