Athletes and bodybuilders always search for the best supplements to increase performance, muscle recovery, and mass. One of the staple supplements that all athletes and bodybuilders take is protein powder. But how much thought do they give to which protein they choose, probably not much. Most choose the gold standard whey protein and think they are maximizing their gains by doing this.
However, with so many different proteins now on the market, how do you know what the best proteins for muscle growth are? This article will break down the different proteins available on the market from plant-based to animal-based. We will breakdown the options in terms of processing of the powders from concentrates to isolates. So, if you want to learn which proteins are the best for building skeletal muscle mass, keep reading.
What is protein?
Protein is a combination of amino acids, and they are the building blocks of protein. Amino acids comprise an acid group (a carboxyl group) and an amine group (an aliphatic hydrocarbon). The two groups together form peptides, chains of amino acids linked to each other by peptide bonds.
A total of 20 different types of amino acids can be combined to create proteins. These 20 amino acids are subdivided into groups based on if the body can produce them or not. There are 9 essential amino acids, which the body cannot make on its own, and thus they have to be obtained from the diet. The remaining 11 amino acids are classified as non-essential as they can be obtained from the diet, but the body can make them from other amino acids if it has to. Proteins have many functions in our body, including acting as enzymes, participating in cell division, and forming structures such as hair and nails.
Please see our beginners guide to amino acids for more details on amino acids.
How much protein for muscle growth?
If you are an athlete or bodybuilder looking to put on muscle mass, you should be consuming 1.7 grams of protein to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. The optimal amount per pound of body weight is 0.76 grams of protein to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Researchers and sports scientists have found these numbers of grams of protein to be the optimal amount to consume if you want to support maximum muscle recovery and growth. To learn more about how much protein you need, you should read the article about how much protein your body can absorb
Protein processing Concentrate vs Isolate
Whether you are talking about whey protein, soy protein or pea protein, the processing is essentially the same. A protein concentrate is a level of processing that retains many other macronutrients. Such as fat, carbohydrates, and whey, which also has some lactulose. The processing used to create protein isolates removes almost all of the other macronutrients, and you are left with a powder that contains 90 percent or more of just protein.
The best proteins for muscle growth would be isolate proteins such as whey protein isolate, pea protein isolate and soy protein isolate. If you do not have a lot of money, you can buy the cheaper concentrate versions of the mentioned proteins, but understand that you are getting slightly less protein per scoop and more of the other macronutrients such as fat and carbs.
Protein concentrate is an inexpensive and common source of protein. Protein concentrates usually contain between 35 and 80 percent protein. Food manufacturers use concentrated proteins containing 35 percent protein to make yogurt, snacks, and infant formula. Protein concentrates used for sports supplements typically contain 80 percent protein.
Protein concentrate is processed to remove many of its carbohydrate and fat components. The protein content is 70 to 80 percent in concentrate, meaning the finished product contains more fat and carbohydrates than isolate. Concentrates generally contain more chemical compounds that are biologically active and may offer health benefits.
Protein isolate has a higher protein content than concentrate, making it the purest form of protein. Approximately 90 percent of isolate is protein. An isolate begins as a concentrate but is further purified, removing additional fats and carbohydrates. When using a protein isolate, you will likely not experience any digestion or abdominal discomfort. If you have digestion issues such as lactose intolerance, isolate would be the best choice. Protein Isolate are essentially just protein, and all other possible stomach irritating substances have been removed.
Additionally, isolate powders mix easier than concentrate powders, resulting in a less thick shake and filling. The texture isn’t as creamy as it would be with a concentrate.
Animal protein vs plant protein
Plant proteins and animal proteins differ principally in their amino acid profiles, affecting the rate at which the body metabolizes them. Proteins from animals are more similar to the proteins in our bodies, allowing them to be used more quickly and efficiently than proteins from plants. Plant proteins are hindered by a lack of one or more amino acids. We get a similar response in protein synthesis and muscle growth when we restore the missing or deficient amino acid in a plant protein compared to animal proteins.
Generally, plant proteins lack the same anabolic effect as animal proteins do, mainly because they often have much lower amounts of the amino acid leucine and often lack lysine. Leucine is the strongest of the BCAAs and is a potent stimulator of protein synthesis and dramatically helps build muscle. To learn more about the amino acid leucine, read our article about leucine.
