We agree on the importance of protein for muscle development, and the main reason is that muscle fibers are made up of amino acids. We also agree that protein quality plays a very important role, because not all of them have the complete profile of amino acids that the body needs, nor the concentration of these to build muscle, improve or assist recovery processes, as well as other needs for high performance.
But which protein is the best? We find so many varieties on the market that for the novice it can be difficult to choose one of them. The truth is that we can use them in a very intelligent way just by knowing some very basic aspects of each one.
Let's see then the three main types of proteins that we find on the market to decide which one best suits our dairy needs and preferences (Whey, Milk Proteins -Casein-, and Vegetable).
Whey Protein : What is it for and when to use it?
This is by far the most popular protein in the bodybuilding arena. You will even find different variants, such as the isolated (Whey Protein Isolate), the concentrated (Whey Protein Concentrate), and the hydrolyzed (Hydrolyzed Whey).
In general, it is a protein with a moderate absorption speed (ISO - WPI) and (Whey - WPC), and it provides us with the amino acids that the muscles need in full. These two characteristics make it very attractive for all types of athletes. Additionally, it also helps stabilize glucose levels and control hunger (1).
As it is absorbed moderately quickly, this is the type of protein that you should use in what is known as the "Anabolic Window" that approximately unfolds between the hour before and the hour after your daily workout. But, which of all its variants to choose?
- Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC.) : It is somewhat cheaper than its "sisters" and has a sufficiently good protein content, although it could be improved. This protein is useful to all of us, but especially for those athletes or novice Gym fans who seek to improve their breakfast, and favor the processes after finishing their workouts.
- Whey Protein Isolate (WPI.) : The protein content increases in relation to the wpc, and offers a higher ratio of BCAA's, as well as a higher percentage of peptides, as well as very low sodium and lactose readings. This variant is somewhat more efficient and is recommended more for athletes subjected to a competition agenda or an exercise plan with a high volume of work, or under a diet program to control body weight in order to compete in bodybuilding, or to give weight in sports that require height/weight to participate
- Hydrolyzed Whey (WPH.) : The substantial difference of hydrolyzed protein is its improved absorption both in terms of quality and speed (fast). Athletes generally use it when the other variants cause gastrointestinal problems, but they can also be very useful on occasions when we need to save time between meals, maximize the window of anabolic opportunity after training, or even use it before exercise, if It's been more than three or four hours since we've eaten and we need to eat pre-workout food.
Casein : what is it for and when to use it?
Unlike whey protein, casein is slow to absorb. It can take up to 6-7 hours for this protein to fully absorb. This could be taken as a disadvantage, but it is not necessarily. We will be receiving a continuous flow of amino acids that will prevent muscle breakdown and catabolism for many hours.
Casein is much more appropriate if you plan to have a very long exercise session, especially if it is aerobic. For example, climbing a mountain, before a marathon, or even during long tourist excursions that involve continuous muscle wear (2).
Casein contains plenty of glutamine, an amino acid that helps repair muscle during the rest period. In addition, it reduces appetite and its slow absorption is ideal to avoid binge eating at night. Finally, it is interesting to emphasize that casein increases the absorption of calcium, so it is a very good idea to use it if you want to prevent or treat osteoporosis.
Vegan protein (pea/rice protein): what is it for and when to use it?
Finally, we have the pea and rice protein, a vegan alternative that also works very well for those who are allergic or intolerant to lactose.
We might think that soy protein is the most popular, and perhaps the best in amino acid concentration. But the hormonal load it has and the possibility that it comes from genetically modified crops is known to many. That is why recently the trend in vegan protein is pea and rice protein (pea / rice protein).
It is a mixture without hormonal load and without the risk of genetically modified organisms (GMO) that for practical purposes provides the same amino acids as a diet with meat, eggs, and dairy products.
On the one hand, we have the rice protein, which itself is very complete and concentrated if we remove all the carbohydrates. However, it contains very little lysine (3). This amino acid is abundant in pea protein, making it the perfect complement. Also, pea protein has glutamic acid and arginine, which aid in recovery after exercise (4).
- Naclerio, F., & Seijo, M. (2019). Whey protein supplementation and muscle mass: current perspectives. Nutrition and Dietary Supplements , 2019 (11), 37-48.
- Tang, JE, Moore, DR, Kujbida, GW, Tarnopolsky, MA, & Phillips, SM (2009). Ingestion of whey hydrolyzate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. Journal of applied physiology .
- Kawakatsu, T., & Takaiwa, F. (2019). Rice proteins and essential amino acids. In Rice (pp. 109-130). AACC International Press.
- Lu, ZX, He, JF, Zhang, YC, & Bing, DJ (2020). Composition, physicochemical properties of pea protein and its application in functional foods. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition , 60 (15), 2593-2605.