What Is the Best Protein Powder for Recovery and Your Health?
Protein is a crucial and versatile biological molecule that has several forms and functions all over our body. They are involved in the structure of almost all of our tissues and organs – from our skin and hair to our nails, bones, and muscles.
The building blocks of proteins are amino acids, which play a central role both as building blocks of proteins and as key intermediates in metabolism. We supply our body with these building blocks primarily through our diets. Protein sources include meat, dairy (eggs and milk), and even some vegetables (beans and peas).
The Power of Protein
Aside from contributing to most structures within our body, proteins also play important roles in cellular and tissue construction and repair. Moreover, proteins can also be enzymes or hormones. One important hormone whose production is boosted by protein consumption is the insulin-like growth factor 1 or 1GF-1.
The Struggle for Longevity: IGF-1 and Protein
IGF-1 is a hormone that works with the human growth hormone (HGH). This tandem promotes cellular growth which eventually leads to tissue growth and muscle building.
IGF-1 promotes and increases your lean body mass while burning fat in the process. Because muscle growth is regulated consistently, thanks to the hormones, muscle endurance and performance then develop.
Protein and Recovery
Protein itself is already crucial in recovery. Remember that muscle cells are made of protein. After a strenuous workout, your cells will need protein for repair. You’ll need to give your muscles the chance to recover, and extra protein in your diet can make that possible.
In addition, the way that IGF-1 boosts protein synthesis also leads to quicker cellular repair which results in rapid tissue recovery. However, like many biological components, our IGF-1 and HGH levels decline, too, as we age. Lesser IGF-1 in our system means less support with muscle growth. And with lesser muscle mass comes the decrease in our strength as well.
We are however not helpless when it comes to this matter. Athletes have long discovered protein supplements which are mostly available to any health conscious person today.
Hormone Matters: The Usual Balancing Act
Just like other hormones, the key to maximizing the functions of IGF-1 lies in optimizing its levels in our body.
In addition, because IGF-1 is related to growth, it is advisable to maintain its optimal levels in a cyclic manner. This is because growth mechanisms require energy and rest. Overworking the system will only wear out the cells and tissues involved, and that could lead to less efficiency.
Too little IGF-1, on the other hand, may also be genetic in nature (Laron syndrome), and results in extreme cases into the condition we know as dwarfism.
Now, to influence the balance of IGF-1, you may adopt certain supplement plans. And for the choice of supplement to boost IGF-1, you can try protein powders.
What Are Protein Powders?
Proteins can be found in different food sources. As we know, each type of food is made up of different chemical and biological structures that the body has to break down during digestion before absorbing the essential components we require. Protein powders are extracted proteins from whole foods.
Depending on the manner of extracting the proteins, protein powders can be classified into:
- Protein concentrate – 70 to 85 percent pure protein with carbohydrates as its remaining non-protein components
- Protein isolate – 95 percent pure protein with around 15 percent remaining non-fat composition
In addition to these classifications, the variety of amino acids contained in a formula leads to another protein categorization:
- Complete protein – contains all the nine amino acids that cannot be naturally produced by the body also known as essential amino acids
- Incomplete protein – only contains some essential amino acids
Why Would You Need Protein Powder?
For those who do not get enough protein from their diet, protein supplements such as protein powders do a good job in bridging the gap. Bodybuilders are especially in need of ample amounts of protein for energy, lean muscle building, and post workout recovery.
Today, protein powders are among the supplements whose popularity is backed by their health benefits and efficacy. These supplements do not cost nowhere as much as the amount you’d spend on tons of meat to get the same muscle growth boost, and they’re easy to prepare. You can also bring them anywhere.
Protein Powder Types
A further guiding characteristic one should consider when picking a protein powder for supplement is the protein powder source. There are animal-derived proteins, plant or vegan proteins, and even protein powders from edible insects.
Whey is a by-product of cheese production from milk. It is an affordable source of easily digestible and complete source of proteins, particularly branched-chain amino acids like Leucine.
Whey promotes lean muscle growth and fat loss. And as it is quickly absorbed by the body, whey is then able to boost muscle recovery especially when taken as a post-workout formula.
Aside from improving muscle mass and performance, whey also assists in metabolism and promotes cardiovascular health.
