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Which Protein Supplement Should I Choose?

Protein, protein, protein. It’s what’s for dinner. And lunch. And breakfast. And snacks.

Kind of.

While the amount of protein you should consume really depends on your fitness and physique goals, a lot of times it’s easy to get into the “I’m working out now– gotta get mah prow-teen!” mindset- an idea that isn’t necessarily true in all cases, body types or training program. But hey- that’s another post (I cover how much protein you need here). Today we’re here to talk about what happens when you DO need a bit more and may be having a hard time wrapping your mind around what kinds of proteins will get the job done without endangering local animal populations.

What Can I Eat To Increase My Protein?

Protein at it’s most basic is this: Meat. Chicken, fish, lean red meats, eggs, etc. Still… there’s also a whole host of other protein supplements you may not have considered. And yes, while I do advocate whole food when and where possible, eating chicken every meal in hopes of looking like Beefy McBeefenstein or Sally VonHottybod gets old fast- especially if you’re trying to keep your protein intake high.

As supplements go, you’ve got whey protein, egg protein, brown rice protein, pea proteins, hemp, soy and even casein- a slow digesting milk protein. That’s a lot of choices so really, the next question becomes “Which one is best?”

Truth be told, there’s a few “bests” but more importantly… the real sticking point is one you’ll have to find out for yourself: Which is best for you, your nutritional philosophy and your results. Those are questions that come from a little trial and error but here I’ll try to get you a place to launch from. I’ll launch through the “animal based” proteins first and move to plant. Cool?

Whey Protein

Whey protein is the heavyweight King Grand Pooba of protein supplements and a good all-around protein supplement. In a single scoop it’s protein serving is as high, in many cases, as a 4 oz. slab of meat and has a high biological value, meaning whey is packed with virtually all the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) in amounts needed and readily and quickly absorbed by your body. As for muscle growth, some studies indicate Leucine plays a key role in the muscle building and whey has plenty of it. Of course, that doesn’t mean whey is magic– just means it can help as a supplement to your goals.

Whey is derived from dairy, so lactose intolerant individuals may have a hard time with it. Some more refined forms of whey (iseolate) may not bother some whose bodies are lactose unfriendly but it’s hit and miss. If whey isn’t your thing, no worries… there are other alternatives.

Casein Protein

Casein has really become a more popular protein over the last few years thanks to its slow digesting properties. It’s still a milk protein so if you’re looking for other options, skip below. I don’t use Casein myself as I’ve never seen a need to with is very specific design (drink before bed for slow release amino acid over hours instead of instantly). It’s use is pinned on the idea of its slow release, so if your goal happens to be muscle recovery and casein fits the bill, it might be a good option as a back up to whey. Egg works similarly, so if dairy isn’t your thing…

Egg Protein

Egg protein is SOLID. But where it’s sold very specifically to the body building crowd and isn’t as mass marketed as whey, it’s easy to overlook. Derived from egg whites (no fat, puny carbs), it’s very high in biological value like whey protein but you avoid the lactose angle. It’s also, like Casein, very slow digesting which means a sustained amino acid release through digestion. Egg protein is right up there with whey and makes a great and almost equal (as mentioned, it’s slower absorption, so may not be best for post-workout) alternative. Next time you put in your order for whey, consider giving egg protein a try.


Plant-Based Proteins: Soy

Plant based proteins aren’t nearly as popular as their animal-based cousins but that doesn’t mean they’re ineffective by any means and can provide an awesome alternative for vegetarians and vegans… and maybe even a nice switch up from the whey routine.

Soy is probably the most widely distributed plant-based alternative, it’s got its controversies and with 95+% of the crop being GMO (Genetically Modified) with all its controversies, I steer clear of this one. That said, soy protein has been shown to be an effective source of protein despite studies that are all over the map on its ill effects in men (thanks to phyto isoflavens similar to estrogen that may/may not have an effect on males).

There’s simply not enough room in this post to cover all the studies, both pro and con, of Soy. Chances are if you engage in taking a side, wrestling or fisticuffs will ensue. So I’ll just say you’ll get both sides of the story quoting various studies but overall, there’s just too much inconclusive and “smoke data” (where there’s smoke there’s fire) surrounding soy to be personally comfortable with using it as a regular, high use supplement.

Plant-Based Proteins: Brown Rice and Pea

These plant based proteins aren’t as widely available (maybe due to their association with vegans and “tree hugging”?) They’re not often used or even well known beyond their niche circles but they are a great alternative to the animal based standards like whey and egg. Combined, brown rice and pea protein form an amino acid profile very, very close to whey. It’s why you’ll see the combination of the two in Shakeology and Sunwarrior vegan proteins. Alone, they still have a high biological value but do have what some people call “grittiness”. I like to say it’s “texture” and I don’t mind it at all (some proteins will be more “chalky” than others– see my review of Garden of Life’s Raw Protein) but to some it’s a deal breaker.

You may have to try a few brands but Sunwarrior is one of the most popular.

Plant Based Protein: Hemp

While a great food source, I’d rank this one low on the scale. It’s got some great fats (Omega-3 thank you very much) and fiber but because of these ingredient, the protein serving is much, much lower- sometimes by half, than other protein supplements. With all that fiber, it’s slower to digest and not quite as easy to digest as a protein, as outlined here. It’s not that it’s bad- it’s just less a protein supplement and more a “well rounded food” and should be used as such.

The Best Protein For You

So there you have it- a few proteins to wet your beak with. Ultimately, it all boils down to you- what’s most effective, what you like best and the results you’re after. Everyone may have similar protein or fitness goals but that doesn’t mean there’s just one right way to go about it OR that you have to become the human equivalent of an Apex carnivore. Have fun, experiment and enjoy the journey!

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