By far the most popular supplement in the fitness and wellness space is protein. Nearly everyone has used a form of protein supplements at some point, but there’s a lot of misinformation regarding them. This article covers the basics of what they might be beneficial for and the popular types of protein supplements available.
Are Protein Supplements Healthy?
You might have heard that protein supplements make you fat, are bad for you, or are downright dangerous. This is simply false. Protein supplements should just be viewed as another protein-rich food source in your diet. Are they necessary? Not at all! You can easily consume your protein from whole-food sources like dairy, eggs, fish, meat, and a variety of other options. However, utilizing supplements can be a convenient and cost-effective way of helping increase the amount of protein in your diet.
Protein supplements most certainly do not make you fat. This rumor likely stems from people who start working out, make high calorie shakes, and put on body fat as a result. This is simply a matter of someone consuming way more calories than they actually need. A calorie surplus is the only thing that will lead to gaining body fat.
The key factor for progress is total protein intake (that should be divided between 4-5 feedings if trying to optimize growth) with the majority coming from complete protein, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids. But if a large portion of your intake comes from Whey (common with people who take the “If It Fits Your Macros” approach to an extreme) this may not be optimal.
The most common protein supplements are whey, casein, or a blend of milk proteins, and also plant-based vegan protein supplements.
So let’s start with the big one, whey protein.
Whey Protein Supplements
Whey protein is derived from milk and digests much more rapidly than most other complete protein sources. Therefore, if you’re trying to get a protein feeding before early morning training, or post exercise, this can be beneficial! Whey is naturally high in essential amino acids and leucine, making it a great option for spiking muscle protein synthesis. However, if you’re going to be without protein for a prolonged period it may not be optimal. This is due to the rapid spike and drop from whey protein in muscle protein synthesis and rapid digestion.
There are also a variety of types of whey protein. Some of the most common being whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. A whey concentrate is generally cheaper, and if you tolerate dairy well you should be completely fine. Make sure to use a reputable brand as many use cheap fillers to save on cost. This means you’re not actually getting what’s on the label. Additionally, an isolate is slightly faster digesting, making it more optimal to take around your workout (although that’s splitting hairs). The main benefit to an isolate is that because it’s more refined, it doesn’t contain lactose; great for people that commonly have issues consuming dairy! Again, quality is important. Whey is pricey to produce and if your powder is cheap you’re likey NOT getting what’s on the label. So try to find a brand you can trust.
Now let’s talk about the slightly less popular casein protein.
Casein Protein Supplements
Casein protein is also derived from milk and, like whey, is high in all the essential amino acids. The difference being that casein protein has a thicker consistency and takes longer to digest. This thicker texture makes for a little less smooth , and more of a “grainy” shake. Thus, Casein isn’t as popular as it’s harder to make the taste as good as the flavors used for whey. However, casein’s benefit is providing a longer sustained release of amino acids similar to whole-food protein like meat or eggs. Casein is not ideal pre/post training. However, If you’ll be without protein for a long duration (like before bed) it may be more beneficial over whey.
The next variety that is increasing in popularity is vegan plant-based protein supplements.
Vegan Protein Supplements
For vegans/non-meat eaters (or anyone really), a plant-based protein can be a viable option to help hit protein needs. The issue with plant protein is that they are not complete protein sources, or less rich in essential amino acids. This is why a proper plant protein supplement must pair multiple plant sources to create a complete protein. Additionally, plant proteins don’t digest as fast as whey and usually has a thicker consistency, similar to casein protein.
Often, a good blend to look for is a pea/brown rice protein blend. Vegan proteins are generally not going to taste as good as whey, and there’s a lot of nasty ones. The other thing to pay attention to, if you are actually vegan, is nutrient deficiencies. There are a lot of vitamins, minerals, and other things like creatine that are lacking when individuals don’t consume meat. This is one of the reasons I’m a big proponent of Thrive vegan protein from Legion Athletics! It includes a wide array of nutrients vegans need when not consuming meat, which is important to fill those gaps.
Plant-based protein can be great for those who don’t consume meat or want protein supplements but cannot tolerate dairy.
To recap, if using protein supplements before and/or after training I would use whey. If using protein as a meal replacement or later in the day, opt for casein, a whey/casein blend, or a quality plant-based protein. Not only will this provide a sustained rise in muscle protein synthesis, but will generally be more satiating, keeping you feeling fuller. Remember, you can MEET all your protein requirements without ever having to use a supplement with whole foods!
The way I use protein supplements is I always have a bottle of whey and casein protein around. If I’m going to use it around my workout I opt for whey. However, if I’m making some type of meal replacement, I use 1/2-1 scoop of each. That said, If I’m utilizing a supplement for my last meal of the day I use casein protein.
Where Should You Get Protein Supplements?
If you’re looking for a reputable high-quality protein powder to fit your needs, I recommend Legion Athletics. Additionally, you can use my code “KEMP10” to save!
I choose Legion Athletics as all of their products are free from artificial sweeteners, dyes and fillers. They have completely transparent labeling, third party test their products, and are completely based upon scientific research with the top researchers in the fitness industry helping them to formulate their products. Their protein supplements are hormone and antibiotic-free. Additionally, all are sourced from grass-fed cows on small dairy farms in Ireland for top-notch quality.
Get Legion’s Whey+ Isolate here.
Get Legion’s Casein+ here.
Also their vegan protein Thrive is a pea/brown rice protein blend. Thrive includes 34 additional nutrients that are often lacking in a vegan diet.
Get Legion’s Thrive Protein here.