It may be a concern for some that whey is produced mixed with some lactose. Some people may not be able to digest lactose though most of it can be lost when processing whey anyway. Lactose-intolerant people may then opt to find a different protein powder source.
Casein is a protein that can also be found in milk. A significant difference it has with whey is its slower digestion and absorption by the body.
This slower mechanism is because of the reaction when casein comes in contact with stomach acids. It becomes a gel-like substance that slows down stomach emptying eventually delaying the protein absorption that should follow.
As protein absorption is slowed down, the delivery of amino acids to the muscles is also delayed while being distributed in consistent supply. This gradual mechanism consequentially decreases the breakdown of muscle proteins.
This slow and steady phase yields similar benefits with whey intake. Specifically, one benefit of casein is the promotion of muscle anabolism after exercise. This is achieved together with increased muscle mass.
To maximize casein’s slow processing, it is recommended to take it before sleep to help in post-exercise recovery overnight.
Now, there are also lesser known sources of powder protein. These include collagen, vegan proteins, and the exotic but probably the best source in this list: insect protein.
Collagen is great for those who want to reverse or minimize signs of aging. But a youthful appearance is not the only advantage of taking collagen. It’s health benefits are not at all skin-deep.
Being a fibrous protein, collagen contributes to the structure and elasticity of joints and other connective tissues. In addition, collagen has high concentrations of amino acids (glycine, lysine, and proline) that contributes to healthy hair and nails.
Like casein, collagen is recommended to be taken before sleep.
The search for food alternatives is not a new trend, and today, edible insects made it to the menu.
The following are only a few of studied and farmed edible insects:
- Domesticated silkworm
- Mopane caterpillar
- Yellow mealworm
- African palm weevil larvae
Edible insects present a variety of nutrient composition aside from their protein content. Producing insect-derived protein powders usually turns the insect into flour first, like cricket flour. This flour can then be further processed to extract pure proteins by reducing fat and other non-protein contents.
Among the popular insect protein powders is the cricket flour. Its nutritional benefits include high iron content, twice the amount of protein in beef, magnesium, zinc, and even Omega 3 fatty acids which are good for the heart.
Insect proteins have also been made available in nutritious protein bars in different flavors so you don’t have to worry about any odd tastes. They are also relatively cheaper than meat, poultry, and pork.
With such nutritional value, insect protein can go beyond as an alternative and even be considered as a superior protein source.
Vegan proteins sound like a contradiction but some plant sources like legumes, grains, soy products, nuts, and seeds, can be sufficient protein sources given the consumption of a balanced diet.
It is true that animal-derived protein is more complete than those found in vegetables but limiting protein source only from animals may present other health concerns. It is then important to have a varied protein sources through a balanced diet when possible.
Some vegan proteins can be formulated with only a single plant source (pea protein, rice protein, hemp protein) while mixed plant proteins may also exist and include:
- Brown rice
- Chia seeds
Choosing the Best Protein Powder
To wrap it up, choosing the best protein powder for you will involve the evaluation of:
- Protein content (Complete or incomplete?)
- Protein powder processing (Concentrate or isolate?)
- Protein source (Animal-derived or vegan proteins?)
- Any predisposed medical conditions (e.g. Lactose intolerance when considering whey protein, allergy from nuts when considering vegan proteins)
- The benefits you are after (Muscle gain? Weight loss? Anti-aging? All?)
- Preference (Can you stomach insect protein?), and of course
Grass-fed whey is the recommended option for those who want to build lean muscles not just because of the excellent protein content but also because it has high CLA (conjugate linoleic acid) content. CLA is known to enhance metabolism, which means that it helps the body burn fat. It also boosts muscle growth.
However, if you are not uncomfortable with taking insect proteins, you should just go for those. Insect proteins are so nutrient-dense that they can be considered a superfood. Most insect powders also come with various vitamins.
For vegans or vegetarians, nuts such as almonds, brazil nuts and macadamias are the best sources of protein and healthy fats.
If you’re looking for a good protein powder, here are some options you can start with.
With the many functions proteins serve from tissue structure to hormone production, it is only proper to attempt to meet our daily needs through a protein-rich and balanced diet.
However, for those with limited meal options, supplements through protein powders can help you bridge the gap and achieve increased lean muscle mass, muscle growth, performance, endurance, and recovery.