Starting with whey protein, it is derived from milk. Cow’s milk is made up of 80% casein and 20% whey. Whey, the “fast acting” protein, is a high-quality protein which is digested and absorbed quickly. It contains all the essential amino acids (EAAs) and a higher content of branched- chain amino acids (BCCAs), which the body cannot produce on its own.
There are many studies that have shown whey protein can help with building and maintaining muscle mass as well as helping with recovery after resistance or endurance exercise. This is mainly due to leucine content in whey. Whey protein has shown to be more effective with promoting muscle protein synthesis (MPS) in comparison to other protein sources such as casein or soy. Whey protein is best taken post exercise due to the fact it can be delivered rapidly.
Similar to whey, casein is also found in milk.Casein, the “slow acting” protein, is digested and absorbed much slower in the body. Casein slows down gastric emptying and reduces the rate of muscle protein breakdown, so it is best to take casein before bedtime. Casein protein may be beneficial where frequent protein feedings are not possible (such as overnight), or a busy travelling schedule or intentional fasting (e.g. Ramadan).
Plant based Proteins
Some protein powders contain a blend of plant sources to provide the body with EAAs. Some common plant-based proteins on the market are pea protein, hemp protein and soy protein. These tend to be more popular among vegetarians and vegans. Plant proteins are digested much slower in the body compared to animal protein due to their higher fibre content. Some plant-based protein contains additional probiotic and enzymes to aid digestion.
Are protein powder supplements necessary for athletes?
Although protein powders have shown beneficial effects with regards to increase in muscle mass and strength, it is always recommended to consume nutrients through food sources first (Food First Approach). It is more nutritious to consume foods that are naturally high in protein such as meat, poultry, fish and plant-based protein sources like tofu, tempeh, legumes, nuts and seeds. Protein powders are a great convenient concentrated protein source for the busy, on-the-go individual. It is best to choose a protein powder based on your dietary preferences, food tolerances and health & fitness goals.