You and your gym bestie just smashed a few personal records at the gym. You feel great about it, but you then get into your car, and you can’t help but think about how much more progress they have made than you. Is it genetics? Do they have better form? What do they have that you don’t? Then it hits you. Nutrition. The one place you don’t put in as much effort. Specifically, you think about their protein intake. They always make sure to have a protein shake on the way out of the gym and always include some sort of protein in their meals.

Or maybe you always heard people talking about protein and you want in on the train.

You decide to head on over to the store to buy yourself some protein, but there are so many types available. Where do you start?

You’re overwhelmed by the huge selection on the shelf. In fact, there’s an entire wall dedicated to it (in some stores, multiple walls!). They all have flashy labels, and all make different claims. You see words like “casein,” “whey,” and “plant based,” among many others. What’s with all of these different types of protein. And do they really make a difference when it comes to your gains in the gym?

Yes, in fact it does. But can you really trust the person behind the counter to know what kind of protein you should go with? Wouldn’t it be better if you could walk in there and pick up exactly what you need without needing help? It may seem confusing at first, but don’t get too stressed. This article will explain what all those labels mean. Trust me, it’s not as confusing as it may seem.

First, What is Protein?

This is a fairly common question. Protein is held up as almost a one stop shop for health by some blogs and fitness professionals. Other places describe how it a necessary part of the human diet.

The answer is, it’s both. Protein can be a one stop shop for your fitness needs AND also plays an integral role in your overall existence, wellbeing, and quality of life.

‘Proteins’ are organic compounds made up of amino acids (the building blocks of life), organized in different sequences. That’s all they are at a simplistic level. Our bodies use various proteins (amino acids) to perform all sorts of different functions. What we do with them when we consume them is far more complex.

How Does My Body Use Protein?

Wall of protein powders at the store

Humans use protein in many ways to perform many different functions throughout the day. A few ways that protein helps us out in our daily lives include:

  • Energy Supply: Proteins can be broken down and used as an energy source in our bodies.
  • Structural Support: They are crucial for the building and maintenance of body tissues such as muscle, bone, skin, and blood vessels.
  • Hormonal Production: Proteins are involved in the creation of hormones, which play essential roles in regulating bodily functions.
  • Immune Function: Antibodies, which are made of protein, help fight off infections and diseases by recognizing and attacking bacteria and viruses.
  • Transport and Storage: Some proteins act as carriers or transport molecules in the blood, helping move substances around the body. Examples include hemoglobin, which transports oxygen, and lipoproteins, which carry fats.
  • Enzymatic Activities: Proteins serve as enzymes that speed up chemical reactions in the body, essential for digestion, energy production, and various metabolic processes.

Protein does far more than we give it credit for. While protein deficiency is actually quite rare in developed countries, people in developing and third world countries as well as those in developed countries with an imbalanced diet can fall victim to low protein intake.

Signs of protein deficiency

Not getting enough protein in your diet can lead to multiple problems. Issues associated with deficiencies include:

  • Feeling Tired and Weak: People with protein deficiency often feel constantly sluggish and weak because protein is necessary for energy.
  • Brittle Hair and Nails: If you’re low on protein, your hair and nails might become brittle and weak.
  • Hunger: Since protein plays a significant role in satiety and energy, continuous feelings of hunger may indicate a lack of protein.
  • Unhealthy Skin, Hair, and Nails: Protein deficiency can lead to visual changes in skin, hair, and nails, such as raised ridges and white lines appearing on nails.
  • Edema (Swelling): One common sign of protein deficiency is swelling in the abdomen, legs, feet, and hands.
  • Muscle Wasting: This refers to the decrease in muscle mass. Protein is the main building block of your muscles and without enough, your muscles may start to waste away.
  • Slow Healing: Wounds might take longer to heal when dietary protein is lacking, as it is needed for tissue growth and repair.
  • Weakened Immune System: Protein is crucial for a strong immune system. Lack of it might result in frequent infections, as the body struggles to produce sufficient antibodies.

None of these things are conducive to a good exercise routine.

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How Much Do I Need?

The age-old question of ‘how much protein do I need a day‘ is contested by nearly everyone in the fitness world. Current FDA recommendations say you should eat 50g a day. Other people believe you need to eat 1 gram of protein per bodyweight pound (e.g. if you weigh 180lbs, you should eat 180g of protein a day), others say you should aim for .5g/lb, and yet others still say you should eat 2g per body weight pound. The answer, like anything else having to do with you individually, probably isn’t as black and white as people try to make it out to be.

Research has shown that eating too much protein can be just as bad for you as not eating enough. Some of the negative ways too much protein can hurt you include:

  • Intestinal discomfort
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Irritability

Most negative issues occur when over 2 grams/lb are consumed daily for a long period of time. Many people have made pretty decent gains without any negative issues when they consume somewhere between 1 and 2 grams of protein for each pound in bodyweight.

Most Common Types of Protein Powder

Protein powders play an integral role in modern fitness and nutrition, catering to various dietary needs and health goals. Let’s delve into the most common types of protein powders, examining their unique characteristics, benefits, and the individuals they may be best suited for.

Whey

This is what’s the considered the “gold standard”, at least in the sports and fitness realm. You’ve probably noticed it’s the most popular and talked about protein out there, and for good reason. Whey, one of the two proteins found in milk, is the fastest absorbing protein that you can consume. The quick absorption speed is exactly what you want after an intense weight training session. Why is that?

