“Hey man, what kind of protein do you use?”

This is one of the most common conversation starters (and enders) you will hear in the gym, often coming from a smaller guy asking a bigger guy, and usually preceded by the infamous “How much you bench, bro?”. There may or may not be a correlation between the two, but every gym bro and his mother knows that in order to get big and strong, you need protein. Protein sources can come in many forms, but the best are whole food animal sources such as red meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and fish. The problem is that many of us require a lot of protein in order to build muscle, and sometimes eating enough whole food to get your protein can be a challenge. Sometimes you’re busy and don’t have time to whip out a steak immediately after the gym, at work, or in class. This is where protein supplementation comes it. When used in conjunction with a proper weight training program, supplementing with protein can help you build muscle and maintain muscle if you are cutting or losing weight.

Please keep in mind that protein supplements are just that, they are supplements. They are meant to supplement your diet and supplement your training program. Don’t expect to drink a protein shake, having never touched a barbell in your life, and you’re going to automatically look like Arnold. Also don’t expect to get looking jacked if all you do is run on the treadmill, and drink a shake after. In order to build rock solid muscle and mind blowing strength, you need good, old fashioned, hard core, resistance training. Most of the protein in your diet should come from whole food sources, but supplementing with protein can be very beneficial when done correctly.

Amino Acids: The Building Blocks

Protein is made up of long chains of amino acids, which are organic compounds containing a bunch of sciency terms such as amines and carboxylic acid functional groups. Each amino acid has a side chain made up of a specific sequence of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. There are many amino acids, but there are 20 specific amino acids that we are concerned with in nutrition. These 20 amino acids are necessary for building muscle tissue and can be categorized at either essential or nonessential amino acids.

There are nine essential amino acids and they are called essential because they can not be synthesized by the body, so we must get them from outside sources, such as food or supplementation. Of these 9 essential amino acids there are three that are especially important for muscle building. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are categorized as branch chained amino acids, or BCAAs, due to their specific branch like structure.

Nonessential amino acids can be produced by the body even if we don’t take them in from outside sources. Some of theses nonessential amino acids are conditionally essential, meaning they become essential in times of stress and illness.

Protein supplements are made up of these amino acids and many have added BCAAs due to their muscle building properties.

Protein is one of the three main macronutrient sources that provide energy for the body. Each macronutrient serves different functions in the body and therefore they are all equally important. However, when it comes to supplementation, protein is arguably most important supplement you can buy. This is because your muscles themselves are made up of protein and having enough protein in your diet is necessary for muscle growth. In addition to helping build muscle, protein is also important for:

  • Maintaining muscle tissue when in a caloric deficit
  • Regulating proper hormone levels
  • Balancing PH levels
  • Immune system support
  • An energy source if no carbohydrates or fat are present

Types of Protein Supplements

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Most protein supplements come in powdered form, ready to drink shakes, or protein bars. While they all have the basic goal of building or sparing muscle, there are some that can be digested faster than others, and there are times when certain types of protein would be most beneficial. When selecting a protein supplement that is right for you it is important to take into account the protein source and other ingredients, what your goals are, and when it is appropriate to take it. Price can also be a contributing factor as the cost of protein powder can vary significantly based on quality, brand, and where you buy it. Keeping that in mind, here are the main types of protein powders:

Whey Protein is the most common form of protein supplement on the market. It is known as a fast acting protein, meaning it is digested and absorbed by the body relatively quickly. Whey protein contains all essential amino acids and has a high bio-availability, meaning your body will use most of the protein you ingest. Whey comes from milk and is isolated from the byproduct of cheese production. It can come in three forms, concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysates.

  • Concentrates have a low, but significant, amount of fat and cholesterol, along with higher bioactive compounds and carbohydrates, in the form of lactose.
  • Isolates are filtered to remove most fat and lactose, but are also lower in bioactive compounds.
  • Hydrolysates are proteins that have been essentially predigested and partially hydrolyzed, breaking apart their amino acids, allowing them to be digested easier. This may be a good source for people with lactose allergies, but also have a higher cost.

The best times to take whey protein are first thing in the morning or right after your work out. These are times when you need to get protein in your body as fast as possible to prevent catabolism, or muscle breakdown. Most whey protein powders contain primarily concentrates, with some isolates, due to the higher cost of isolates. Hydrolysates are the most expensive, but if you have a lactose allergy, it may be worth it. If you are going to buy a whey protein, I recommend Dymatize Elite 100% Whey ProteinFrom what I have found, it is the best quality, for the best price, and it is what I have personally used for years.

Casein Protein is the other source of protein found in milk. It is similar to whey in that it contains all essential amino acids and also has a high bio-availability. The main difference between whey and casein is the rate of absorption. Casein is digested significantly slower than whey, which makes it a perfect source of protein to use before bed. It can also be used during the day in between meals or if you are going a long time period without eating. It can also be useful to use when dieting because it makes you feel more full. It is a little more expensive than whey and one I’ve used in the past is Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein. It tastes amazing, especially with milk.

