Protein has arguably become one of the hottest food trends in the past few years. Why? Market placement, need fulfillment, and acceptance. Protein has seen recognition for fortification in mainstay grocery items in addition to its booming growth in health & wellness nutrition and sport nutrition.
Research has conclusively determined the FDA guidelines for protein are inadequate to support active individual needs. Protein provides vital amino acids for structural integrity of nearly every system in our bodies. Ingesting more of it can have a host of additional benefits such as promoting satiety, encouragement of steady blood sugar levels and support for lean muscle mass to name a few. With a number of protein supplement forms emerging in the market- it’s important to understand the strengths of each as all protein is not created equal. Here we will explore a few of the most common forms of protein to supplement your diet.
Whey protein concentrate & Isolate
Whey protein in the market is primarily derived as a by-product of cheese making. This whey is known as sweet whey due to its high lactose content. It is then channeled through microfilters to remove the lactose and fat to concentrate the whey to a higher % protein, the dominating concentrations being 80% and 90%. Whey protein has been a mainstay in the health industry for a few top reasons:
- Has an excellent essential amino acid profile- including high amounts of branched chained amino acids (BCAAs) and glutamine (amino acid profile consists of appox. 20% BCAA & 15% glutamine) . This amino acid profile is essential for an anabolic environment in the body.
- Is both easily digested and rapidly absorbed. This leads to higher amounts of amino acids in the plasma for your body to utilize- directly leading to an anabolic environment
- Easily palatable- Dairy proteins have a characteristic of being great tasting.
- Has a growing amount of benefits supported by health data, such as improved satiety, greater fat loss and the prevention of certain cancers
Bottom Line: Well documented and proven to be an excellent source of high quality protein for a meal or snack. Especially effective around workouts due to its rapid digestive time and amino acid profile.
Milk protein Concentrate/ Micellar Casein
Milk protein concentrate (MPC) is derived from fresh milk using a membrane filtration system. It is composed primarily of micellar casein (80%) with a smaller amount of whey (20%). Micellar casein forms a gel when it reaches stomach acid- and begins to be absorbed quickly. However, the absorption process of Micellar casein is much slower than whey. This is characterized as a “trickling” of amino acids in the blood stream opposed to a larger spike in amino acids as seen in whey protein. Benefits of Milk protein concentrate:
- Similar to Whey- MPC has a terrific essential amino acid profile providing all essential amino acids- although not quite as high in BCAAs compared to Whey.
- Very high in calcium
- Provides excellent pairing with other faster acting proteins to ensure an anti-catabolic environment. Although amino levels do not spike as high as whey (and thus not as anabolic), casein provides essential amino acids for a much longer time than whey- thus extending the anabolic response when combined with faster digesting sources.
- Promotes satiety- MPC is often added to high protein RTD beverages due to its superior stability compared to other forms. It is also the protein which gives Greek yogurt its creamy texture. Because of the gel formation of casein in the stomach- satiety tends to be greater than other forms of protein. Think of eating non-fat Greek yogurt vs. conventional non-fat yogurt. Which type makes you feel fuller and sticks with you longer?
Bottom line: Extremely well established, great source of protein providing essential amino acid for an extended period of time for a meal or snack. Perfect source for when going an extended period of time between a meal (before bed) or to maintain an anti-catabolic environment anytime of the day. Great choice to pair with faster acting protein.
Pea Protein isolate
Pea protein is extracted from yellow peas under a proprietary process (protein accounts for roughly 25% of the pea). Similar to brown rice, pea protein isolate has a good amino acid profile – containing all of the 9 essential amino acids. However, some of these amino acids are low or inadequate for the body to utilize in an accurate manner- thus it is recognized as incomplete. Pea protein has been very popular in the vegan line of choice for individuals who are dairy sensitive. It also has excellent satiety benefits. There is a surprising large list of benefits of pea protein isolate.
- Hypoallergenic- Pea does not contain any major allergens
- High in branched chained amino acids- BCAAs have been shown to be 3 key amino acids for muscle recovery and protein synthesis activation. Pea protein, although not as high as whey, is a great source of these amino acids and is very important for the individual who chooses not to ingest dairy.
- Great satiety research- If you find yourself reaching for more food than you think you need, pea protein might help keep you hunger pains at bay. Several studies have shown pea to have great satiety benefits.
- Depending on extraction method- pea protein can have a full bodied mouthfeel which can be very attractive. However, it is much more difficult to flavor than dairy- often leaving a slight linger of pea in one’s mouth. However, depending on the individual this taste to be minimal and not an issue after a few sips
Bottom line: Pea is a low cost, good option for those wishing to avoid dairy proteins
Beef protein isolate
How about drinking your steak instead of eating it? Beef protein has become more popular over the last year and will continue to be introduced into the market. Beef protein isolate is hydrolyzed from the meat of cattle-this is not to be confused with collagen tissue. Collagen is a protein found primarily in ligaments and tendons and is predominate in Hydroxyproline opposed to a balanced amino acid profile. Beef isolate is found directly from the muscle tissue of cattle. Beef isolate offers unique benefits:
- High protein content- By weight beef protein isolate is about 98% protein- this is hard to match by any source of protein out there.
