Protein powders and supplements are everywhere and claim to treat a number of different medical conditions. While certain powders or bars offer specific benefits to various conditions, the base of each product is an overall boost of protein, and calories, to the body.
Proteins are nutrients made of amino acids. These amino acids build different types of proteins used throughout the body. The ones that get most of the attention are contained within the body’s muscular and skeletal systems. Others, like enzymes, help speed up biochemical reactions in the body, helping it grow and repair itself during our daily lives.
There are 20 common amino acids, nine of which are considered essential amino acids. These nine essentials are not created by our body and must be obtained through our diet. The nine essentials include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
When a food source contains all nine essentials, it is called a complete protein. Those foods include dairy, beef, fish, poultry and soy. Common incomplete proteins include grains, vegetables, legumes and nuts.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that 10 to 35 percent of our caloric intake come from protein. Maintaining a regular, healthy diet that includes complete proteins (or a mixture of incomplete proteins for vegetarians) should meet the USDA recommendation.
Proteins are important for overall growth in children, teens and pregnant women; aid in tissue repair, immune function and creating essential hormones and enzymes; energy when carbohydrates aren’t available; and preserving muscle mass.
When starting a workout regimen, it’s important to get the proteins and vitamins you need through a healthy diet. For more advanced workouts, protein powders and bars can offer a good boost to your system.
Finding the right protein powder depends on specific health goals, dietary restrictions and how well the protein absorbs in the body. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics uses the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) to rank certain types of protein supplements and how well those powders react with certain bodily conditions. Below are the highest to lowest rated proteins according to the PDCAAS from January of 2015:
Derived from cow’s milk, this protein is the standard bearer of protein supplementation. This complete protein contains all nine essential amino acids. Whey quickly enters the bloodstream and contains high levels of the amino acid leucine.
Whey protein is also fast absorbing, so if taken after a workout it can help repair and build muscle mass.
Another milk protein, casein is absorbed more slowly than whey. Casein also leaves users feeling full and makes a great addition to a meal-replacement smoothie or an addition to a hot cereal in the morning. A combination of whey and casein protein post workout does enhance muscle repair and development.
Egg white protein
This dried egg white powder (egg white albumen) digests slower than whey protein powder and is a good option for a post-workout or meal-replacement smoothie. Egg white protein falls between whey and casein as far as how it impacts muscle development.
This powder is made from ground soybeans that have been dehulled and defatted. It is a slow digesting protein that contains strong amounts of the amino acids glutamine and arginine. These amino acids may help support immunity, digestion and brain function. This complete protein is vegan-friendly and a may help in maintaining muscle.
Yellow pea protein is one of the easiest powders for the body to digest, making it a good choice for those with sensitive stomachs or a dairy/soy intolerance. It is not a complete protein, as it’s low in two amino acids, so it functions better with another plant-based protein like hemp or rice. This is another good vegan choice.
These nutrient-loaded seeds don’t pack the same protein punch as the other powders, but they do provide a good dose of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s a good partner with the other plant-based proteins (rice, pea or soy).
As with any supplementation, contact your primary care physician to assess any potential health risks before adding protein powder to your diet plan.