Animal-based protein powders
Animal-based protein powders are considered the gold standard because they are complete proteins and contain all of the amino acids building blocks that the body needs to repair, recover, and increase muscle. They are not deficient in any of the amino acids and contain high amounts of the critical anabolic amino acids such as the branched-chain amino acids (BCAA)
Whey protein is a type of protein that is isolated from whey, a liquid substance in milk that separates during cheesemaking. Milk comprises 80 percent casein protein and 20 percent whey protein.
To become the whey protein that we all know and recognize, the whey that has been separated during cheese production goes through a series of processing steps.
Whey is very high in the anabolic branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). The BCAAs stimulate the anabolic process and signal skeletal muscle protein synthesis. This anabolic signalling is especially true of the amino acid leucine.
Whey is one of the most studied and researched protein powders and has been proven to increase skeletal muscle growth in humans. If you are not a vegan or vegetarian, whey protein should be the protein you buy and consume before and after your workouts to support muscle recovery and growth.
Below is the nutritional facts for Whey isolate vs Whey concentrate
Nutrition Facts For Whey Isolate
Nutrition Facts For Whey Concentrate
Like whey, casein is derived from milk and makes up 80 percent of the protein found in milk. One of the main differences between whey and casein is the rate of absorption.
The blood levels of amino acids stay elevated for up to 4 to 5 hours after ingesting casein, whereas with whey, the blood levels of amino acids peak at approximately 90 minutes post-administration.
Because of its slow digestion and sustained amino acid release into the bloodstream, casein is ideal for fasting scenarios such as during sleep. During prolonged periods of fasting or no protein, your body can enter a catabolic state, and the slow digestion of casein can help reduce or stop this catabolic process by providing the body with amino acids over a long period.
Nutrition Facts For Casein
Plant-based protein powders
Plant-based protein powders can be a great supplement for muscle growth, especially for vegans and vegetarians who do not eat meat or animal-based products. The important thing to note about plant-based proteins is that often they are deficient in certain key essential amino acids. The best plant-based proteins are pea and soy. They have a more complete amino acid profile of all the plant proteins and can help you build muscle. These two plant proteins are the most easily of the plant proteins to be digested, but they do not compare to an animal-based protein like whey protein.
To learn more about the limitations of plant-based proteins, check out our article what essential amino acids are missing from plants?
Like soy, pea protein contains all nine essential amino acids, which the body cannot produce independently. But it has low levels of the amino acid methionine. Research shows that methionine is essential for muscle growth. Because of this, if you do decide to use pea protein as your protein supplement, you should consider adding another methionine source such as:
- brown rice
Nutrition Facts For Pea Protein
Soy protein provides a complete amino acid profile, unlike most plant-based proteins. This complete amino acid profile means that it has all the essential amino acids that the body cannot manufacture. Even with this complete amino acid profile, studies show that soy protein is inferior to whey protein when it comes to stimulating protein synthesis and muscle growth.
You can overcome soy’s muscle-building shortcomings by combining it with some dairy-based protein like whey. A study published in Clinical Nutrition Journal demonstrated that when soy protein was combined with a dairy-based protein resulted in greater skeletal muscle protein synthesis.
Below is the nutritional facts for Soy isolate vs Soy concentrate
Nutrition Facts For Soy Isolate
Nutrition Facts For Soy Concentrate
Based on what we have learned, the best protein you can take to build skeletal muscle is an isolate protein powder and preferably whey protein isolate. Still, if you are vegan or vegetarian, the next best option is either pea protein isolate or soy protein isolate.
If you are on a budget and do not have a lot of money to spend on protein supplements, you can get concentrated protein powders like whey protein concentrate or soy and pea protein concentrate.
Below is a list of the best proteins for muscle growth:
- Whey protein isolate
- Pea protein isolate
- Soy protein isolate
- Whey protein concentrate
- Pea protein concentrate
- Soy protein concentrate
Any of the above protein powders will help you build muscle, so choose the one that best fits your dietary style and budget, and you should be well on your way to build muscle.
The information within this article should not be taken as health or medical advice. Always consult your doctor for proper health and medical advice.