Protein is an essential macronutrient that the body requires on a daily basis. Large quantities, considered to be in excess of 1.5 grams per pound of body weight, can be difficult for the body to digest. Individual activity levels require additional protein requirements. This is especially true when one’s goal is to gain lean body mass. The busy schedules of today demand convenience and nutritionally dense superfoods. This is where protein powder supplements play a vital role in physically active and demanding fitness lifestyles.
Protein powder can be broken down into 5 main categories; Buckwheat Protein, Casein Protein, Egg Protein, Soy Protein and Whey Protein. Below you will find brief descriptions of each.
1. BUCKWHEAT PROTEIN (BWP)
Buckwheat protein consists of well-balanced amino acids with high biological value, although its digestibility is relatively low. BWP contains 2.8-fold more arginine than casein. The content of arginine in BWP is equivalent to the content of casein supplemented with 15 g/kg arginine. BWP has a high content of dietary fiber which helps the body eliminate cholesterol, which in turn increases blood flow and therefore lowers blood pressure.
Although other grains contain protein, the buckwheat protein has been shown to be particularly powerful in preventing the accumulation of fat in the body. BWP also contains other minor components such as lipids and fiber. BWP is fairly new to the supplement market, having only a few protein supplements containing this ingredient.
2. CASEIN PROTEIN
Casein is the principal protein of cow’s milk. It is the curd that forms when milk is left to sour. It is the most commonly used milk protein in the food industry and contains 21 amino acids. Since casein itself will not dissolve in the water you will more likely see caseinates, which are the salts of casein, on ingredients labels. They are made by dissolving acid casein in a suitable hydroxide and drying it to make a water-soluble product. Ammonium caseinate is used mainly in bakery products, therefore, it does not have to be listed on the ingredients label.
Calcium caseinate is used as a nutrient supplement. It is used in creamed cottage cheese, powdered diet supplements, nutritional beverages, processed cheese, and frozen desserts because it has a milky appearance and smooth feel in the mouth. Calcium caseinate breaks down slowly in the digestive system making it a great night-time protein. Caseinates coagulate in the stomach so that the protein peptides and amino acids pass more slowly through the gut. This improves satiety (appetite satisfaction) while prolonging the supply of nitrogen to the muscle tissue, thus preventing muscle wastage.
3. EGG PROTEIN
Egg protein is extracted from pure egg whites and has one of the highest P.E.R. (Protein Efficiency Ratio) at 3.9. This is an important point because the higher the P.E.R. the better the body utilizes the protein. Egg protein has the longest history of use among weightlifters and bodybuilders due to its high ratio of absorption and its time-proven results; not to mention that for many years it was the only type of protein powder other than milk.
Like the Whey and Soy Proteins, Egg Protein offers the full spectrum of amino acids in an efficient form that is readily used by the body while being fat and cholesterol free. As far as protein powders are concerned, it is not very soluble and used to require a blender. Today with the advancement of emulsifiers, it can be mixed with a spoon. The cost of Egg Protein is usually in the same range as WPI. If you are ever in doubt about which protein powder to choose, this is always a good choice.
4. SOY PROTEIN
Soy Protein is extracted from the soybean. New processing techniques which use a slightly alkaline pH, followed by precipitation, washing and drying phases yields what is called “Soy Protein Isolate”. This process retains about ninety (90) percent of the protein. Soy Protein is an abundant, economical protein source. Soy products offer numerous additional health benefits, from lowering the risk of cancer, osteoporosis and other chronic diseases to easing the symptoms of menopause.
This type of protein is especially good for women who are looking to balance hormone levels. Soy protein isolates are a highly digestible source of amino acids: the protein building blocks essential for human health. Soy protein is low in fat, calories and cholesterol. The cost is usually somewhere between the Whey Protein Isolate and Egg Protein.
5. WHEY PROTEIN
Whey proteins comprise one of the two major protein groups of bovine milk, the other group being the caseins. Caseins account for about 80% of the total protein in bovine milk, while whey proteins account for the remaining approximately 20%. Whey is derived as a natural byproduct of the cheese-making process. In addition to proteins, the raw form contains fat, lactose and other substances. The raw form is processed to produce protein-rich whey protein concentrates (WPC) and whey protein isolates (WPI), among other things.
Whey proteins are comprised of high-biological-value proteins and proteins that have different functions. The main whey proteins are beta-lactoglobulin and Alpha-lactoglobulin, two small globular proteins that account for about 70 to 80% of total whey protein. Proteins present in lesser amounts include the immunoglobulins IgG, IgA, and IgM, but especially IgG, glycomacropeptides, bovine serum albumin, lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, and lysozyme. Whey proteins also contain smaller peptides derived from various proteins which are called biopeptides.
There are various processes for preparing whey protein isolates. Ion-exchange whey protein isolates are high in protein but low in glycomacropeptides, lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase and some bioactive peptides. Microfiltration/ultrafiltration whey protein isolates have higher amounts of glycomacropeptides, lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase and the bioactive peptides, but are lower in bovine serum albumin.
Interestingly, bovine serum albumin, along with beta-lactoglobulin and IgG1, are proteins with abundant glutamylcysteine sequences. Glutamylcysteine is the precursor to glutathione. Cross-flow microfiltration gives a whey protein isolate which is greater than 90% in protein that is undenatured and that retains all important subfractions in natural ratios, with no fat or lactose.
Whey Protein comes in three different types: Hydrolyzed Whey Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Isolate, and Whey Protein Concentrate.
5a. HYDROLYZED WHEY PROTEIN ISOLATE (HWPI)
In the whey protein family, Hydrolyzed Whey Protein is the most readily digestible. While having the highest efficacy of all the whey proteins it is also the most expensive. HWPI is partially utilized to aid in the human digestive process, which makes it very soluble. The problem with HPWI is that it has an extremely bitter taste that is impossible to overcome with sweeteners or flavorings, which prevent it from possibly ever becoming a primary ingredient in this class of protein supplementation. HPWI still can be found in some supplements but as one of the lesser ingredients.
5b. WHEY PROTEIN ISOLATE (WPI)
Whey Protein Isolate is a whole other story. WPI has a good taste and is also extremely digestible. WPI is almost entirely void of fat and is lactose-free. The latter is of great importance to individuals with lactose intolerance. The process of cross-flow microfiltration helped to revolutionize this type of protein. This is the phase of processing which follows the “concentration” phase to “isolate” the whey protein.
5c. WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE (WPC)
Whey Protein concentrates have a variety of different problems associated with them. Symptoms from users of WPC included bloating, gas and in some cases diarrhea. There is a very large variance in the protein content itself. Actual protein content can vary widely from twenty-five (25) to eighty (80) percent that is a direct result of the dependence on the quality and cost.
If you were to compare WPI to WPC you will find that WPC has higher concentrations of fat, carbohydrate, and lactose. The absorption is also reduced due to the lower assimilation in the stomach and intestines.
Due to the lower cost of manufacturing and the reduced quality and quantity of the protein content, this is the most economical.