When it comes to protein even Republicans and Democrats can agree that every American would benefit from a healthy dose. The question is, what specific type of protein is most appropriate for one’s total wellness? Old school guys will have you believe that a thick slab of beef is the best way to pump up your protein levels, while others may argue that poultry and fish is a better way to go. And then there are those in the non-meat camp who look to vegetable or diary sources for their protein fix. So who’s correct? Truth is there’s no universally right or wrong choice when choosing protein. Each comes with its drawbacks and benefits. Here’s a closer look at four common protein sources. ANIMAL PROTEIN Red meat still reigns king for most looking to up their protein intake. Steaks, burgers, and roast beef often dominate the menus of those looking to bulk up their size, strength and power. But how good is meat as a primary source of healthy protein? The upside: Animal proteins are nutritionally complete, and contain all the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot manufacture and must obtain from our diet. They are also an efficient nutrient-rich protein source, providing an excellent source of high quality protein along with 10 other essential nutrients. The downside: Animal protein is not nutrient dense, inflicting a significant number of calories on your body along with the protein. It also tends to have high levels of antibiotics, hormones, saturated fat, and an unhealthy ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids.
SOY It may be asking the impossible for those committed meat-eaters to seek soy as their primary source of protein. However, for those more willing to budge, a wealth of benefits could be gained by giving soy a try. The upside: Just as meat is a complete protein with all the essential amino acids, so too is soy. If you follow a vegetarian diet that limits fish, eggs and dairy products, soy is an ideal option to compensate for your protein needs. Soy enhances muscle recovery and growth, and increases nitric oxide production. It also enhances fat loss, and improves heart health and protects against certain cancers. The downside: Soy protein has been found to be high in allergens. In addition, unless it has been fermented, soy protein contains potent enzyme inhibitors that block the action of trypsin and other enzymes needed for protein digestion, which can lead to significant amounts of gas.
WHEY When it comes to protein supplementation, this by-product of milk dominates the field. With its rich source of branched chain amino acids, containing the highest known levels of any natural food source, whey is a superior source of protein. The upside: Whey protein provides the body with the ideal amino acid profile for muscle building, strength and recovery. Athletes of all types use whey protein supplements to help increase size, strength and speed up recovery times. Because whey is also fast ingesting, it’s well suited as a post-workout nutrition source, when your body needs a quick fix of protein. The downside: Unfortunately, the main protein fractions in whey are all highly allergenic. Anyone who has sensitivity to dairy products may not fare well with this protein source, and experience a variety of negative digestive-related symptoms. In addition, whey tends to be high in cholesterol.
CASEIN Like whey, this protein is found in milk, and makes up about 80% of its protein (whey being the other 20%). Casein protein is separated from the milk through ultra filtration—a process that increases the amount of bioactive milk peptides that support immune function and enhance muscle growth. The upside: Casein protein provides superior muscle-feeding growth that is optimal for size and strength gains, as well as recovery. Because it is a slow-digesting protein, it has a powerful effect in preventing muscle breakdown. The downside: For those who have difficulty digesting lactose or are allergic to dairy products, casein could cause gas, stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhea and potentially more severe anaphylactic reactions.