Of all the nutrients we require to sustain a healthy body, few are as fundamentally important as the protein we consume. Commonly found in foodstuffs such as meat, legumes, eggs, and dairy products, protein provides the body with the essential tools it needs to accomplish many tasks. Protein helps with everything from making your hair grow longer to building new muscle tissue after a heavy workout session. Protein-focused dieting has also grown in popularity with the rise of groups such as the keto movement.
The importance of protein means many people have concerns over how to incorporate enough into their diet. From those trying to sustain ketosis for weight loss to the athletes who need more copious amounts of protein to recover after practice and play, there is a widespread demand for access to protein-rich foods. However, keeping caloric intake down is also essential. Therefore, the past few decades have seen a rapid rise in protein supplements, such as powders. Refined and rich in a high percentage of protein, these products do everything from enriching other foods to providing the base for a protein drink. Where do these supplements come from, and what uses do they have?
Eggs: A Classic Source of Protein, Now Concentrated
A popular source of protein derived from whites; egg-based protein powders are not as widespread as other forms but still provide many potential benefits. It is a complete protein — that is, it contains all nine of the amino acids not naturally available in the body. Also called “essential,” these amino acids are crucial building blocks for many of the body’s most important processes. However, egg protein does not promote satiety — the “feeling of fullness” that comes after eating — in the same way as many other protein powders. Even so, it’s an excellent alternative for those who cannot consume dairy products due to an allergy.
Hemp On the Rise? A New Potential Source
Research continues on alternative sources of protein, and with the recent legalization of the large-scale agricultural production of hemp, some have isolated protein from this plant, too. Typically used to produce very strong fibers, hemp seeds and leaves are edible. Some manufacturers have created hemp protein powders from these sources to provide individuals with a new “vegan” protein option. However, hemp protein is low in two essential amino acids, so it is not as good at promoting tissue growth as other options. On the plus side, it does contain omega-3 fatty acids, shown to help promote good heart health.
The Perks of Pea Protein
The most popular option with vegans and vegetarians, this protein typically comes from one or several nutrient-rich legumes. Users of pea protein and research studies alike indicate that this protein contributes to better feelings of satiety, helping to reduce cravings for junk snack foods. Research on athletes also shows that pea protein contributes to building muscle mass in athletes. Like hemp protein, pea protein powders are not complete, but in this case, they only lack one of the essential amino acids.
Whey and Casein: The Benefits of Milk Protein
By far, the most popular option on the market today, milk proteins are the dominant form of protein supplement — and for a good reason. Milk contains two different kinds of proteins, called whey and casein, which affect the body in slightly different ways. Both are complete with all nine essential amino acids. In studies of protein supplements, milk-based powders provided the best and longest-lasting feelings of satiety. The way these proteins deliver their amino acids to the bloodstream contribute to their usefulness.
Whey protein powders are a popular pre- or post-workout supplement. Whey digests very quickly, and its amino acids become bioavailable within a very short window of time. When repairing and building new muscle fiber, this quick shot of nutrients is important in the immediate aftermath of physical activity. On the opposite end of the spectrum, casein proteins digest much more slowly, providing “time-release” amino acids, longer post-meal satisfaction, and support for muscles during rest. Both proteins also have the highest digestibility score available, meaning your body can absorb all the nutritional value of the amino acids whereas many others have a lower score and the body doesn’t make full use of the protein.
Most milk supplements offer only whey or casein proteins. With milk concentrate powders, though, athletes can tap into the benefits of both milk proteins simultaneously.
Robust Protein Powders Create Better Product Formulations
From peas to eggs to milk and beyond, there are many sources to use for creating products with a high percentage of protein. Though each kind of protein powder has unique strengths and drawbacks, milk proteins offer some exclusive benefits worth continued study and consideration. Whether you want to achieve a smooth mouthfeel for enjoyable protein drinks or a taste that ranges from mild and undetectable to pleasantly milky, there are many reasons to consider these innovative sources of protein.