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Looking for a good protein powder? Are you confused by all the choices? Who wouldn't be – you have various types of whey protein- not to mention all the different processing methods, then you have 100% egg white, milk and egg, casein, beef, soy, blends – the list seems endless. This guide will give you a solid understanding of the different types of protein available, allowing you to make an informed choice the next time you buy.

Whey Protein: The highest quality protein on the market. Whey comes in three main versions: concentrate, hydrolysate and isolate as well as a blend of all three. I have detailed these three elsewhere on this site so in this article we'll look at how whey is processed. First, what is whey protein?

Whey is a cheese by-product. It is the liquid part that is separated from the curd. In its raw form, other than protein, whey contains fat, cholesterol, lactose. Before it reaches you, the fat and lactose (milk sugar) in whey have to be filtered out. Let's briefly cover the primary ways whey protein is processed:

ION EXCHANGE: Ionic Exchange processing involves separating proteins based on their electrical charge. Two chemicals are used to achieve this: hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide. However, because of the chemical reagents used, pH sensitive fractions are damaged and some amino acids are denatured--the glycomacropeptides, immunoglobins, and alpha lactalbumin. These are valuable fractions lost in the Ion Exchange process. This results in higher concentrations of other fractions such as beta-lactoglobulin.

One advantage of Ion Exchange is that it has the highest protein levels and has less fat/lactose of any whey processing method on a gram-for-gram basis.

MICRO/ULTRAFILTRATION: Microfiltration uses ceramic membranes to filter the whey. No chemical regents are used so the majority of biological fractions are left intact without being damaged. Ultrafiltration is similar to the microfiltration but uses smaller pores with higher pressure. By using membrane filters, fat and lactose are filtered out. The particles are separated based on their molecular size and shape.

The advantage of this process includes:
• Minimal denaturing of protein
• Preserved biological fractions
• Better amino profile

CROSS FLOW MICROFILTRATION (CFM): One of the best processing methods on the market today. CFM is patented and owned by Glanbia (one of the largest in the dairy industry, they recently bought Optimum Nutrition). Therefore, there is an added cost for manufacturers to use this method--resulting in higher price. Once again, very similar to microfiltration but it's kicked up a notch to produce an isolate that is greater than 90% protein with no fat or lactose, and leaves almost 100% of the protein and the important peptides intact.

The CFM includes the advantage of micro/ultrafiltration plus:
• Contains more calcium and less sodium
• Highest level of undenatured protein

As you can see, the CFM method is currently considered to the best overall processing method. Additionally, there are some whey blends that use all of the processing methods discussed here. My suggestions: while isolate is a great choice, it's also an expensive choice ( as much as $1.95 per serving) so I advise a quality whey blend.

100% Egg White: 100% egg white was long the very best on the market with a BV of 88-100%, until whey came along with a higher BV. What is “BV”? The Biological Value, or BV, of a protein is an indicator of the quality of the protein. It is a measure of a protein's ability to be used by the body (or its bio-availability). It's the percentage of the absorbed protein that your body actually uses. Biological Values are indicators of which proteins are the best at helping nitrogen retention in muscles to help them maintain or grow. At the bottom of this page you will find two charts, one is the BV if individual protein sources and the other is a chart depicting five methods of determining quality. 100% egg white remains a quality choice, with some people preferring it over whey.

Casein: Derived from milk, a good quality and a slower digesting powder than whey. Great for night time use as you want to keep protein in your system as long as possible while you sleep. This makes sense – while you sleep you go into a fasted, catabolic state. When you wake up, you need protein and some simple carbs as soon as possible. This is, in fact, one of two key times of the day when you need fast digesting protein along with simple, or fast digesting, carbs ( the other being post-workout). Most lifters will use both whey and casein, whey after the workout and in the morning for fast digestion and casein at night and during the day when you know you'll be without protein for more than three hours.

Blends: These are meant to provide a “sustained release” effect, in fact some brands spray their product with EFA's to slow down digestion time. This is great but a blend is a compromise – you're getting quality protein mixed in with lower quality protein sources, such as a whey protein with casein and soy.

Formulas: This is actually my own term and by this I mean products like Muscle Milk and Syntha 6. In each case these products add extra calories in the form of carbs and healthy fats – in some cases a lot of extra calories. These are popular products but you have to understand what you are getting calorie-wise, carb-wise and fat-wise and make sure the product fits your goals.

