Protein and protein powder are all the rage these days. From beverages to fortified snacks, it seems everything has protein in it! But is that a bad thing? Absolutely not! In fact, while they are good, the amount they realistically contain are dwarfed by your actual needs. With that in mind, it raises the next logical question- where do I get the best source of protein then?
The answer? It depends. On what? You. Your needs, and your specific set of circumstances. Let’s explore your options to find out your best match.
What Do You Expect From A Protein Powder?
First off a little disclaimer; protein powder should not be used as an end-all for your protein needs. A generous slab of premium steak is a much better option, but because we know not everyone is into slabs, or because it just isn’t practical to eat large portions of meat throughout the day, protein powder can become a godsend.
In general, owing to the fact that you arrived on our blog it must mean that you have an interest in health. Your reasons may include:
- You Want Muscle: Heck, we all want muscle. Nothing is sexier than chiseled blocks of meat on your body (premium steak anyone?). Since you want muscle, common sense would dictate you need to get more building blocks for it to occur in your diet.
- You Are Vegan: Vegans or vegetarians have a much more difficult time getting their daily protein targets met. Why? Well, it’s simple actually- meat and animal products typically have the highest concentration of proteins. However, there are protein powders suitable for true vegans that are not what most people are accustomed to.
- You Place An Emphasis On Health: As you age, protein requirements are still high, as you need to offset the muscle atrophy (breakdown) that comes with advancing age. Restricting your protein consumption at this time (yes we know appetite sucks in your golden years) will just speed up aging of your body and make mobility difficult.
Your Best Choices Of Protein
With your particular goals/needs in mind, now comes the all-important part; selecting the best one. The following are the most popular (but by no means an exhaustive list) that you will most likely find solace in using. Be warned, some are extremely delicious.
Starting off the list of bestie proteins is the classic and evergreen whey. It is actually a by-product of cheese production but nevertheless is an invaluable protein supplement when made into powders. Why should you choose whey?
- Speed Matters: Whey is the undisputed champ when it comes to speed of absorption. At particular times, such as post-workout or upon waking in the morning, you require a protein source that is rapidly absorbed into the blood. Whey is that source. Thanks to its speed of absorption, it is able to shut down unwanted muscle catabolism and get the muscle building gears turning once more.
- Whey Everywhere: If there is one protein you can find anywhere in the world, it is whey. Since even the “poorer” quality of whey (AKA whey concentrate) is still highly efficient in promoting muscle growth, there is a whey for everyone.
- Affordability: Whey prices are generally affordable, even though there are different varieties of it. Prices increase going from concentrate to isolate to hydrolysate, with each increasing speed of absorption as you go up. If hydrolysate is too expensive, concentrate will still do a pretty good job.
Verdict: The master when it comes to halting muscle breakdown and restarting muscle synthesis. Word of warning—contains lactose. Tread lightly if lactose intolerant.
Following whey is his good old first cousin casein. It also comes from milk, but is much more common (as 80% of protein from milk are casein), even though its popularity is not as high as whey. Think of casein as the “slow and steady protein” as opposed to the rocket that is whey. Casein is best employed in your arsenal when:
- It’s Bed Time: Casein has the cool ability to form compounds in the stomach known as micelles. A micelle is simply a loose bulky structure, such as a gel. Casein forms this gel-like structure in your stomach, which is very slow to break down. The advantage? A slow drip of amino acids into your blood for a period of time up to 8 hours. This means no robbing your muscles for aminos when your body signals hunger in the middle of the night.
- You Want Muscle: Casein has muscle building potential equivalent to casein. Just don’t take it on short notice.
Verdict: Take casein any time during the day and before bed for a steady stream of amino acids. Also contains lactose so use carefully.
Word of warning: men should not opt for soy protein. It has a chemical structure similar to the female hormone estrogen and can produce effects that look like those produced in a woman’s body.
If you’re a woman, soy is fine. If not, consider these other alternatives:
- Brown rice
- Chia seeds
Verdict: Essential for vegans, but may lack being complete proteins (they do not contain all essential amino acids). May be attractive for persons who prefer to consume more “natural” protein sources.
So those pesky things have a purpose after all! Insect proteins are growing in popularity owing to their protein content and nutrient density. Yes, some insect protein powders (especially cricket protein powder) has twice the amount of protein as beef, is high in iron magnesium, zinc and even contains the heart-healthy omega- 3 fats. Other popular (or unpopular if you prefer) insects that are being studied as good protein sources include:
- Domesticated silkworm
- Mopane caterpillar
- Yellow mealworm
- African palm weevil larvae
Verdict: Some types are complete proteins. Worth a shot if you can deprogram your gag reflex as they are nutrient dense.
For most people, whey protein is their definition of the best protein powder for health. For others, however, it may not be the best, due to external factors, such as not using animal based products, or lactose intolerance issues etc. Plant based proteins are good, but not the end –all in terms of protein requirements. You will likely still need to get the missing aminos from somewhere. Insect proteins may someday dethrone whey for its crown, but owing to the stigma of consuming insect products, that day seems long off.
Just be sure to emphasize a quality protein powder over a random run of the mill type and you’re halfway on your journey to health!
Alex Eriksson is the founder of Anabolic Health, a men’s health blog dedicated to providing honest and research backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Anabolic Health aspires to become a trusted resource where men can come and learn how to fix their hormonal problems naturally, without pharmaceuticals. Check out anabolichealth.com to learn more about Alex and his work. You can also find him on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.