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The Best Protein

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The Best Protein

By Kory Thompson

Today, we live in what can only be considered a “consumer-based environment." This is apparent in the supplement industry. Almost every single month there’s the next best protein with Super Cutting-Edge Technology to get you Jacked Fast.

Want to know a secret? Most of these products are most likely the same exact protein except they have different flavorings added. And the added supplements with them, probably also doing nothing. With that said, there are numerous amounts of protein products that can be advantageous based on your lifestyle. Today we will take a brief look into how your body breaks down protein, how it’s utilized, and then then the best type of protein product for YOU.

To start this off, it’s important to know that proteins are an array of products. They can be contractile (muscles), fibrous (bones, teeth, skin, blood vessels, etc.…), enzymes (speed up chemical processes- woo biochemistry!), hormones(balance and restore normal body function), and transport proteins (hemoglobin is an example, it contains iron which binds oxygen and carries oxygen throughout the bloodstream). Proteins therefore can mean a large variety of entities beyond the scope of this post; We will focus on protein consumption, in which proteins are digested and broken down into amino acids to be used and converted into new proteins and can be best thought of as a structural unit for the body to rebuild itself from strenuous activity. Here’s a quick snapshot of the protein digestion process:

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As mentioned before, amino acids are then used as a structural component to create and maintain anything from balancing pH levels (which vary among the body, your blood is between 7.35-7.45) and cellular fluid, creating antibodies to fight antigens, and what we want to know most, rebuilding and replacing cells that have been damaged during physical activity to become stronger and more resilient.

So, how many amino acids are there in a protein? I hear you! A reference protein is comprised of 20 amino acids of which 9 are considered “essential” meaning you must consume them from an outside source and 11 “non-essential” meaning your body produces enough on its own. The highest quality sources of protein come from animal-based products, think eggs, beef, tuna, fish, milk, chicken, the list goes on. These have high biological value percentages because they are “whole” reference proteins and contain all 20 amino acids. With that said, there is variation of amino acid profile. To be brief, Current research has shown that higher Leucine content has been more ideal because of its ability to trigger muscle protein synthesis (Norton et al., 2017). Before I go into this next segment, I HIGHLY recommend trying to consume all your dietary needs through food sources. A supplement is called a supplement for a reason, if you don’t need the extra then don’t spend your money. Allocate your resources wisely!

Now to the supplements, the optimal and most widely known protein supplement is whey protein derived from milk, is relatively inexpensive, and contains all 20 essential amino acids. There are different variations including: Whey concentrate, Whey isolate, and Hydrolyzed Whey. All more refined as you go down the list and contain more isolated protein and less carbohydrates and fat content. The more refined also has less lactose content and can be a viable option for those that lack the ability to produce the lactase enzyme and are therefore known as lactose-intolerant. Hydrolyzed whey does not taste as good as whey concentrate or isolate and is typically more expensive, it would be a viable option for someone that has a very (and I mean very) sensitive Gastrointestinal System.

For most Whey Isolate is what you would be looking for, reduced lactose, nearly all protein with minimal carbohydrates and fat, and a cheaper price tag. Alternatively, Casein which is another milk protein is separated from whey during manufacturing. The reason Whey protein has a lower carbohydrate and fat profile is because most of it is isolated with casein. I remember when I was younger supplement industries sold casein on the premise that you should “Take it at night because it is slow acting and will allow the body to synthesize more muscle from protein”. While this is not necessarily entirely true, the higher carbohydrate and fat content does give it a higher caloric profile. This is beneficial for someone trying to gain more weight (this includes lean-body mass) although a whey concentrate, and I can’t stress this enough- more food would accomplish the same goal. Again, Casein also has had lactose removed and would be considered for someone lactose intolerant, this also depends on the product as some can be more refined than others! My suggestion, consume all protein from food sources and if a supplement is needed then go down the whey isolate route and find one that you enjoy and works best on your stomach.

Vegetarians- When consuming whole foods, you must look at complimentary proteins. This is part of the reason why “red beans and rice” are a dish, the amino-acid profile of red beans and the subsequent rice compliment each other and create a full amino acid profile. Always eat a variety or else you’re not getting your daily needs of protein, just because that bag of broccoli says “3g protein” doesn’t mean its complete. A protein supplement can be very beneficial for a lifestyle that struggles to get enough protein in the diet. Ovo-vegetarians can look at eggs as a primary source, Lacto-vegetarians can use milk-based products and utilize whey protein sources. Strict vegetarians and vegans, which for those of you that don’t know, do not consume any animal-based product or product that is a by-product of animals (think honey made by bees, milk created by cows) can look at vegetable based protein supplements like soy, pea, etc.… While these sources do not have as high biological value and leucine content, they are still very optimal for someone who needs an alternative to animal-based protein supplements.

References:

Norton, L. E., Wilson, G. J., Moulton, C. J., & Layman, D. K. (n.d.). Meal Distribution of Dietary Protein and Leucine Influences Long-Term Muscle Mass and Body Composition in Adult Rats. JOURNAL OF NUTRITION, 147(2), 195–201. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/10.3945/jn.116.231779

About the Author

Kory is a senior at Miami University of Ohio where he studies Dietetics; the branch of knowledge concerned with the diet and its effects on health, especially with the practical application of a scientific understanding of nutrition. Kory’s specific interests reside in bodybuilding, culinary nutrition, and nutrition marketing. As a result, he is a men’s physique athlete that is very passionate about combining his love for food science and competing to develop new products to benefit athletes reaching their goals and aid in maximizing their performance by utilizing evidence-based practices. His current plans include attending Graduate School and completing a Dietetic Internship to continue the path of becoming a Registered Dietitian.

Disclaimer: All information provided is considered educational nutrition advice from a student and should not be taken as a medical treatment. Any plans or individual needs should be discussed with a Registered Dietitian or Physician.

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