Soy: Generally considered to be one of the lowest quality proteins available. Made from the soya bean, the benefits of soy primarily come from its isoflavone content. Isoflavones are a type of antioxidant that combats cell damage. Genistein and daidzein, the isoflavones present in soy protein, possess antioxidant properties that protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation and are linked to the reduction of cholesterol levels in the blood. Studies have shown that soy protein reduced total cholesterol by 9.3% and lowered LDL (or "bad") cholesterol by almost 13%. Soy also raised HDL (or "good") cholesterol in the blood by over 2%. This result is due to the structure of the amino acid in soy protein. Soy protein differs from meat protein, and changes the way the liver creates and metabolizes cholesterol. Since high cholesterol levels
are a major risk factor for the development of heart disease, the benefit of soy in reducing that health problem could be significant for a large segment of the population.

Soy also contains phytoestrogens (plant hormones) that mimic the female hormone estrogen. This fact encourages promoters to tout the benefits of soy for relief of the symptoms of menopause. Studies show that eating 20 grams of soy daily for six weeks will help reduce hot flashes and other symptoms. Supporters also claim that soy may lower the risk of osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and kidney disease. Unlike the claim for lowering cholesterol, none of these have been conclusively proven, nor has soy received FDA approval for these uses. Because of the potential estrogenic effects of soy proteins, the British Dietetic Association has recommended that soy based infant formulas be used with extreme caution. They warn: "Dietitians should discourage the use of soya protein in children with atopy or cow's milk allergy in the first six months of life to avoid sensitization to soya protein and exposure to phytoestrogens while organ systems remain at their most vulnerable. This would include soy infant formula and soya products such as desserts, etc." Note that this warning is limited to soy protein and does not apply to other soybean products such as soy lecithin, which has been used as a cholesterol-lowering agent. The United States FDA and the German Commission E have placed no limits on the use of this soy product and consider it safe even for nursing mothers.

These are the main proteins out there today. Here are various vegetarian source products, occasional attempts at new, “highest quality” protein, such as buckwheat and goat's milk but most users will go with whey and typically add a casein if slow digestion time is a concern.

The five methods described below are the ones most often used to assess protein quality.

1. Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score* (PDCAAS ): The Amino Acid Score with an added digestibility component. The PDCAAS is the current accepted measure of protein quality as it closely compares to determinations done with animals. A number of nutrition experts feel this method needs further refinement and additional changes may be seen in the future.

2. Amino Acid Score (AAS): A chemical technique considered fast, consistent, and inexpensive. It measuresthe indispensable amino acids present in a protein and compares the values with a reference protein. The protein is rated based upon the most limiting indispensable amino acid.

Values greater than 1.0 for both the AAS and the PCDAAS are considered to indicate that the protein contains essential amino acids in excess of the human requirements. Therefore, in 1990 at a FAO/WHO meeting it was decided that proteins having values higher than 1.0 would be rounded down to 1.0. This point is under debate as experts feel that the rounding down of high quality proteins fails to reflect the ability of the protein to complement the nutritional value of a lower quality protein.

3. Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER): Measures the ability of a protein to support the growth of a weanling rat. It represents the ratio of weight gain to the amount of protein consumed. This method has two major concerns. First is the concern that is may not be applied to growing infants and children as the amino acid growthrequirement for infants is less than those for rats. Second, the PER measures growth but not maintenance so it may be of limited use in determining the protein needs of adults.

4. Biological Value (BV): Measures the amount of nitrogen retained in comparison to the amount of nitrogen absorbed. The BV and the NPU methods reflect both availability and digestibility and they give an accurate appraisal of maintenance needs.

5. Nitrogen Protein Utilization (NPU): The ratio of the nitrogen used for tissue formation versus the amount of nitrogen digested.

Protein Type
Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS)
Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER)
Biological Value (BV)
Protein Digestibility
% (PD)
Whey Protein
Whole Egg
Soy Protein Concentrate
Beef Protein
0.92 .


The higher on the list, the better.
The numbers are the BV. (Biologic value).
This is only how easily the (normal) body can absorb them, not the protein grams in each one. The last few need to be blended to make a complete protein.

Protein Source
Whey Isolate
Whey Concentrate
Whole Egg
Cow's Milk
Egg White (Albumin)

If you have any questions or comments, you can always email me at sb5660@windstream.net

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