Protein in a mass- building or get-lean diet is a lot like a mutual fund or a 401(k) plan: You know you need it, but you’re not always sure which one to pick. There are simply so many of them. But just as diversifying your investment portfolio is crucial to long- term wealth, so too is including a variety of different proteins in your daily meal plan.
The proteins found in whole foods like beef, poultry, fish, and dairy are vital, but so are those found in protein powders, bars, and ready-made shakes. Problem is, with the growth of the supplement industry in the past couple of decades, there seem to be just as many differ- ent proteins in stores as there are mutual funds on Wall Street. Therefore, we’ve put together this guide to navigating your way through the different tubs, bars, and shakes present in the protein marketplace today.
Assuming you don’t have ample time (or desire) to prep every meal and snack, convenience is a big deal. And that’s where meal- replacement bars come in handy. If you’re hurrying out the door for work, throw a bar in your bag. If you’re afraid of getting stuck in the office with nothing healthy to eat, keep a box of bars at your desk. Most bars on the market these days include protein, fats, and carbs, making a bar a small meal to tide you over until the next one. Plus, there are a number of low-carb bars available that include sugar alcohols, which aren’t readily absorbed in the body like regular sugars. Because the protein doesn’t absorb as fast as in liquid form, bars aren’t ideal pre- and post-workout, but otherwise, they’re fine to include in your diet in moderation.
When it comes to building muscle, nothing beats whey. It’s the best protein for stimulating muscle gains before and after workouts. The best whey powders on the market contain whey protein isolate (WPI) and/or whey protein hydrolysates (WPH)—these are the purest forms of whey, they digest the quickest, and they get to your muscles fast.
Whey protein concentrate (WPC) is good, too, but it contains higher amounts of carbs and fats, which slows its breakdown. So when it comes to making that initial muscle-building supple- ment purchase, start with a protein powder that’s either 100% whey or a blend with whey as its first ingredient.
Whey is great because of its fast-absorbing nature, but there’s certainly a time for a slower-digesting protein as well, namely casein. Casein is ideal before bedtime for providing a steady trickle of aminos during your overnight fast, and it’s even been found to enhance muscle building when added to whey in a post-workout shake. Look for a powder that includes micellar casein, the slowest- digesting casein of them all (forms listed as “caseinates” are good as well). Bottom line: any smart supplement plan includes: