The Truth About Protein

The other day I was reminiscing about the long swim I completed for charity.   I also remember the nutrition and the first experience I had with supplementation.

I remember the day clearly.  I had gone into a local nutrition and health supplement store, looking for the best whey protein supplement.  I remember walking to the back and being completely overwhelmed by the amount of protein powder.  I had no idea if I needed high carb, low carb, muscle builder, or soy.  There were too many to choose from. 

Then I heard it, “Can I help you find something?”

The clerk working the counter obviously saw the panic in my eyes.  I asked him his thoughts on the best protein powder out of the choices they had.  He scanned the bottles and came to the one he was looking for.  I asked him why he thought this particular brand was the best.  It was high in calories, high carb, and high protein, which would be great for increasing muscle mass.  I explained what I was trying to accomplish, and how I needed a protein powder to preserve muscle mass and make me a leaner and stronger swimmer.  He looked again, and again went with the same brand he had picked.

The point is: I left there more confused than before I walked through the door.  I know he was just trying to be helpful, but it made me realize something.  There are plenty of supplements out there to choose from, but what is considered the best?  Why is it the best?  What separates it from the competition?

Have you ever felt this way walking into a store which is full of protein powders, supplements, and vitamins?  I am sure you have.  So the next time you go to the store, keep in mind that not all protein powders are created equally.  Confused?  Let me explain.

Different types of protein

There are many different types of protein and protein sources.  The most logical choice and the most widely consumed are from animal sources of protein. However, there are two other sources worth mentioning: Casein and Whey Protein.

Casein Protein

Casein is a component of bovine milk.  A complete protein, casein makes up between 70-80% of the total protein found in bovine milk.  It is one of the most widely used protein sources available today.  Not only is casein a complete protein, but it also includes minerals, like calcium and phosphorus.

Casein in bovine milk is in the form of micelle.   Once ingested, this liquid forms a clot in the stomach which provides a slow release of amino acids into the bloodstream.  This slow release can last for several hours.  What does it all mean?  This slow release can help our body retain more nitrogen and utilize nitrogen more efficiently.

The other form is Whey.   Whey is the liquid which forms after the process of cheese making.   Manufacturers used to throw this liquid out, but two things prevented them from disposing of it: regulations on dumping byproducts and the fact that it is good for us!

In whey protein, the proteins are separated and purified.   As mentioned earlier, casein makes up about 70-80% of the total protein in bovine milk, with whey making up the other 20%.   Whey has high levels of essential and branched-chain amino acids which help our bodies heal and provide building blocks for muscle development.   Similar to casein, whey has many vitamins and minerals which help our bodies work more efficiently.

Whey can come in three different forms:

• Whey protein powder

• Whey concentrate

• Whey isolate

Whey Protein powder

Whey protein powder is used as a food additive.  You can find this type of powder in many food products.    There are three types of powders which are used: sweet whey, acid whey, and de-mineralized whey.   Whey powder is found in beef, dairy, bakery items, salad dressings, and infant formula.

Whey Concentrate

Whey concentrate is more potent than the powder.    This type is processed to remove water, ash, lactose, and some minerals that are found in whey.  It also contains more biologically active components and proteins.

Whey Protein Isolate

The truest form of protein, isolate, can have protein concentrations of 90% or higher.  During processing, water, ash, and lactose are removed, making this a perfect product for people who are lactose intolerant.

A great source of complete proteins, whey carries many biological and important functions for humans.   Whey has branched-chain amino acids and high concentrations of the amino acid, cysteine.  Increased levels of cysteine can help enhance glutathione levels in the body.  Glutathione is a strong antioxidant which helps fight diseases and prevents damage associated with oxidative stress.  Whey also contains a number of other proteins shown to help enhance our immune system and increase our immune function.  This is good news, since we are entering cold and flu season!

Whey protein has tremendous effects in the body.  Consuming whey can result in a greater initial protein synthesis by the body.    Having smaller, more frequent meals with whey has been shown to be more beneficial in strength, performance, and helping in weight loss.

To sum it all up…

There are many different types of protein on the market today.  Casein and whey make up the majority of sport supplements sold to enhance sport nutrition and performance.   Casein is found in high concentrations in bovine milk, accounting for 70-80% of the protein source with whey making up the remaining 20%.   Whey powders can be found in many different products as a food additive.   Whey can be a perfect alternative for people who are lactose intolerant, due to the process of purifying the protein sources.

If you are looking to enhance your performance or increase weight loss, whey protein powder can be one of the best sources for increasing protein synthesis in the body leading to increased muscle mass.  This increase in muscle mass can lead to increased metabolism, helping you lose more weight!


Hoffman, J. Falvo, M. Protein-Which Is Best?  JSSM. 2004. Vol. 3; pp.118-130

By Kevin DiDonato MS, CSCS, CES

Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *