Everything you need to know about protein supplements

24 June 2020 Nutrition

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If you have ever stepped into a gym in the recent past, you’ve probably heard of protein supplements and post workout shakes. One of the most important things to build muscle and lose fat is to consume enough protein and the correct amount of calories. While most of your protein intake should come from whole foods like chicken, eggs, fish, nuts and vegetarian sources, most people find it difficult to meet their protein requirements though whole foods alone (though this should be what you strive for). This is especially true for vegetarians or vegans whose sources of protein are naturally high in carbs and/or fats and generally high in calories as compared to an animal protein source, making it even harder to get adequate protein when in a caloric restriction. These are situations where protein supplements come in handy.

There are different kinds of protein supplements to suit different dietary needs. I have explained the most popular ones below.

Whey protein

Whey protein is by far the most common and popular protein supplement. Milk consists of whey and casein protein. Whey is a byproduct of cheese making, it is the liquid left behind once the solid chunks of paneer are removed. Whey protein is considered a complete protein because it contains all the 9 essential amino acids (these are the ones the body can’t produce by itself and must come from outside sources).

Whey is processed further to make whey protein concentrate (WPC). Most whey concentrates on average contain around 70-80% protein per serving though this can vary greatly depending on the manufacturer. Whey concentrate is the most cost effective protein supplement one can find.

Whey protein isolate (WPI) is further processed using cold processed micro filtration or ion exchange (stay away from whey isolates that use ion exchange) to almost completely remove all carbs, fats as well as lactose. This makes whey isolate ideal for anyone that is lactose intolerant or for professionals really looking to cut carbs and fats. Whey isolates are also faster digesting than whey concentrates but we know that’s not really an important consideration. Whey isolates tend to be a lot more expensive than whey concentrates so I wouldn’t advice buying them unless you have the money to spare or you fit into one of the above categories.

Finally we have whey protein hydrolysate (WPH) which is basically pre-digested and is the fastest digesting whey protein. It also tends to be much more expensive and is the worst tasting of the lot so I would not recommend it.

Vegan/plant proteins

For vegans, those following paleo diets or those that generally want to mix up their protein sources, there are plenty of options such as pea protein, brown rice protein, soy protein (make sure it’s non-GMO), hemp protein and many many more. The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing a plant based protein supplement is to make sure that it is a complete protein. While whey and animal derived protein are considered complete proteins, a lot of plant based proteins are not. This generally means that most protein supplements combine a mixture of protein sources to form a complete protein supplement. Just be sure to check this before investing in a plant based protein.

Casein protein

Milk consists of two kinds of protein, whey and casein. While whey is the milky liquid that separates out, casein is what is found in paneer. Casein is considered a slow digesting protein so a lot of people tend to consume this at night. My recommendation would be to just go with whey protein and mix it into milk or yoghurt at night. This will give you the same benefit proponents of casein claim it has.

Egg, Beef protein

The other kinds of protein supplements that I have come across are egg white protein and beef protein. Egg white proteins generally taste terrible and beef proteins aren’t much better either. Some people claim beef proteins are great and it helps build muscle. The reason they claim this is because beef protein supplements naturally contain creatine and this helps with power output and therefore muscle building. My recommendation here is to again stick to whey protein and use a creatine supplement if you wish.

How to pick a good protein supplement

Now that you know about the various kinds of protein supplements, how do you pick a good supplement? These are the ingredients I would like to see in a whey protein supplement that I can recommend wholeheartedly,

  • Organic, grass fed, hormone free whey (concentrate, isolate or a mixture of the two)
  • Natural flavouring (if it’s flavoured)
  • Stevia (if it’s flavoured)
  • Sunflower or Non-GMO soy lecithin (as an emulsifier)

That’s it! And if it tastes passable or even good then you’re sorted. You really don’t need anything else in your protein supplement. If there are other substances you need to question their presence with a critical eye and decide for yourself if it’s ok or not.

Now, coming to the real world, finding a protein supplement with the ingredients I listed is next to impossible in India. You can find them abroad but they generally tend to be much more expensive. If you have the opportunity to buy abroad I recommend looking at Muscle feast’s hormone free, grass fed whey. In India, I recommend you look into Myprotein and their offering in India. While they don’t have organic, grass fed whey and it takes time for deliveries (thanks to our efficient customs), it’s worthwhile looking at because you’re getting a genuine product that ranks highly in independent tests, direct from the manufacturer and at a reasonable price. I’ve also come across OMG Labs, but I’ve never used it so don’t know what it’s like. Another thing with OMG Labs is that their whey is unflavoured, which is fine for me since I blend mine with fruits and berries, but you don’t even get the option of a flavoured protein. Have you tried OMG Labs supplements? Would you recommend them? Do you know other protein supplements worth looking at?