What is the Best Type of Protein Powder?
People looking to enhance the effects of their workouts often use protein powder supplements. Why? Protein consumption strategies increase muscle hypertrophy, increase fat-free mass, and decrease fatty mass
People looking to enhance the effects of their workouts often use protein powder supplements. Why? Protein consumption strategies increase muscle hypertrophy, increase fat-free mass, and decrease fatty mass.1-3 On the other hand, consumers have a wide variety of products from which to choose. Which ones work, or which one works best? The protein powders have different sources. For example: soy, whey, casein, and peas. Additionally, the protein powders have different manufacturing processes. Primarily, these include isolated, concentrated, and hydrolysed proteins. For that matter, is a concentrate more effective than simply eating a cup of high-protein yogurt after your workout? We have known for decades that the answer will be complex and nuanced.
Timing: Be sure to check out our previous article about the best timing for protein.
Slow and Fast Release Proteins
Researchers have found that whey and soy proteins result in faster and larger increases in the amount of protein in the blood. However, soy and whey protein also disappears from the blood in one to two hours. Casein, on the other hand, results in smaller increases in blood protein, but the increases last for seven hours.
How the Body Responds to Protein Powder
Increases in blood protein availability (more specifically, serum amino acid availability) trigger a rapid and sizable increase in muscle protein synthesis. Importantly, the response is short lived, regardless of whether more protein is available at that moment or later.6
The answer from one study will tend to be a specific answer for a specific circumstance. It is likely, that over time, researchers will find that different protein strategies are right for different situations. We may need to take into consideration the remainder of the person’s dietary habits, age, weight, weight-loss goals, performance goals, exercise patterns, etc.3
Whey, Soy, or Casein for Building Muscle
One such specific answer comes to us from Jason Tang (McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) and colleagues. They took three groups of healthy, young men and had them perform resistance exercises on one leg. Then they gave them a drink containing 10g of amino acids, either whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate. The whey resulted in the largest increase of amino acids (protein) in the blood. Mixed muscle protein synthesis was greatest with whey. Mixed muscle protein synthesis refers to the process and rate at which amino acids (the building blocks for protein) are moved from the blood into the protein of skeletal muscles. Whey resulted in 18% more mixed muscle protein synthesis than soy and a whopping 93% more than casein. By this measure, casein was the least effective for building muscle, soy was good, and whey was best.
- Tang JE, Moore DR, Kujbida GW, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2009 Sep 1.
- A Castro LH, S de Araújo FH, M Olimpio MY, B de B Primo R, T Pereira T, F Lopes LA, BS de M Trindade E, Fernandes R, A Oesterreich S. Comparative meta-analysis of the effect of concentrated, hydrolyzed, and isolated whey protein supplementation on body composition of physical activity practitioners. Nutrients. 2019 Sep;11(9):2047.
- Lemon PW, Berardi JM, Noreen EE. The role of protein and amino acid supplements in the athlete's diet: does type or timing of ingestion matter?. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2002 Aug 1;1(4):214-21.
- Boirie Y, Dangin M, Gachon P, Vasson MP, Maubois JL, Beaufrère B. Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 1997 Dec 23;94(26):14930-5.
- Bohé J, Low JA, Wolfe RR, Rennie MJ. Rapid report: Latency and duration of stimulation of human muscle protein synthesis during continuous infusion of amino acids. The Journal of Physiology. 2001 Apr;532(2):575-9.