Beef ProteinIt is well known that beef is an excellent source of protein, amino acids, and creatine, and the idea of beef protein powder is to give you all the benefits of steak, in the convenience of a powder. The main ingredient is labeled as beef protein isolate, which sounds like it is simply beef isolated into powdered form. In fact, it is actually made from cow hooves, joints, and ligaments, basically the throwaway parts of the cow. It is then fortified with added BCAAs and creatine to produce the effects of actual beef. This may be a turn off to some people, but there is no evidence that it could cause any health risks. This may be a good option for someone allergic to dairy or other forms of protein. It is a fast acting protein, so it would be good to use it first thing in the morning or right after a workout. I currently use Muscle Meds Carnivor but I don’t know that I would necessarily recommend it. It doesn’t taste that great and unless you have an allergy, just stick with whey.

Egg White Protein is a high quality protein that contains all nine essential amino acids and has a good overall bio-availability and amino acid profile. This is probably one of the “cleanest” forms of protein you can get because it does not contain a lot (if any) added fillers or flavoring that other proteins do. This would be great for someone with a dairy allergy, or someone who wants a more natural source of protein. It is considered a medium acting protein and can be taken any time during the day. I use Now Sports Eggwhite Protein. I would recommend it as long as you can mix it with juice or a smoothie or something.

Protein Blend. There are many protein powders out there that contain multiple sources of protein. This makes the protein very versatile as you are getting the best of both worlds. These kinds of protein can be taken any time of the day, pre-and post workout, and before bed. They will have fast acting protein and slow acting, so you will have protein “feeding” your muscle for hours. A great product that I highly recommend is MusclePharm Combat Powder. It contains whey protein hydrolysate, isolate, concentrate, egg protein, and casein. All of these sources of protein are high quality and have a high bio-availability. Another protein blend I have used in the past and really like is MHP Paleo Protein. This is a beef and egg white protein blend and is paleo safe.

Plant Based Protein. If you are vegetarian or vegan, the above protein powders may be out of the question. In this case, plant based proteins are the way to go. There are many forms but the most common are brown rice protein, soy protein, hemp protein, pea protein and vegetable protein. These are not complete proteins, meaning they do not contain all essential amino acids, so you would need to combine them with other foods that contain the needed amino acids. I have not used any of these because I’m not a hippie, so I can not recommend a specific product or contest to the taste. I would not recommend soy protein for men due to the estrogenic effects it could potentially cause.

Where to Buy

Where you buy protein largely depends on how much you want to spend and how high of quality you want. You can go to walmart and buy protein for very cheap, but it is not going to be your best option in terms of quality. You can go to your local GNC and buy high quality protein but the prices there are outrageous. If you’re reading this you obviously have access to the internet, so that is going to be your best bet. You can find virtually any type of protein online and the prices are going to be much better than your local supplement shop. The best place to buy supplements online is bodybuilding.com. Feel free to click the link below to redirect you directly to the protein page where you will find hundreds of products.

Bodybuilding.com Protein Powders, Shakes, Drinks, & Supplements

Conclusion

No matter what type of protein powder you decide to use, remember to always prioritized real food. Supplements should just help you get enough protein to make the gains you want. Protein is essential to building muscle and gaining strength. It can also help retain muscle while losing weight and help improve body composition. Supplementing your diet with high quality protein can help you reach your goals faster and produce better results. It is important to always maintain a proper resistance training program while using protein supplements or you won’t get any of these benefits. I have given a few recommendations for specific products that I have used it the past, but if you have any questions, or if you have a protein you really like, please comment below.

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19 comments on “Protein Supplementation
  1. Robert says:

    I agree with you article, it is well rounded and full of information. I think the most important part of your article is real food and then supplementation to help you reach your goals.

    I have seen those guys that drink all there protein then eat it, and what most overlook is the fact everything has to be balanced out.

    Is there any particular brands of protein supplements that are organic in nature that you would recommend?

    Thanks,

    Robert

    • Eric Radcliffe says:

      Hey Robert,

      Glad you found the info informative. Most of the plant based protein powders are going to be organic, but I would recommend staying away from those if possible. I found an organic whey protein powder from NowSports, which is a brand known for producing high quality products. Click here if you are interested in getting some.

      Take care,

      Eric

  2. Xin Zhang says:

    Hello Eric,

    I work out probably 5-6 days a week with about 45 minutes on the treadmill followed by probably 30+ minutes of weights. I also do yoga in the evenings because it helps me sleep. I don’t eat much meat, so I don’t think I get enough protein. I do eat a lot of nuts.

    I am not looking to bulk up, just to be toned. What type of protein would you recommend after my treadmill / weights sessions? I don’t like the chocolate flavors and prefer something very low in sugar. Do you know of anything for me?

    Sincerely,

    Xin

    • Eric Radcliffe says:

      I think the best product for you is going to be a whey protein, specifically a whey protein isolate. Isolates are a fast acting protein and tend to have very low sugar, although most high quality 100% whey protein powders will have very little sugar anyway. I would suggest trying Optimum Nutrition products, ether the gold standard whey or isolate. They have a ton of flavors and are a high quality brand. Keep up the good work!

