Concentrate, isolate, hydrolysate! Whey, casein, albumin, soy, glutamine peptide! With so many protein sources for supplements
, how's a bodybuilder to choose? Protein has its own language, and if you don't speak it, you might as well close your eyes and pick your protein without looking. Our guide gives you an overview of 14 types of protein, so you can choose which are best for your physique goals and your budget.
COST CODE The $$-$$$$ symbols refer to relative costs and will vary depending on the brand. Some protein powders can be cheaper per gram than meat or fish. Generally, the greater the processing, the higher the price.
Soy protein is produced using de-fatted soy flakes and an extraction process that removes soluble carbohydrates (sugars).
Higher-quality soy will often contain isoflavones, health-promoting plant compounds shown in research to help prevent cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, bone problems and menopausal symptoms.
Soy Protein Concentrate (SPC) $$
About 70% protein, it's relatively low in carbohydrates and low in fat. Small amounts of the fibers raffinose and stachyose can cause gas. A good all-purpose protein.
Soy Protein Isolate (SPI) $$$
Refined to remove any unwanted potential gas-producing fibers, this has upwards of 90% protein. Good for dieting.
Wheat protein's special benefit is that it's high in glutamine, which can aid muscle building and recovery.
Wheat Protein Hydrolysate (glutamine peptide) $$$
Wheat is processed to remove most carbs and fat, then hydrolyzed, using enzymes to break up the long protein chains. This results in wheat protein hydrolysate, commonly known as "glutamine peptide."
Glutamine peptide is generally 30% l-glutamine. The advantage of glutamine peptide is that it's more stable than l-glutamine in stomach acid. Regular l-glutamine can convert to glutamic acid (aka l-glutamate) when exposed to stomach acid, and glutamic acid is not as useful for building muscle and recovery as l-glutamine. The absorption of glutamine peptide is enhanced because it's hydrolyzed into smaller amino-acid chains.
Be sure to calculate the real amount of glutamine in a product. Multiply its grams of glutamine peptide by 30% to get your actual glutamine intake. Big bodybuilders may take in as much as 50 grams of glutamine per day, with the average person needing 10-20 grams.
Milk is a source of multiple forms of protein, including whole-milk protein, which is made via a filtration process that removes much of the carbohydrate and fat from whole milk.
Because it's made via filtration, biologically valuable fractions like alpha lactalbumin, glycomacropeptides, lactoferrin and lactoperoxidase, among others, remain. These are health promoting for the immune system and aid in recovery from strenuous exercise. Milk proteins are good for everything except immediately post-workout because they are relatively slow to absorb. Two forms of whole-milk protein are:
Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC) $$$
This contains both the whey and the casein fractions of milk. Good all-around protein, except immediately post-workout.
Milk Protein Isolate (MPI) $$$$
Further processing yields a protein virtually devoid of carbohydrate and fat, so it's good for dieting. High processing makes it pricey. Not ideal for post-workout use.
Whey protein is king of the protein heap. In general, whey proteins are digested quickly, which makes them good for most uses except slow, sustained delivery of amino acids.
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) $$
Used as a base protein by many bodybuilders, WPC contains some carbohydrate and fat. It's created via ion exchange and/or a filtering process, sometimes called microfiltration or ultrafiltration. Filtered whey concentrate usually contains much of the vital fractions of whole-milk proteins. Ion exchange uses an electrical charge to separate protein from carbs and fat, resulting in highly purified protein.
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) $$$
Isolate is purer, and it's valued for its lower carbohydrate and fat content, which is useful when dieting.
Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH) $$$$
The protein is hydrolyzed, in which enzymes break some amino-acid bonds, for faster digestion and absorption. WPH can range from 3% to 50% hydrolyzed. Despite the bad taste, WPH is excellent for people who want a fast-absorbing protein post-workout.
Casein protein is the other part of the protein in milk. It's harder to digest and absorb than whey, so it's slower to deliver amino acids to the blood and muscles. This can be an advantage when you want a constant supply of amino acids available for muscle repair, recovery and growth - such as before bedtime. It's also often low-carb and low-fat. The caseinate forms, made from acidification during cheese production, similar except for the different minerals included.
Calcium Caseinate $$
This will give you extra calcium.
Sodium Caseinate $$
Avoid this if you need to limit sodium.
Potassium Caseinate $$
The potassium may relieve muscle cramping.
Rennet Casein $$$
Made using rennet, an enzyme, to separate the casein from the whey. Similar to micellar casein in slow digestion and prolonged delivery of amino acids.
Micellar Casein $$$
It has the ability to clot in the stomach, delaying absorption for slow, steady delivery of amino acids.
Before whey and casein were available, athletes consumed egg whites by the truckload. As whey protein prices dropped, consumers started going away from the more expensive egg-white protein.
Egg-White Protein (Albumin) $$$$
This is one of the highest-quality proteins available. Egg protein, commonly called egg-white albumin, is expensive compared to whey and casein. Virtually devoid of carbs and fat, egg-white protein is a very clean source of protein. It's used by athletes who are dieting or are allergic to whey or casein (milk). It's often part of protein blends in protein powders and meal-replacement shakes.
A frequent contributor to M&F, Alan Shugarman, MS, RD, has extensive experience in the supplement industry.