Why is protein important, and what can it do?
- Accelerate metabolism – protein has the highest thermic effect of all macronutrients. This means that our body spends the highest amount of energy on burning it. This then leads to the so-called acceleration of metabolism.
- Facilitate weight loss – protein helps maintain muscle mass. Muscles consume more energy in comparison to adipose tissue, thereby enabling you to lose weight more effectively.
- Improve muscle growth – since protein is the basic building block of muscles, its intake will help you with building additional muscle mass.
- Speed up regeneration – the body is able to repair damaged muscle fibres more effectively thanks to protein.
- Reduce hunger and cravings – the satiating ability of protein will ensure that you won’t get hungry for a longer time after eating protein rich food and in the meanwhile, your sweet tooth may also pass.
- Promote bone health – one of the abilities of protein is the ability to maintain healthy bones. All the above makes this macronutrient truly key, and not only for the people that live an active lifestyle.
What are protein powders made from?
Protein powders are usually made from common foods that are rich in protein. It is most often milk, from which the popular whey protein is made. Therefore, you do not have to worry about any steroids or forbidden substances. The specific foods used to produce protein powders vary depending on what type it is and for whom it is intended. However, in general, the most common types of protein powders that you can run into are animal and plant based.
Animal protein powders
This category is mostly dominated by popular protein powders made from milk. You can usually find these proteins under the name “whey”. You can also run into protein powders made from beef or eggs (egg albumin).
1. Whey protein powders
These protein powders are made from milk. In order to produce 1 kg of protein powder, one needs more than 100 l of milk. The milk then goes through a process of pasteurization, after which, the whey is separated from casein thanks to the addition of enzymes. Whey is then gently processed further until the final whey protein powder is obtained. This protein powder is popular due to its favourable spectrum of amino acids. In practice, this means that it contains all the key amino acids in a very effective ratio.
That said, when looking for this type of protein powder, you can usually run into a label that says 100% WHEY. This is usually the case with protein powders that contain exclusively whey protein. Such protein powders therefore do not contain any other source of protein.
What types of whey protein are there?
- Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) – the most popular type of protein powder due to its price / performance ratio. On average, it contains 70-80% of protein, which has a fairly quick absorption rate.
- Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) – a protein powder that is obtained through a process of filtration from whey concentrate. It is therefore slightly purer and also boasts a higher protein content. In particular, the protein content is usually 80% and more. On the contrary, it contains a lower amount of sugar and fat. This makes it ideal for demanding athletes who want a fast absorbable protein powder with the highest possible protein content, or people suffering from lactose intolerance.
- Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH) – is produced using the process of hydrolysis from whey concentrate or isolate. During it, protein is degraded into shorter peptides, which the body can absorb even quicker. The end result is a perfectly usable protein powder. You can also find the label DH (degree of hydrolysis) on these protein powders, which is related to the degradation process. The higher the number, the more the protein is degraded. A degree of hydrolysis 32 (DH 32) is the most common one. Moreover, these protein powders can have a slightly bitter taste, which may not suit everyone.
2. Micellar casein
Micellar casein is obtained through a filtration process from cow's milk. It usually contains between 70 and 80 % of protein, which is absorbed gradually. Due to the fact that it is absorbed more slowly, it ranks among night proteins. It is therefore ideal for athletes who want to maintain the increased production of muscle protein even during the night.
3. Beef protein powder
Beef protein powder can also be used by people with lactose intolerance. However, it is specific in that it contains mainly connective tissue proteins. Thus, it is less suitable for stimulating muscle growth, but it is quite popular among people who want to promote the health of their joints, hair, nails, and skin.
4. Egg protein powder (egg albumin)
Egg protein powder is made from eggs, and usually contains 60-80% of high-quality protein. On top of that, it has a favourable spectrum of amino acids and is relatively slowly absorbed, which can be an advantage in certain situations. This protein powder is also suitable for people who have a problem with lactose intolerance.
5. Multicomponent protein powder
Multicomponent protein powder is composed of multiple protein sources, which results in a protein powder with overall better properties. Typically, it includes a combination of fast and slow release protein. This is ideal if you want to its ensure the gradual release over a period of time.
Plant-based protein powders
Plant-based protein powders are most often produced from plant sources that are rich in protein, for example, soybeans and other legumes or hemp seeds. This makes them a great alternative for vegetarians and vegans alike. And as these sources are naturally gluten and lactose free, they are also suitable for people who suffer from the indigestion of these substances. However, it is always important to read through the ingredients list and make sure that the protein will suit your needs.
1. Soy protein powder
Soy protein powder most closely resembles the quality of the whey protein powder due to its spectrum of amino acids. It is made from flakes that are obtained from soybeans. The resulting blend then contains approximately 65-70% of protein. The process starts with the making of soy concentrate, from which soy isolate is then obtained using further processing. In the end, this can have more than 85% of protein content.
2. Rice protein powder
Rice protein powder is made from ground rice grains that are mixed with enzymes, which work to separate the protein. In comparison with a whey protein powder, this type has a noticeably lower amount of protein, usually between 50 to 78%. Furthermore, its spectrum of amino acids is not great either. However, this can be easily remedied, for example by combining it with a pea protein powder.
3. Hemp protein powder
Hemp protein powder is obtained from pressed and ground hemp seeds. The resulting protein powder has approximately 50% of protein content. As with its predecessor, it also does not have the most favourable spectrum of amino acids. Once again, this can be easily fixed by combining it with pea protein powder or other.
4. Pea protein powder
Pea protein powder is a fairly good alternative to whey, because it contains a higher amount of leucine. This amino acid boasts the highest anabolic potential. In order to achieve an even more favourable amino acid spectrum, it is best to combine it, for example, with a rice protein powder. Pea protein powder stands out due to its high fibre content, which can be ideal in case you want a protein powder that will satiate you to a greater extent.
5. Multicomponent protein powder
Multicomponent protein powders are the best possible option from what nature has to offer. This is because they combine multiple sources of protein, thereby reducing their deficiency in the form of limiting (underrepresented) amino acids. This way you can get a functional plant-based protein powder with an ideal composition and a more favourable spectrum of amino acids.
Do you want to learn more about plant sources of protein? Then you should definitely read our article: What are the Best Sources of Plant Proteins and Why Include Them in Your Diet?
What is the optimal serving of protein?
The optimal serving of protein will vary depending on many factors, such as your physique and body composition, total energy expenditure, physical activity and the like. In general, we can consider a universal serving of 20-40 g of protein to be optimal. This is usually one measuring cup of protein powder, which typically contains about 30 g. In case of plant-based protein powders, feel free to add a few extra grams more. This is because they generally have a lower content of protein and are harder to digest.
When and how to use protein powders?
- as part of a variety of recipes in order to enrich them with protein
- when preparing sweet protein-rich desserts
- as a drink after exercise to promote the regeneration and nourishment of damaged muscle fibres
- as a snack in case you are caught off guard by hunger and have no time to prepare food
- when you need an easy way to increase protein intake
Who are protein powders suitable for?
- People who want to increase their protein intake.
- Athletes who want to promote muscle growth.
- Cooks who want to enrich their dishes with protein and create delicious fitness recipes.
- People who want to lose weight and are looking for foods that will satiate them and help keep their cravings at bay.
- All those who want to diversify their diet and enrich it with new flavours.
Do you want to learn more about protein powders and how to choose the right one? Then you should check out our article: How to Choose the Right Protein for Weight Loss or Muscle Growth?