  3. Kathe says:

    I like your article, it’s informative. I remember when I was a teenager, I really want to gain weight so I thought of drinking protein shake to accumulate fats in my body, lol, but I really had not try it. You’re right that real food need to prioritize first then followed by supplements. Other people have the misconception that when you drink this body building supplement you’ll gonna get the body they desire.

  4. Lauren says:

    great article. I am curious I am sensitive to dairy so Ive been using plant based protein. The thing about plant protein is it leaves a “grainy” texture to shakes and with the lack of amino acid I am now thinking about trying egg white protein. Does egg protein blend more smoother?

    • Eric Radcliffe says:

      I am also dairy sensitive so I know the struggle. egg white protein blends smoother than plant based protein. I would suggest getting a flavored one unless you mix it in a smoothie or something. The unflavored egg white protein doesn’t taste that good. I have used HMP Paleo Protein in the past, which is egg white and beef protein and the vanilla almond flavor is pretty good. Here’s a link if you want to give it a try! MHP Paleo Protein

  5. Ray says:

    Hi, thanks for the great information about protein drinks – I’m a vegetarian myself but have taken any protein shakes that’s available. Now I’m more aware what’s best for me, thank you. Also great info about amino acids.

    The problem I have is that if I keep taking protein drinks for a few days (say within less than a week) my body starts to smell – not a BO but some distinctive smell….is it always the case, or is it just me?
    Ray

    • Eric Radcliffe says:

      Hey Ray,

      I’ve never had this problem myself, but I’m guessing you probably have a bad reaction to the particular protein you are using. You might try mixing it up with either a different brand or a different type of protein. Let me know if you have any other questions

      Eric

  6. roamy says:

    Hi there
    Thanks for publishing this,was looking for supplements in google when your site came up.
    As l do not use any dairy products l always take supplements and always need to inform myself what is new out there or if there are some side effects.
    Must admit I’ve never heard of plant-based proteins.
    Really enjoyed your post and have book marked your site for the future.

  7. Nate says:

    Hi Eric,

    Couldn’t agree more about protein being vital for building muscle, I’m fortunate that I have a gym at home so I can usually cook something up quick enough (or already have something prepared) I can eat straight after training.

    That being said I do still use protein shake in the morning, I have it in my porridge at the moment, I’ve heard good things about egg white protein but never had it.

    Is there any reason it wouldn’t work with porridge (made with water)?

    • Eric Radcliffe says:

      You can mix protein powder with just about anything. I’ve never had porridge before, but I bet it would taste pretty good!

  8. Xander says:

    Hi Eric,

    I really enjoyed your post and thought it was a great read full of the necessary need to knows. I am a big fan of protein supplementation and have been using protein shakes for over 8 years now. As the years passed other proteins became more popular and “better” than the one before. I have always stuck to whey but have recently read a lot of positives about ISO whey. Is ISO whey any good?

    • Eric Radcliffe says:

      Iso whey is simply 100% whey protein isolate, which I describe in the article. Yes this is a high quality source of protein because it is easily digestible and contains very little extra fat or sugar. I would highly recommend it.

  9. Julius says:

    Protein is definitely important for training and muscle growth, but I read that carbohydrates actually make up most of your training diet instead of proteins. Is that true?

    And also, what kind of supplements would you recommend for cross training? I’m not looking to gain massive weight, just keeping my energy, speed and muscles at the top level.

    • Eric Radcliffe says:

      Hi Julius,

      I’m not sure what you mean by “training diet” but carbohydrates are definitely an important macronutrient and should not be overlooked by any means. Carbs do make up the majority of most people’s diet because they are the body’s preferred source of fuel and provide energy for long and intense workouts.

      As far as supplements go, I would still recommend a high quality protein. I would also recommend a BCAA supplement do drink during your workout. It may also be a good idea to drink carbs during your workout if they tend to be longer than 1.5 hours. I also recommend creatine, which will help with speed and power as long as you don’t mind a little water weight gain.

      Hope this helps,

      Eric

  10. Fiq says:

    I drink protein shakes on a daily basis, sometimes 2 bottle on workout days. My favorite flavor would have to be the Cookies & Cream by MusclePharm. That stuff is delish.

    Is there ever a danger of having too much protein? If so, how many times do you recommend a person drinks his protein per day to not exceed the protein limit?

    • Eric Radcliffe says:

      Muscle Pharm protein is pretty bomb!

      It is definitely possible to consume too much protein. If you consume too much protein, the body will either store the excess as body fat or excrete it. If you don’t eat much fruits and veggies, it could also cause a large acid build up, where the skeleton supplies a buffer, resulting in a net calcium deficiency. The amount needed for this to happen is large and depends on the individual. I don’t see any problem with drinking two protein shakes a day and a good rule of thumb is to make sure you get the majority of your protein from real, whole food sources and supplement with protein powders to make sure you get enough protein.

  11. Deb Collins says:

    I am impressed with this article, the comments and the replies. People have asked questions that I have had myself, and the replies to those questions have been very helpful. Thank you! I will use this infomration and am looking forward to achieving and maintaining optimum health and fitness

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