- Easily digestible- Beef protein isolate tends to be easy to digest and assimilate in the body.
- High in essential amino acid- Beef protein is especially high in glycine and proline. Glycine helps convert glucose into energy and is also essential in the production of Hemoglobin for red blood cell integrity.
- Hypoallergenic- Like Pea protein, Beef isolate does not contain any allergens.
- Additional vitamin & mineral benefits- Beef likely will contain a good amount of naturally occurring b-vitamins and minerals.
- Although beef protein does sound appealing- the flavor of these beverages is actually quite comparable to whey.
Bottom line: Beef is a new, easily digestible protein source providing a unique amino acid profile alternative to dairy proteins. The sound of drinking beef may not sound appealing, but taste is surprisingly better than what it sounds.
Egg albumen is pasteurized and dried egg whites. In fact, dry egg protein powder can be reconstituted to form egg whites by simply adding water. The validity of egg albumen protein doesn’t need any special introduction. Egg albumen is high in essential amino acids and has been a recognized good source of protein for countless years. The benefit of including a egg albumen protein as a beverage.
- Very easily digestible (similar to whey) with a perfect PDCAA score of 100. This means the body can use all the protein ingested from Eggs
- Steady absorption- Egg protein digests at a medium pace. Compared to whey’s fast digestion and Milk protein concentrates’ slower digestion, Egg albumen falls right in the middle. This provides an excellent choice to pair with other dairy proteins as highly usable protein sources
- Egg albumen can be hard to flavor due to the sulfur like notes it can present-for this reason some individuals may want to mix with other more palatable protein sources
- Egg prices can be more expensive than other proteins.
Bottom Line: Can’t go wrong with egg protein- high in arginine and other important amino acids. Taste and cost are often the limiting factors.
Soy Protein Isolate
Soy protein is a plant protein derived from soybeans. It has been available as a protein supplement for a number of years and is low in cost. This protein has been shown to be less effective than dairy proteins when placed head to head in terms of muscle protein synthesis. For this reason soy is on the regress in terms of formulation work due to other, more promising allergen free dairy protein alternatives.
- Soy protein is a complete protein and provides a good source of all amino acids- however it is not as absorbable as egg or whey protein
- Soy does contain isoflavones- excessive isolfavones in the diet has seen conflicting data and may not be beneficial long term for certain individuals- mainly men.
- Flavoring Soy can be difficult as it has a characteric “beany” taste that may be less desirable by some consumers
- Although shown to be less effective than other proteins on it’s own- research has shown combining this with other protein sources extends the anabolic response of a single source of protein.
- Soy protein is often added to protein blends due to cheaper cost compared to dairy or egg protein. Often found in protein bars due to good stability.
Bottom line: Soy has largely been replaced by pea and rice in the non-dairy category, however it is still added as good quality protein source in protein bars and granola bars due to good functional characteristics and low cost.
Rice protein is extracted (more recently through an enzymatic process) from whole grain brown rice and concentrated to 70-80 or 90 % protein. It has been a popular protein recently due to its allergen free status, it’s natural appeal and good source of amino acids.
- Rice protein is a good source of L-Aspartamine, L-Glutamine and branched chained amino acids (BCAAs). For this reason, some recent research suggests Rice protein may be as effective as some dairy proteins for stimulating the anabolic response when given in larger dosages. Like other plant proteins- a lower amount of total essential amino acids is often a characteristic compared to dairy proteins.
- Taste can be gritty and inconsistent- this provides challenges when flavoring to provide a sensory mouthfeel and acceptable taste to the consumer
- Usually a good choice for those wishing to avoid allergens- good to combine with pea protein.
Bottom line- Rice protein is a solid choice for those wishing to avoid dairy and other allergens as it has good preliminary research for effectiveness. The taste can be challenging to work with.
What to watch for in the coming years
Algae protein may be the next up and coming allergen free protein in the coming years due to a few reason :
- Solid amino acid profile- Algae provides a complete source of protein that is allergen free.
- Steady supply- the manufacturing of Algae can be grown very economically. For this reason it can be sustained to support the ongoing demand for protein in the market place.
- Improvements in sensory characteristics: This tends to be mild and able to flavor easier than other non-dairy protein sources.
Bottom line– Algae may be part of the future to meet high quality protein demand. I expect this to become more dominate in the next few years.
Animal proteins such as dairy provide a high level of essential amino acids. Non-animal sources such as pea, rice and soy may offer unique benefits- however research as shown a higher amount of these proteins are needed in order to have the same anabolic response as animal proteins due to a lower level of essential amino acids. Although some sources have certain advantages- Make sure to combine sources of proteins to provide a balance of amino acids in the diet and extend the anabolic response of protein throughout the day.
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