Protein Supplements: Which To Choose?

Who I am
Robert Maurer

Author and references


Protein supplements are over-the-counter products used as a nutritional supplement based on dietary peptides.

Practical in filling protein needs where it is not possible to do so with the diet, protein supplements can be as useful as they are superfluous. Excess, if on the one hand it can create a nutritional imbalance, on the other hand it will very rarely create health problems for the healthy subject.

The proteins contained in the supplements can be of various derivations, such as milk (casein and whey), egg, soy and wheat (wheat), and can be extracted with different techniques.

In this article we will try to provide a general overview of the most common types, in order to guide users to a conscious and intelligent purchase.

See also: Amino Acid Supplements To learn more: Protein Powder

What They Contain

Protein supplements contain, as the name implies, basically polypeptides with a high biological value (VB). These are combined chains of amino acids, most of which are essential (AAE), practically in their natural state or partially denatured and hydrolyzed - depending on the processing. B vitamins, minerals and / or particular amino acids or similar factors are often added (e.g. arginine, glutamine, taurine, leucine, isoleucine, valine, creatine, carnitine, etc.).

Biological value

biological value we mean the "qualitative" measurement parameter of the proteins taken with the diet which - on a scale from 0 to 100 - numerically expresses the quantity, type and reciprocal ratio of the essential amino acids present in the peptides in question.

The reference protein, that is the one with VB equal to 100%, is that of the egg.

In ordinary nutrition, to ensure a good average BV, it is recommended that at least 2/3 of the total come from sources of animal origin (eggs, milk and derivatives, meat and offal, fishery products).

Why is biological value important in sport?

Indicating the size of nitrogen actually absorbed ed used net of losses - urinary, fecal, skin, etc. - the biological value intrinsically contains the plastic potential of the amino acids contained in food proteins.

A protein with biological value 100 turns out perfectly balanced between absorbed amino acids and retained amino acids; the greater this value, the greater the potential for use referred to the protein in question. In practice, the entire peptide polymer is "potentially" usable for plastic purposes in the muscles.

What are they for

What are protein supplements used for?

The primary function of protein supplements is to replace protein foods, providing purified proteins, without increasing the intake of other energetic macronutrients (fats and carbohydrates). The intake of these products therefore has the essential purpose of reaching the daily protein requirement, avoiding the specific nutritional deficiency.


The protein deficit is actually not very common in developed countries, while the real deficiencies concern economically disadvantaged or non self-sufficient social groups, third and fourth world countries. In any case, if severe and protracted, protein malnutrition can have more or less serious consequences (weakness, reduction in growth, sarcopenia in old age, slowdown in muscle recovery and an obstacle to anabolism in sport, etc.).

In the country, the population group most interested in protein supplements is that of sportsmen, lovers of wellness and aesthetic culture (bodybuilding). The "true" protein deficiency is indeed very rare. This is thanks to the body's ability to save tissue amino acids in various ways.


The protein requirement is defined in a range, which includes a minimum and a maximum margin - estimated on subjects with an average level of physical activity, not on athletes.

How much protein do we need?

The minimum protein intake, that is the indispensable a DON'T affect the protein structures (understood as the actual tissues, for example the muscle), is about 44 and 55 grams per day (g / day), respectively for adult males and females; this can be calculated more precisely by multiplying a coefficient of 0,8 g per kilogram of body weight (g / kg). The maximum tolerable, again for these subjects, was evaluated in maximum safety at about double, therefore 1,6 g / kg.

It has also been shown that in athletes practicing strength activities, severely committed - DON'T let's talk about sportsmen common - increasing this intake can be crucial for achieving greater training progression (in terms of recovery and muscle growth). The same does not happen in endurance athletes, who can afford to remain almost normal (understood as the aforementioned upper margin) without negative consequences.

Growing children and young people require at least 1,5 g / kg of protein, while pregnant women can be satisfied with a + 6g per day compared to the normal requirement.

