Protein has a key role in muscle growth and repair, and protein supplements are a convenient way to add extra protein when it’s needed. Protein supplements can be helpful as part of someone’s overall nutrition plan and goals, however for others they can add unnecessary extra calories.
Muscle gain goals, and frequent high intensity exercise increase protein demands. The type of protein is important. Protein from animal sources is considered high biological value – it is better utilised by the body and contains all of the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) the body needs. There are now also plant-based options that follow closely behind. A general explanation of protein supplements is below.
High biological value, and often labelled whey protein isolate (or WPI). This is a good choice if aiming to limit overall calories, as it contains approximately 90% protein with little carbs or fat.
High biological value derived from milk. May be considered inferior to whey protein as it forms curds in the acidic environment of the stomach which results in slower digestion, and slower release of amino acids into the blood stream.
High biological value and rapidly digested. Suitable for people who prefer to eat plant-based. Pea protein has a similar profile with good bio-availability.
High biological value protein. No carbs or fat but is more expensive than whey and casein.
Protein supplements can contain either protein and carbohydrates, or protein only, and can have additions such as creatine, vitamins and minerals.
Some protein powders are hydrolysed (e.g. Whey Protein Hydrolysate or WPH), which means the protein is partially broken down into amino acids. The theory is that this speeds up muscle growth by getting the protein in to your blood stream quicker, however the science is yet to conclusively prove this.
If aiming for pure protein, without additional calories from carbohydrates and fat, a simple whey protein isolate is a good choice. For those that prefer non-dairy options, soy protein isolate or pea protein isolate are powders that give excellent bang for your buck.
For high intensity workouts, or where overall weight gain is also a goal, protein powders that contain carbohydrate and are a good nutritionally dense choice that help replete energy stores. The amount of protein to have needs to be tailored to the individual.
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