Protein powder supplements have become extremely popular over the past two decades, as they have developed a solid reputation for improving the lives of many that use them. With a delicious variety of flavors, and scientifically proven health benefits, it is highly likely that protein powders are here to stay. Of course, your main source for protein should be high-protein foods, but if you find that difficult, supplements are fair game.
This begs the question: is all protein the same? And if not, which protein is best for you? These are extremely important questions, but not ones that everyone considers, and which an even smaller number of people are equipped to answer. Rest assured though, after you’re done reading this, you’ll know more about protein than 80% of people.
Different Types Of Protein Powders
Most people have heard about whey based protein powders, though the variety available for consumption is far more diverse. In fact, even though whey is considered the “Gold Standard” of protein powders, it is not the best option for everyone.
Here is a quick explanation of the different protein powder types:
Vegan Protein Powders
Vegetarians have a harder than average time when it comes to meeting daily protein requirements, as their range of high-protein foods is much more limited. This is where protein supplements can become a lifesaver.
Initially, (3-4 decades ago), soy protein was the only commercially popular vegan protein available for consumption, which was ok, but far from ideal.
Soy is particularly troublesome in men, as it shares a structure closely related to that of the female hormone estrogen. When consumed, soy can exert estrogen-like effects in men, which, when consumed in excess, can eventually lead to hormonal imbalances. As a result, soy has more recently been classified as a potent phytoestrogen.
Luckily, there are far more vegan varieties available for consumption today, free of the estrogen-like effects. Consider the following:
- Brown rice
- Chia seed powder
The only drawback with vegan protein powders is the fact that many of them are incomplete proteins; thus consuming more than one source becomes essential for getting all the essential amino acids required on a daily basis.
Milk-based proteins are the most widely used in the world, thanks to their affordability, availability and overall tolerance by most of the population. The two most common milk-based proteins are whey and casein, though colostrum is a lesser-known, but still very powerful one as well.
Milk-based proteins contains all the essential amino acids needed by the body, and are excellent for the muscle building process and overall health.
Though considered “exotic” and even bizarre by the majority of people that come across them, insect protein powders should warrant a second look since they are nutritional powerhouses hidden in plain sight.
As long as you can get past the thought of consuming insects, you are bound to experience the benefits of these protein powders, making them an excellent alternative to milk-based sources.
In particular, some insect-based proteins have a greater protein-yield than milk-based proteins, along with being naturally fortified with many vitamins and minerals.
Think of zinc, magnesium, and omega-3 fats that are easy to get from a protein supplement; this is exactly what some insect protein powders deliver.
Though not many varieties of insect protein are commercially available as yet (cricket protein is currently widely available), the ones that show promise and are being studied besides cricket include:
- Domesticated silkworms
- Honey bees
- Larvae of the African palm weevil
- Yellow mealworms
Which Protein Is The Best?
For most people, whey protein is their best option. That does however, leave quite a number of people unrepresented. This leads us to the criteria that determines what is the best for you, based on your unique circumstances.
Healthy Weight, Training Individual, No Obvious Issues
These are the individuals that benefit the most, via supplementation with a whey and/or casein protein powder. Used in conjunction, they are superior for lean muscle gain, and to elevate levels of IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor-1). IGF-1 is an extremely powerful anabolic hormone, arguably determinant of the amount of muscle gain you’ll experience.
Lactose Intolerant, But Not Vegan
Insect protein may be your best bet, with cricket protein powder leading the way. Still extremely protein-dense, and loaded with other vitamins and minerals, cricket is a solid bet.
Individuals With Risk Factors For Cancer
Though not widely discussed, elevating levels of IGF-1 is not a good idea for individuals with genetic markers for cancer. IGF-1 promotes tissue growth, and can hasten the development of cancer if you already have it. Opt for a protein that does not heavily influence IGF-1 in such cases, like brown rice or pea protein. However, it is important to state that IGF-1 does not cause cancer in that sense; as having higher muscle mass is an important longevity indicator in cancer patients. Muscle mass is enhanced via having higher IGF-1 levels, so don’t deliberately try to suppress your levels (as is common among vegans).
Overall Health And Anti-Aging
Though IGF-1 is associated with higher cancer risk if you already have it or are high-risk, such as from smoking, for individuals with low risk factors, milk-based proteins can prolong life. Higher IGF-1 levels are associated with decreased aging markers, such as delayed telomere length shortening, and reduced death risk. Even soy is associated with increasing levels of IGF-1, so if you’re vegan (and female), soy is fine for you. An alternative with additional anti-aging benefits, also derived from cows, is collagen protein, which is popular among women trying to improve their skin and hair quality, and is a good source of protein.
Protein powders can be an invaluable part of your health care regimen, as they have been well-documented to improve quality of life. Just keep in mind no two bodies are the same, and always consult your physician for advice prior to starting any new supplement.
“Alex Eriksson is the founder of AnabolicHealth.com, a men’s health blog dedicated to providing honest and research-backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Anabolic Health aspires to become a trusted resource where men can come and learn how to fix their hormonal problems naturally, without pharmaceuticals. Check out his guide on Manly Foods That Boost Testosterone.”