Animal Proteins

Whey protein or whey

Whey protein can be obtained for:

  • Cross-flow ultra-microfiltration (<1% fat; approx.92% protein; <1% lactose)
  • Microfiltration (concentrated proteins about 80%; Lactose 5-6%, Fats 6%)
  • Ion exchange (fats <1%; proteins> 90-95%).

This type of protein supplement is indicated as a post-workout snack, preferably in combination with carbohydrates to recreate a greater insulin response, in an attempt to increase the entry of amino acids into muscle cells.

Casein protein from milk

Despite the lower percentage of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) - i.e. leucine, isoleucine and valine - compared to the previous ones, these proteins have the advantage of being able to be metabolized more gradually - useful, for some, in ensuring a longer stay of the amino acids in circulation. .

Note: the same effect can be obtained by adding milk to whey proteins (carbohydrates, fats and proteins contained in this food slow down the digestion and absorption of the protein supplement).

Egg proteins

Egg proteins have a excellent amino acid spectrum (the best) but their high cost means that they are often alternated or replaced by whey protein supplements, which are much cheaper and of the same high quality.

Vegetable proteins

Plant-based proteins have an amino acid pool that cannot be superimposed on that of animal proteins. However, they can be useful, especially for those who follow a vegan diet and want to increase their protein intake.

Soy protein

Considering that these are vegetable proteins, those of soy have a good biological value, which however is not comparable to that of whey, casein and egg proteins.

On the other hand, thanks to the good content of glutamine, arginine and isoflavones (substances with antioxidant and mildly estrogen-like activity) they are a valid alternative to traditional whey proteins.

Wheat protein

Wheat proteins are rich in glutamine but too low in lysine, an essential amino acid.

How they are used

Protein supplements can be used in a variety of ways. The most used dose is 30 g at a time (corresponding, for example, to the peptide content of 150 g of chicken breast); it constitutes the upper limit dictated by the "reasonableness of the portion". It is hypothesized that this weight also corresponds to the maximum amount of protein that can be absorbed in a meal, but not everyone agrees with this statement. Increasing it would not be smart, because it would mean that the diet is extremely deficient. On the other hand, and up to 15 g, protein supplements can be quite useful in the daily breakdown of essential amino acids.

The 5 main ways to use the protein supplement

  1. As a post-workout meal, in order to immediately supply the body with the amino acids necessary for supercompensation. It is essential to do this as soon as possible, since immediately after the effort the cells are more receptive and have a very high insulin sensitivity. This allows you to optimize integration and therefore muscle recovery or growth.
  2. As a pre-workout meal, but only in small doses and mixed with a prevalence of carbohydrates.
  3. As a replacement meal; here things get complicated. In addition to carbohydrates, fats and proteins, a meal must also provide vitamins, minerals, water and various nutritional factors such as fiber, polyphenolic antioxidants, lecithins, phytosterols, etc. To pretend that any supplement can be substituted for a balanced diet is utopian to say the least. In an emergency, however, the protein supplement can certainly replace a missing second dish.
  4. As an anti-hunger snack, as a protein shake has the power to impart modest satiety and relatively moderate gastric emptying in terms of speed. With 30 g of protein dissolved in 200 ml of water, about 120 kcal are introduced - all in all very few, even if this depends on the need and calorie consumption.
  5. As a pre-sleep snack, in view of a fast for many hours, even considering the abstention from dinner time, protein supplements can effectively support the body that needs a source of amino acids.

However, the amino acid composition of protein supplements is very important. The extent of muscle protein synthesis is in fact linked in a dose dependent manner to the availability of essential amino acids. The best strategy seems to be to combine different protein sources: for example, using protein supplements based on whey protein (they stimulate protein synthesis without having an effect on proteolysis) together with casein supplements (protein that makes a lower contribution to protein synthesis but which has an important inhibitory effect on muscle catabolism).

You may be interested in: Protein Supplements: Are They Bad?
Audio Video Protein Supplements: Which To Choose?
add a comment of Protein Supplements: Which To Choose?
Comment sent successfully! We will review it in the next few hours.