When you’re in the gym, you break down muscle tissue. After a workout, your muscles are depleted, torn, and in need of recovery. Because they need to heal, you need to feed them quickly in order to start up the repair process as soon as you possible. Whey causes the greatest stimulus to the skeletal muscle protein synthesis process because it is digested so rapidly in the body. Protein synthesis is the process within a muscle cell that aids in muscle cell growth.

Anatomy of a muscle

Given proper amounts of protein, hydration, and rest you build those muscles back up. That’s why adequate, and rapid, protein intake after a workout is of utmost importance.

Whey protein also contains the widest variety of amino acids, the building blocks of muscle, compared to other types of proteins. Amino acids are the broken down components of protein, and the body requires a wide variety of them in order to optimize the muscle-building process. This gives whey protein another edge over other types of protein out there.

Lastly, concerning whey protein, there are primarily two different types; concentrate and isolate. Whey concentrate has been filtered to the point where there are trace amounts of lactose (milk sugar) left in the powder, giving it small amounts of carbohydrates and fats. Whey isolate is a “cleaner” protein that has been put through an additional filtering process.

The extra filtering gives it virtually no carbohydrate or fat content! Of course, the more filtering in the process, the more expensive the protein.

Casein

Casein protein, the other milk-based protein, is the slowest digesting protein that you will most likely find on a store shelf. Why would you want this a slow digesting protein?

Casein comes in handy when you really don’t have access to protein sources over the course of the day, such as if you’re at work or the time between bedtime and breakfast. In this way, you’ll be able to make sure that you’re optimizing muscle growth at all times.

Most people use casein when they know they will not be consuming any protein sources for a considerable amount of time (usually greater than 4-6 hours). Before bedtime and prior to getting on a long plane ride are good examples. Casein creates a sort of “gel” in the stomach (kind of like fiber does) which “drip feeds” protein into your system over period of up to 8 hours in most cases.

Egg

Eggs

Egg protein can be considered a “medium-digesting protein”; slower than whey but faster than casein. It is often used in unflavored protein products, as it has the most “plain” flavor after processing compared to other types of proteins. Often, egg proteins are included in blended products, which combine multiple types of proteins together in order to vary its rate of digestion. Because it’s an animal protein, it contains all of your essential amino acids, making it a solid choice.

Soy

Soy is actually a high-quality protein source, despite the bad rap that it has gotten over the past few years. It contains all of the essential amino acids just like whey and casein do.

However, it is still the least optimal type of protein compared to pretty much any other type of protein out there. Why is that?

For starters, too much soy has been shown to raise estrogen levels in men. However, in moderation, it is safe. Additionally, research has shown soy to be less optimal for muscle protein synthesis when compared to whey. I wouldn’t recommend it after a workout. You’re better off spending just a little more money on whey so that you can get the most gains for your money, unless your diet requires a more vegetarian/vegan type product.

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Plant

This is usually a blend of differing proteins coming from different vegan sources, such as brown rice, pea, and soy. No single plant source contains all of the essential amino acids necessary for protein synthesis, like animal proteins do so companies will “protein pair” the different sources of protein in order to make sure they have all of the essential amino acids necessary.

However, plant protein still isn’t as optimal as whey is for muscle building, as shown in multiple studies. Although it absorbs faster than casein, it doesn’t absorb nearly as fast as whey due to the increased fiber and fat content from the plant sources. This in turn increases the powders’ calories, which doesn’t make it an optimal choice for those who are on a calorie-restricted diet. It may not be a great choice for most gym goers, but if you are vegan or vegetarian, plant-based supplements are a lifesaver since it’s very difficult to get the recommended amount of protein through a strictly vegetarian diet.

Side Note: Protein supplements are meant to be a supplement, not an exclusive source of protein. Don’t skip out on other sources in your diet such as steak, chicken, beans, vegetables, cottage cheese, and yogurt. With that said, protein shakes definitely help make up any gaps you have when trying to reach your daily intake requirements.

Final Words

This article only scratches the surface of the various types of protein supplements out there. There are many other variations of how you can consume them coming out every day. These are currently the primary types of protein you will see for sale in one form or another.

Determine how much you need to consume, compare with what you are currently eating daily, and adjust. Many of these supplements can fit into your diet, regardless of if you are on keto, doing a flexible diet, or are a vegetarian/vegan!

Let us help you out

We can get you setup with a periodized workout plan, supplement information, and advice on nutrition to help you reach your goals.

Personal trainers, like those found here, can help guide you on your pathway towards reaching your fitness goals, whether that is getting bigger, stronger, faster, more lean, or just staying in shape while stuck at home.

The only thing you need is some motivation and a willingness to change some old habits.

Get into contact with us to find out what membership is right for you. In a CONDITIONerd program, you’ll be surrounded by others who can help you to get where you want to be.

Generally, our clients start to see some pretty awesome changes in 2-3 months time, some sooner.

Author Pic: Brandon

Brandon's Approach to Training

I'm not just any fitness coach. I'm the engine behind CONDITIONerd. My history is packed with sports from my school days, nearly a decade serving as a Marine, and over 17 years tackling every challenge the fitness world could throw at me.
I'm certified in everything that counts—personal training, sports nutrition, bodybuilding, and even corrective exercises to keep you injury-free. At CONDITIONerd, I'm all about setting down the challenge for you to break your limits. No taking the easy way out.

This is your adventure, but remember, I've got your back every step of the way. Are you ready to boost your game? Let’s do this, and let’s do it right

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