The Right Protein for the Right Purpose:
Picking the Best Protein for your Unique Goals
When protein supplements first appeared on the market decades ago, some consumers – even fitness-focused ones – assumed that they were only for serious weightlifters and bodybuilders to support their quest of increasing muscle size and strength. But even if the perception that protein was only effective for increasing muscle gain was never true in the first place, that reputation has fallen by the wayside. While protein supplements remain the product of choice for the fitness-minded, these products have found their way to the mainstream – and for good reason too.
Proteins are composed of amino acids, which are fundamental nutrients the body requires to execute daily functions. These chemical compounds serve several important functions, including, but not limited to: organ and artery function, as an important fuel source for sustainable energy, and as a base for tissue repair and replenishment1 — specifically in relation to muscle protein synthesis (MPS), or the process of building and rebuilding muscle tissue.
There are 20 total amino acids that the human body needs to thrive. Everyone requires the complete profile of these compounds to maintain optimal health, however, your body uses some of these acids more effectively than others, specifically in terms of muscle growth. Because of this, many people, no matter what their ultimate fitness or health goals are, turn to protein supplements for support. But, as more and more people work protein-specific products into their diets, it’s important that we discuss the options available for consumption.
Here’s our take, on how to be smart about your protein consumption.
Knowing the Options: BCAAs vs. Whey vs. Pea
As mentioned, there are 20 total amino acids that your body needs to function optimally. First, there are essential amino acids, which can only be gained through dietary intake– your body does not create these on its own by synthesizing other ingested nutrients. Then, there are non-essential amino acids, which your body can adequately synthesize from other nutrients.
BCAAs represent three of the nine essential amino acids – more specifically; isoleucine, leucine, and valine. Among the reasons that people take these in the form of a supplement, is that the only way these specified BCAAs can enter your body is through dietary intake. These amino acids are found in some foods, but they are a high-demand sports supplement profile as well mainly because they are essential for supporting muscle protein synthesis.2
While BCAA products may only contain three of the previously-mentioned essential amino acids, those same acids can be found in whey protein powders and supplements, which also contain other amino acids.
To achieve a more holistic intake of protein, your two best options may be dairy based whey protein or plant-based pea protein. Both options provide a low-calorie way to consume effective amounts of protein, but there are important differences between each option. See how the two types of protein break down in the side-by-side comparison included below3:
As you can see, the statistics show quite a few similarities among pea and whey proteins, except for in one instance: BCAAs. Although the BCAA amount appears to be lower in pea protein in this comparison, it was cited in a 2015 Journal of the International Sports Nutrition study, that men ages 18 to 35 who paired their lifting sessions with pea protein gained the same size increases in their bicep muscles as men who took whey protein – showing there is still positive correlation with this source of protein4.
From existing research, it could be concluded that pea protein and whey are not only similar from a nutritional standpoint, but they are also similar in terms of the results they can produce when paired with weight training/exercise. But there are other reasons why one source of protein may be preferred over another.
Finding What’s Best for You
BCAA supplements may be best for those consumers looking to enhance their muscle growth5, but, for those looking for a more holistic approach to protein consumption, pea or whey protein products may be preferable.
When taking a deeper look, pea protein may even have several advantages over whey. It contains three times more arginine – an amino acid – than whey does. Further, those seeking to avoid both dairy and soy in their diets will prefer pea protein, as it contains neither.
In terms of the advantages that whey has over pea protein, there are several areas worth mentioning. Whey protein is highly preferable for those with diabetes, as it aids in insulin production and sensitivity. It also helps to suppress the appetite by reducing the effects of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, on your body, it’s easy to digest for those with no sensitivities to dairy, and it is effective for providing a boost of energy before training.6
Innovations in Protein
No matter what type of protein you select based on your own dietary needs, fitness goals, or lifestyle – there’s another aspect of including protein in your diet that should not be overlooked when seeking optimal effects.
As mentioned, among the primary benefits of protein is its ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis so the body can build lean muscle and repair damage due to exercise. But did you know that there are new products on the market that can help to increase the effectiveness of protein in the body, and in-turn, its impact on MPS? Individuals seeking to enhance the power of their protein to provide better fuel for working muscles, should look to incorporate products in their diet that contain a specific nutritional complex of amylopectin and chromium– such as Velositol®. This ingredient, when added to protein, can so much as double the increase of muscle protein synthesis from baseline in the body versus 6 grams of whey protein alone7.
Additionally, in a dedicated pre-clinical study, it was uncovered that Velositol was able to increase MPS in combinations outside of just whey protein. Study results showed that muscle protein synthesis increased when Velositol® was combined with BCAAs and pea protein, by as much as 48% over baseline tests, through enhancing the body’s insulinogenic response.8 This is where the body works to increase amino acid uptake and supplies replenishment to working muscles to aid in recovery. These results are exciting for consumers who prefer non-dairy protein supplements and are still looking for optimal effects.
Fitness-focused consumers have learned the value of incorporating protein into their diets. Whether aiming for muscle gain, general improvement in fitness or better overall health – incorporating more protein into your diet can be an effective way to reach your goals.