Which protein supplement should I choose?

Which protein supplement should I choose?

Protein is a critical building block that aids in the growth, maintenance and repair of muscle, and there is no doubt that protein affects strength, performance and body composition.

But with so many protein supplements on the market, one of the most common questions is, which one should I buy? Below are some tips to help you choose the right protein type and product for your personal fitness goals.

Protein makes up about 80 percent of muscle mass (once the water has been removed), and is responsible for the muscles' structure and action. In addition to high protein foods, many athletes rely on protein supplements to optimize muscle size, strength and performance. Here begins the challenge, all protein powders are not created equal. What should I choose?

First, a quick overview of the classification of protein supplements:

Concentrates: The concentration and processing of powdered protein can produce different compositions, based on the degree of removal of "non-protein" parts. For example, protein concentrates contain approximately 70-80 percent protein, while the remaining percent comes from carbohydrates, minerals, water and fat.

Isolates: In protein isolates, several of the non-protein parts have been removed and contain up to 90 percent protein with a lesser degree of the non-protein-containing nutrients. For example, whey protein isolate is about 86 percent protein (90 percent dry weight).

Hydrolysates: The term hydrolysed protein, or hydrolysates, refers to the presence of partially digested proteins including polypeptides and peptides. "Partially digested" may sound undesirable, but it can actually be beneficial! In addition to providing amino acid building blocks, peptides can have other beneficial functions in the body. In theory, hydrolyzed protein should be digested faster.

What types of protein are there?

There are several types of protein to choose from, each with their own unique properties and potential benefits. When it comes to protein powders, milk proteins, eggs and peas are among the most sought after.

Whey protein

Whey or myse in Norwegian is by far the most popular protein supplement because it has been shown to promote muscle growth and fat reduction. It is digested and absorbed more quickly than other proteins, making it the ideal choice to consume either right before or after a workout.

Whey is about 20 percent of the protein in cow's milk and has the highest branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) content, including about 11 percent leucine and 9 percent combined isoleucine and valine, giving a 2:1:1 ratio.

Leucine is a very important amino acid that plays a direct role in optimizing muscle protein production after a strenuous workout and by increasing the activation of the mTOR pathway. Also, whey is probably the most thermogenic protein, which means that whey burns more calories when digested than other proteins.

Casein protein

Casein, the main protein in milk, is a slowly digestible protein - especially compared to whey. Depending on how much you consume, it can take more than six hours for casein to be completely digested and absorbed by the body, making this protein excellent for ensuring a sustained supply of amino acids to muscles.

Although it has a lower direct muscle-building effect, compared to whey, casein is a good source of BCAAs as well as glutamine. Glutamine helps to reduce muscle protein breakdown.

Due to its slowly digestible properties, casein is often recommended before bed or between meals, either alone or mixed with other proteins.

Milk protein

Did you know that milk protein is good for speeding up recovery after an intense workout? Milk protein contains all the essential amino acids in a natural ratio of 80% casein and 20% whey, which enables the rapid and sustained release of amino acids necessary for muscle growth.

Milk protein isolates and concentrates are common in protein powder mixes, creamy protein drinks and protein bars.

Egg protein

Eggs are making a serious comeback now that some of the long-held beliefs about their role in heart disease are being dismissed. The egg protein found in protein powder is mostly egg white protein isolate, and is a good alternative for people with a milk allergy!

Egg protein is also at the top of its class when it comes to quality. With a score of 100 on the biological value (BV) index, egg protein contains all the essential amino acids necessary for protein synthesis and is easily digestible.

Pea protein

Pea protein is a great option for vegetarians and those with allergies to dairy and egg products. Pea protein is high in BCAAs and is easily digested, which means the body is able to use and process most amino acids per serving. This makes pea protein superior to other plant-based protein powders, which can be difficult to digest and are not utilized as well by the body.

So how do you know if the protein you are taking is of high quality and contains the right amount of protein?

Check the leucine content on the protein powder label. Leucine, an essential branched-chain amino acid critical for muscle protein production, appears to help maximize the mechanisms that "trigger" or stimulate muscle protein synthesis, resulting in the development of strength, power, endurance and size. Look for at least 2 grams of leucine per serving. For a whey protein powder, the calculation is simple, a 25g protein claim will give around 2.5g leucine since whey protein is approximately 11 percent leucine. Remember that casein and soy contain less leucine, about 8 percent.

When and how much protein do I need?


Overnight, muscle protein breakdown (MPB) increases, and losses can be as much as 5-15g depending on body size and diet throughout the day until bedtime. Protein and some carbs first thing in the morning help reverse this negative effect on muscle protein and stimulate MPS. Take at least 20-35g of hydrolysed isolate protein for breakfast for fast absorption, again depending on body size and total protein goals for the day.

Before and after training

A strenuous workout can raise both MPS (muscle building) and MPB (muscle breakdown). Your goal is to maximize the former and minimize the latter with both protein and some carbohydrates, either right before or after exercise. For breakfast, aim for around 20-35g of protein.

Before bedtime

During the night, the muscle-protein balance will change towards MPB (breakdown) than MPS (buildup) to generate free amino acids to help the body with energy. Consuming at least 20g of casein protein, whey/casein protein blend or a smaller amount of protein combined with supplemental BCAA or more specifically leucine will help keep MPS higher while you sleep.