A great variety of protein supplements are available in the marketplace and choosing the right one for you can be very confusing.  Here is an overview of the kinds of protein supplements available and how they differ.


       Whey protein is a by-product of cheese making.  Milk contains about 80 percent casein protein, and 20 percent whey protein.  When you add an enzyme like rennet to milk, it causes it to curd.  This process separates the semi-clear whey, which rises to the top, from the heavier curded casein which sinks to the bottom.  The whey is siphoned off from the casein and the curded casein is processed to become various types of cheese. The whey is then processed into a powder and sold as a protein supplement. 

       Cottage cheese is a good example of a food containing both whey and casein.  Cottage cheese is milk that has been separated into casein and whey by the action of enzymes.  The lumpy curds are the casein and the liquid part is the whey.  Cottage cheese use to be called curds and whey.

       All proteins are made of amino acids which are the building blocks of the hundreds of different proteins that make up our body. The body uses 20 amino acids of which 12 are called "non-essential," not because we don’t need them, but because our bodies can make them.  The other 8 are called “essential” because our body cannot make them and we must obtain them from the food we eat.  When protein is digested, the amino acids are released and become the building blocks of muscle tissue, enzymes, hormones and other body components. 

       Whey protein contains all 20 amino acids and is high in branch chain amino acids which, as seen below, are very important to muscle growth and maintenance. Whey protein breaks down quickly into its amino acids and becomes readily available for use by the body.   Therefore, whey protein is ideal for taking right before and after a workout as it will provide an immediate supply of amino acids to repair and rebuild muscle tissue that was stressed during the workout. 


      Casein, because it forms a gel in the gut, releases amino acids more slowly into the body and provides long term support for repair, strengthening and maintenance of muscle tissue. Casein is especially helpful in weight training where muscle tissue is more readily broken down and must be rebuilt over a period of time.  Since much tissue repair takes place during the first four or five hours of sleep, casein protein is ideal to take before bed time as it will provide a sustained feed of amino acids for repair work while sleeping. 


      Soy protein supplements are made by cleaning, cracking, de-hulling and rolling soybeans into flakes. The soy oil is then removed from the flakes and the flakes are dried.  This de-fatted product forms the basis of the three major soy product categories: soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate and textured soy protein. Soy protein is considered a complete protein and contains all 8 of the essential amino acids.  The speed of utilization for soy protein versus animal protein such as whey and casein is that soy protein is utilized slower than whey but faster than casein.  In general, plant derived proteins are not as biologically active as animal sources of protein. Studies have revealed that while both soy and milk proteins increased protein synthesis, such protein synthesis was greater after using milk derived protein as opposed to soy derived protein.   


      The protein in eggs has a biological quality greater than any other natural food. Egg protein contains 18 of the 20 amino acids our body uses and all 8 of the essential amino acids in the exact proportions required by the body for optimum growth and maintenance of muscle tissue.  Protein from eggs is readily utilized by the body. An average sized egg contains about 6.3 grams of protein. The albumen (egg white) has 3.6 grams of protein and the yolk has 2.7 grams of protein. The yolk also has a fat content of around 5.6 grams and 210 mg of cholesterol.  The yoke contains a number of vitamins and minerals and is especially high in choline which is an essential nutrient for brain function. Egg white powders are available as a supplement. The average size whole egg has around 100 calories. Like casein protein, the amino acids from egg protein are released slowly in the body over a period of hours.

       It should be noted that the nutritional value of eggs is dependent on how chickens are raised.  Most supermarket eggs are derived from chickens raised in large enclosed feed lots where chickens are caged, never see the light of day, get virtually no exercise and are fed a commercially prepared feed which includes antibiotics.  The protein and other nutrients in eggs from such chickens is marginal at best.  It is best to purchase eggs laid by free running chickens raised in an outdoor environment, fed an organic natural diet, get a lot of exercise and are not given antibiotics.


       These are all terms that tell you the extent of processing that has been done to a particular protein source. If the label says protein concentrate, it means much of the water, carbohydrates, lactose, minerals, and fat has been removed from the protein source which results in the protein being more concentrated than it was before processing. Such concentrates are usually around 80% protein.  Isolates are further stripped of non-protein components to yield concentrations of pure protein of 90% or higher. Hydrolyzed proteins are proteins that have been partially broken down into their respective amino acids which allows for faster utilization once ingested.  Hydrolyzed proteins are sometimes referred to as pre-digested.


       Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s) are leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are called branched-chain because their structure has a “branch” off the main trunk of the molecule. The combination of these three essential amino acids (ones that must come from the diet) makes up approximately one-third of skeletal muscle in the human body.  They are very important to the rebuilding and maintenance of muscle tissue.  Supplementation with these amino acids can protect muscle from excessive breakdown during intense workouts. Leucine is also effective in causing insulin secretion from the pancreas and therefore lowers elevated blood sugar levels.  It also aids in growth hormone production. Isoleucine stabilizes and regulates blood sugar and is needed for hemoglobin formation. Valine is important to maintenance of proper nitrogen balance in the body.  These amino acids are found in both animal and vegetable protein.  


       Most Americans get enough protein if they eat a good mix of animal and vegetable products. Protein is well distributed in the food chain.  Some vegetarians lack sufficient protein and may need to consider adding a vegetable based protein supplement to their diet.  We offer several such vegetarian protein products from the companies Garden of Life, Nature's Plus and Now.  The world health organization and many national health agencies have independently conducted studies which all conclude our daily protein requirement should be 10% to 15% of our daily caloric intake.

       For individuals who are body builders or work out on a regular basis, there may be a need for additional protein to prevent muscle wasting.  Weight training in particular requires additional protein as muscle tissue is in constant need of repair. Lack of adequate protein when weight training can result in lose of muscle and strength. Intense training can also lead to the body using protein as a source of fuel if there isn't enough carbohydrate available for this purpose.

       Therefore, it is important you eat not only sufficient amounts of protein but also complex carbohydrates and some fats as a source of fuel for energy production to insure that the body doesn’t go to using protein for energy production when working out.  One must be careful, however, not to overdo it with protein.  Studies have shown that excessive amounts of protein intake can increase bone loss and facilitate osteoporosis.  This is due to the high levels of phosphorous and sulfur in protein which increases the acidity of the blood leading to greater loss of calcium in the urine. 

       It is best that those engaging in intense workouts use protein supplements that provide both fast and slow acting protein. The fast acting protein will provide immediate protein feed to the muscle tissue and the slow acting will provide long term protein feed to insure muscle is properly repaired, especially while sleeping.  A combination of whey (fast acting) and casein or egg (slow acting) protein is recommended.