The definitive guide to protein sources

History of protein powders

The history of protein supplements begin in the 1950’s in the days when bodybuilding wasn’t as mainstream as it is now. Bodybuilders discovered that in order to increase their muscle size they needed to drastically raise the amount of protein they were consuming. This wasn’t always easily achieved by diet alone so the protein shake was born. Contrary to popular believe one of the first protein powders on the market, Hi-Proteen by Bob Hoffman, wasn’t a whey protein but was made from soybeans.

As the 1960’s rolled around there was more research into proteins and nutritional experts started to become involved, this lead to the quality of the powders increasing but also in the range of proteins sources such as caseins and eggs.

Things didn’t really start to evolve into the protein powders we know today until the 1980’s/1990’s when sources like whey became very popular – after all as A. Scott Connelly (an early pioneer of whey protein) said ‘milk is the closest nature gave to man’.

Roll forward to today and the market has advanced immeasurably since its early beginnings. Far more is known about nutrition and the market is lead by research now rather than marketing. This combined with the rise in natural, healthy eating and the realisation of the importance of eating ‘pure’ has lead to an abundance of new protein sources. Even without the ‘synthetic’ sources that scientists come up with all the time there’s a protein source out there for everybody, regardless of their dietary requirements or allergies.

With this increase in protein sources it can be pretty daunting if you’re just starting out and don’t know which source is right for you. There was always be a certain amount of personal preference involved but with our helpful guide we’ll assist you in finding the right proteins for you.

Soy/Soya Protein

Like the early protein supplements on the market soy protein is isolated from soybean and is made from soybean meal that has been dehulled and defatted, a process that removes the husks as well as any fatty acids to help reduce the fat content of it. This then results in three different soy products: flour, isolates and concentrates.

  • Flour: This is mainly used as an alternative to gluten flours for coeliacs.
  • Concentrates: Containing between 20% and 89% these are used in the protein supplement industry.
  • Isolates: Very popular amongst athletes isolates have a much higher concentration of protein, 90%+, than concentrates.

Pros: One of the cheapest sources of dietary protein it’s also a ‘complete’ protein that contains all of the essential amino acids we need. Amino acids are a class of organic compounds such as carbon and oxygen that are the building blocks of proteins.
Cons: Soy is an allergen for some people. Too much soy can result in gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea and constipation.

Whey Protein

We’ve been using whey for it health benefits for around 2500 years, the father of medicine, Hippocrates, used to prescribe it to his patents, but it’s only really been used as a protein supplement since American bodybuilding, Dan Duchaine, moved into the industry in 1993.

Despite not being the first protein powder available to the public whey has now overtaken every other protein source to become the most popular source on the market today. It has now become the mainstay of many cupboards across the globe. Some argue that it’s the most natural source out there, after all every newborn child will have milk of some form from the get go. Whey is made during the cheese process when enzymes are added to the pasteurised milk, this separates it into two parts, solid particles which are used to make cheese and liquid particles which contains the whey. There are four different types of whey protein – concentrates, isolates, hydrolysates and native whey protein.

  • Concentrates: These range from between 30% and 89% protein but are higher in lactose.
  • Isolates: On the other hand have over 90% protein and also have the lactose removed.
  • Hydrolysates: These are partially hydrolysed, a process that is used to extracted the different molecules, to make metabolising easier, they are also less allergenic than isolates and concentrates.
  • Native Whey: This is made completely differently and is extracted from extracted skimmed milk rather than as a byproduct of the cheese process.

Pros: A ‘wonder protein’ that is idea for weight loss, reducing body fat, increasing muscle, strength, endurance and recovery.
Cons: Not suitable for people with high intolerance to lactose although the major allergens in milk are the caseins.

Casein

A slow release protein, casein is often made into cheese, its name is actually derived from the Latin word for cheese, ‘caseus’. In the cheese making process the curds while rise to the top of the liquid whey, these are then removed and either used to make cheese or are dehydrated and powdered to make the powder we all know and love. Casein is extremely popular with athletes because of it’s slow release properties which means, when taken before bed, will help to reduce muscle breakdown and increased recovery while you sleep. There are two forms of casein, micellar casein and casein hydrolysate, while they do both have similar properties there’s a difference in the digestion.

  • Micellar Casein: This is the most popular casein because it’s digested slowly.
  • Casein Hydrolysate: Like hydrolysate whey, this is partially hydrolysed – a process which actually speeds up the absorption of the protein.

Pros: Like whey it contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs plus it contains a lot of micronutrients such as calcium
Cons: Casein is an allergen for some people so isn’t suitable for people with lactose intolerance.

Plant bases proteins

Plant based proteins is actually a very broad term that covers a wide variety of different proteins sources such as grain, wheat, pea and hemp. Each source has its own benefits but they do all share the same manufacture process. Their extraction follows one of two processes:

  • Chemical extraction: This uses a gasoline byproduct called Hexane, which although it is a toxin it’s actual toxicity is rather low.
  • Water extraction: This is a more expensive method but is far better for you as only water is used to extract the protein and nothing else.

Wheat Protein

This protein group can be found in crops such as rye and barley. Wheat protein is an excellent alternative for people looking for a vegan, soy free protein. It’s also naturally high in dietary fibre which will also aid digestion. Often thought of as a superfood the main drawback to wheat protein is that it contains gluten which isn’t suitable for coeliacs.
Pros: Naturally high in dietary fibre which helps with your digestion
Cons: Not suitable for coeliacs.

Grain Protein

The grain protein group contains things such as oats, rice and quinoa. Unlike wheat proteins doesn’t contain any gluten. Instead it’s protein source is actually avenin which although being similar to gluten, research has shown that coeliac’s and people with a gluten allergy can safely eat grain protein.
Pros: Suitable for coeliacs who are looking for a gluten and dairy free protein.
Cons: At the moment there aren’t a huge number of companies making grain protein powder supplements.

Hemp Protein

Hemp protein, which is extracted from hemp seeds, is around 35% protein and produced in a way that is extremely good for the environment because its cultivated without the use of pesticides and herbicides. On top of that it’s very good and absorbing carbon dioxide.
Pros: Studies have show that hemp has an anti-fatigue effect whilst can also improve your immune system as well as kidney function.
Cons: It has a strong after taste to it.

Pea Protein

Extracted from yellow ‘possum sativum’ peas, pea protein, like hemp protein, is an excellent alternative to dairy proteins. In part this is because it also contains legumin, which has similar properties to casein. As such its used as a meat-alternative by food manufacturers such was Ben & Jerry’s and Beyond Meat.
Pros: High alkaline levels mean that it often has fewer calories and can be used to combat acidity in your diet.
Cons: There aren’t as many protein supplements available at the moment.

Egg Protein

Like whey we’d been using eggs as part of our diet and for its health benefits long before it was introduced into the supplement market back in the 1960’s. Both the yolk and the whole egg are not only extremely high in protein, but when the hens are fed with flaxseed, are also high in Omega 3 – the fatty acid that’s used in the brain’s development.
Pros: Extremely versatile and can be used in general cooking as well as protein shakes.
Cons: Generally sold unflavoured.

Conclusion

When it comes to finding the right protein for you there’s a certain amount of personal preference involved, for example you may prefer the flavour options you get with whey protein or you may only want a hemp protein. That said even within each protein source group there are a number of other options to consider, do you want organic, informed sport or no artificial sweeteners for example. We hope that this guide to protein sources has helped you decide which source if right for you.

Now that you’re armed with a better understanding of the various protein sources out there you can use our handy filtering system to help you find all of the supplements you need and at a price that suits you by clicking here.