Protein plays a critical role in the structuring, functioning, and regulation of the human body. They are essential to maintaining, building, and repairing all of the body’s internal tissues and organs to keep us operating at optimal conditions at all times. (HelpGuide.org)
After the consumption process, protein is broken down into 20 different types of amino acids, which are considered building blocks for both energy and growth. The specific sequence of amino acids strictly determines each protein’s structure and function in the human body. (HelpGuide.org)
Although proteins are one of the most commonly found nutrients amongst our local grocer, they are also one of the most commonly misunderstood.
Proteins can be found in your steak on the grill, your daily energy bar that rids you of lingering fatigue, and your protein shake that helps facilitate muscle growth after your workout. Though all these foods have protein in common, it is crucial to note that quality is just as important as quantity when it comes to the consumption of proteins.
Here’s a list of advantages to a supplemental protein diet:
- Strengthens the immune system.
- Regulates both heart and respiratory health.
- Improves recovery time after exercise.
- Assists in the growth and development of children.
- Reduced risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Improved cognitive functioning and mood.
- Boost resistance to stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Suppresses appetite, and fuels you with extra energy for exercise.
Why Use Protein Powders?
Let’s face it—we all have busy schedules and long to-do lists, and no one has time for a gourmet, meat-driven, protein-packed meal every time hunger strikes. Protein powders offer that meal replacement for something fast, tasty, and on-the-go. Protein shakes aren’t just considered a meal substitute simply because they are filling — the powders that often constitute a base for smoothies and other blended elixirs are made from highly nourishing sources — ones that can help pave the way to a longer life and healthier lifestyle. But how do you choose which ones work best with your recipe, and for your personal nutritional needs? There’s a lot of information out there, but this piece aims to cut through all the noise and collect a succinct, clear comparison of the top protein contenders.
Before digging into nuances, let’s address the concept as a whole — why do we use protein powders?
Simply put, the process of turning these proteins into powders creates accessible, easy-to-use nutrients for a recipe that is likely more complete in antioxidants and other benefits. In today’s society, these powders are most often used for muscle growth and recovery, meal replacement, and for people looking to give substance to their sustenance.
Many of these proteins aid in muscle building for those who are training and lifting weights (https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/6/376). Supplementing protein into your diet could potentially make the muscles you’re already building grow stronger and sculpt faster. Make no mistake, though, protein powder is not just for bodybuilders. People are looking to access fuller nutrition in their daily lives, and more complete wellness. Whey, collagen, and other proteins are simple additions that can supply prime minerals, amino acids, or other supplements your recipe might otherwise lack.
Whey is one of the primary proteins found in dairy products. More specifically, it’s a byproduct of the cheese-making process: when separated into the curds that form cheese, the milk leaves a clear, watery protein. That’s where whey comes in. When consumed as a protein supplement, whey provides a significant amount of amino acids that are necessary for optimal body functions and can assist when building muscles and burning fat.
It’s specifically the effect that this protein has on muscles that leads it to be one of the more obvious choices for athletes. As mentioned, it can build the muscles themselves, but it can also help repair muscles. This is because of those lovely amino acids—which could also help in making whey easy for your body to digest.
Athletes use whey to help burn fat, too. This protein can help by making you fuller for longer. The combination of reducing hunger and aiding in muscle build-up can lead to an optimally beneficial active lifestyle.
There are options for those looking for protein powder but avoiding animal products. Protein taken from seeds, like hemp or protein, seem to be growing in popularity because they are high in protein and healthy, essential minerals. When the pumpkin seeds are made into powder, much of the fat is taken out in the process, but the protein stays, which means that it can still help sustain fullness throughout the day.
Since plant-based proteins are often significantly lower in amino acids than whey or other animal proteins, it might be considered less “complete” than its animal-based competitors. But rest assured, pumpkin protein is packed with magnesium, iron, and zinc, high in fiber, and some studies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23869935) might imply that it carries anti-inflammatory properties! These protein powders are a healthy, vegan-friendly option for those seeking overall wellness and sustained energy.
Collagen is found all over our bodies—prevalent in human muscles, tendons, and skin. When we’re young, people have an ample amount of collagen, but that dwindles with age. Ever wonder why collagen is in skincare products as well as edible protein powders? The elasticity that collagen provides might maintain tighter skin along with healthier tendons. Consuming collagen can be a smart way to get that long-term elasticity.
An important note: proteins are not gendered. Sometimes, whey appears to be marketed as a masculine product and considered a protein that men alone need, while something like collagen looks like it might be marketed to women because it is used in skincare products. Both of these proteins are wonderful additions to countless recipes, and those foods and smoothies have nothing to do with gender. Collagen, for example, has a wealth of three major amino acids (glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline) along with over a dozen others (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21582/) Every human body could potentially benefit from these amino acids—male and female alike.
Collagen also shows signs of helping with the digestive system (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1770111/). Some of those amino acids can help your intestines absorb the right amount of water and nutrients as you digest, which could potentially aid with the symptoms of gastrointestinal diseases like acid reflux.
It only makes sense that a supplement that comes from bones would supply an abundance of nutritional benefits. Bone broth powder comes from an animal’s bones and tissues (usually chicken or cow), and often the protein contains nutrients from the marrow inside those bones. Bone marrow contains highly nutritious materials like iron and zinc.
Similar to collagen, the nutrients provided might protect your joints. Aging is likely to cause the cartilage in your joints to break down due to consistent use, hence some runners worrying about the longevity of their joints. The gelatin and amino acids found in bone broth can potentially increase the collagen in tissues (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5633631/), protecting your joints from wearing down over time.
If you’re looking for a natural way to detox, bone broth might be the protein powder of choice. Some research has suggested (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22913202) that glycine, one of the prevalent amino acids in bone broth, might reduce liver damage and repair some damage that toxins create when passing through your body.
Whatever your choice, there are countless reasons to add one of these four protein powders into your daily routine. The benefits of choosing a protein shake go beyond muscle growth, reaching toward a multitude of goals that enhance overall wellbeing. Not all protein powders are created equal—reading labels is an absolute must. If you aim for the highest quality of ingredients, shopping with caution will ensure maximum nutritional potential. So choose wisely — and have fun with it!
- “Choosing Healthy Protein.” HelpGuide.org, 11 June 2019, www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/choosing-healthy-protein.htm.
- Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, et al A systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:376-384.
- Pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima) Seed Proteins: Sequential Extraction Processing and Fraction Characterization, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2013 61 (32), 7715-7721 DOI: 10.1021/jf402323u
- Lodish H, Berk A, Zipursky SL, et al. Molecular Cell Biology. 4th edition. New York: W. H. Freeman; 2000. Section 22.3, Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21582/
- Koutroubakis, I E et al. “Serum laminin and collagen IV in inflammatory bowel disease.” Journal of clinical pathology vol. 56,11 (2003): 817-20. doi:10.1136/jcp.56.11.817
- Heaton, Lisa E et al. “Selected In-Season Nutritional Strategies to Enhance Recovery for Team Sport Athletes: A Practical Overview.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 47,11 (2017): 2201-2218. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0759-2
- Women’s College Ain Shams University, editor. “Glycine Alleviates Liver Injury Induced by Deficiency in Methionine and or Choline in Rats.” European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, 16 June 2012. The NCBI, PubMed, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22913202#