We’ve done reader surveys and have discovered that nearly 50% of our readership takes some type of protein supplement. So, how do you know which ones are good and which ones you should take? Easy! I’m going to tell you. I will cover the different types of animal based protein supplements (plant based next time) and hopefully clear up a lot of the confusion out there. First of all, we must understand exactly what protein is and why it can be beneficial for us. Protein is a critical nutrient in human nutrition and even more important to the active grappler. The main role of dietary proteins in the body is for protein synthesis, or simply, building and repairing muscle. Protein synthesis is necessary for recovery between workouts, and increasing muscle mass, strength, power, and endurance. It also prevents loss of muscle mass, strength, power, and endurance during weight cutting, but why protein supplements and powders? Can’t you just eat protein and get the same effect? This is a very good question, and the answer is, “kind of.” While you should eat a high protein diet, and I do recommend getting the majority of your protein from whole food sources, protein powders are beneficial. There are a few reasons why protein supplements are helpful. The first reason is the convenience they provide. I don’t know about you, but immediately after a training session I’m not exactly in the mood to eat a large chicken breast or piece of fish. Protein supplements are an extremely easy and effective way to ensure we get the protein we need exactly when we need it. Another reason is the ability to provide the exact type of protein we need at the right moments. There are certain times our bodies need a quick rush of protein and certain times we need a slow, steady protein source. With protein supplements, we can ensure we are getting the right kind of protein at the right times. So, let’s take a look at the different types of protein supplements out there and how we can use them.
Whey protein is without a doubt the most common protein supplement on the market. There is a pretty good reason for this. Whey protein is probably the most effective post-workout protein supplement. Whey protein has been referred to as a “fast” protein because it is rapidly digested and leads to a large temporary rise in plasma amino acid levels. Whey protein is a dairy protein. Basically, it’s part of milk protein and is obtained as a by-product of cheese manufacturing. Also known as ‘lactalbumin,’ it constitutes about 19% of cow milk and is a rich source of amino acids. It also does contain cholesterol and minimal fats. Whey protein is considered such a high-quality protein due to its high levels of amino acids, like essential amino acids (EAAs) and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). These amino acids help in protein synthesis and maintenance of muscle tissues. Since whey protein is a “fast” protein, it provides quick nourishment to the muscles. This is critical immediately after a training session. During a training session, our muscles are being stressed and broken down. Following the training session our muscles are primed for recovery and rebuilding. They are literally starving for amino acids. The sooner we ingest protein, the sooner we can get amino acids to our muscles to stop protein breakdown and start protein synthesis (building muscle). The quick digestion and sharp rise in amino acid availability make whey the best choice at this time. Because of it’s derived from milk some grapplers with lactose intolerance might feel some adverse effects when taking whey protein.
By now, some of you have probably heard about casein protein. If not, it is the other part of milk protein. Casein has a more gradual and prolonged increase in amino acid plasma levels and therefore it is considered a “slow” protein. Casein is the most abundant protein in milk. It is relatively insoluble and tends to form structures called micelles that increase solubility in water. During the processing of milk, the casein peptides and micelle structure become disturbed or denatured to form simpler structures. This results in the formation of a gelatinous material, which leads to a slower digestion rate. Because of its slower steady release of amino acids into the bloodstream, casein is beneficial at certain times. One of those times is right before bed. When we sleep, we have 6-9 hours of fasting, with no nutrient intake. This is also the time when a significant amount of muscle rebuilding happens. Those two do not go well together. If you guys remember anything it should be that we need the necessary amino acid availability to effectively and completely rebuild muscles. Ingestion of casein protein before bed can help solve this problem. The prolonged release of amino acids can help give our muscles the necessary nutrients throughout the night. Casein can also come in handy during weight cutting as a meal replacement shake. The steady supply of amino acids will aid in preventing loss of lean muscle mass during calorie restriction.
Did you ever see the movie “Rocky?” We all remember that scene where Rocky downs a glass of raw eggs. While still crazy, there may be a little bit of sense to it. Egg protein powder is an older protein supplement that has made a comeback in recent years. If you remember from my protein article, egg protein is a very high-quality source of protein. Eggs have traditionally been used as the standard of comparison for measuring protein quality because of their essential amino acid profile and high digestibility. Egg protein is a relatively fast digesting protein that can be a great substitute for whey or casein protein if you have sensitivities to milk or dairy. While its score is not quite as high as whey protein, egg is still a great option. If you can’t handle and/or do not like whey or casein protein, I would highly recommend you give egg protein a try.