Best Protein Form to Gain Muscle Mass

August 10th, 2010 by Paul Johnson

One of the first thing newbie bodybuilders do when they get on a high protein die,t is they start to obsess over which is the best protein form to gain muscle mass. Who can blame them when there is hundreds of different supplement companies saying they have the best protein form for gaining muscle. Every bodybuilding guru seems to say something different about each protein form. Some protein forms go in fads where one year everyone is advocating some new technologically advanced protein. Is all the obsession over different protein forms really overrated or could finding the best protein really make a difference in gaining muscle mass? I’m going to go over some of the major protein types and discuss some aspects on some of the protein forms you probably haven't heard before.

Biological Value (BV) of each protein form

One of the first things we need to know before you can find the best protein form is something called biological value. Every protein has different biological values. The higher the value the better your body can retain the proteins in your body (called nitrogen balance). This has been verified in studies and the baseline number 100 given to eggs as a reference point.

In theory, a protein with a poor nitrogen balance means you will have to take more of it in order to get the same results. For example, plant protein sources tend to be incomplete. This is because the ratios of amino acids have to be in certain ratios for optimum utilization in the body. If one amino acid isn't available it can become a limiting factor from the body using other amino acids to build proteins. A good rule of thumb is plant proteins you need about 1/3 more grams of protein to equal the average animal protein source.

Biological value is a bit overrated though as there is multiple factors that you need to look at when comparing a protein form. If it was that easy to compare proteins there would be no need to compare each protein in depth and I could just simply list in order the BV values of each protein form. The higher the biological value protein form, it means it usually exits the body faster too. You won't get that steady stream of amino acids slowly entering and leaving the body with the protein forms that have really high biological value. Therefore, biological value is not the end all be all. A fast digesting protein does though have its purpose when a bodybuilder needs a fast digesting protein. We will go into that more throughout the article.

BCAA

BCAA or Branch chained amino acids that have special importance to bodybuilding because they are the most crucial to gaining lean muscle mass. This has been verified in studies and is why bodybuilders often supplement with extra BCAA powders at certain times, even though protein itself already has a lot of BCAA in it.

Whey Protein

Whey protein is the most common protein powder supplement used for bodybuilding. It is derived from skimming the top when they are making cheese. The reason why its so commonly used is because its the cheapest, has the highest biological value, and the highest level of BCAA. The biological value can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on when you are using it. Whey protein seems to have the best health benefits too. The growth protein factors in it seem to really boost the immune system. Studies have shown its reduced tumors in mice.

Whey protein concentrate

Whey protein concentrate is in its regular form and its the cheapest. It has a biological value of 104. It usually has more lactose and less protein per serving than whey isolate. Those very sensitive to lactose may want to try whey isolate instead. Whey protein concentrate should be taken with fat or fiber to slow its digestion down if your not taking pre or post workout or breakfast.

Whey Isolate

Whey isolate has a much higher biological value at 157. It might be more expensive, but you get a lot more bang for your buck. Unfortunately, this protein really leaves the system fast, so its not an ideal protein for just any meal. This protein would be only good for pre and post workout and breakfast when you wake up and need an instant source of amino acids. Any other part of the day if you insist on using this protein, you definitely should use fat or fiber along with the meal to help slow the digestion.

Hydrolyzed Whey protein

This protein has been broken down to short amino acid chains. Regular whey protein has very long bound amino chains all wrapped up that takes a while to digest. Hydrolyzed whey protein has been pre digested making it easier for the stomach to break it down into very short amino acid chains.

Unfortunately, hydrolyzed is a serious health concern and I do not recommend it. Hydrolyzed whey protein releases large amounts of glutamate acid freely due to the hydrolysis. They can then convert to MSG. MSG has had some health experts thinking it could play a role in disease. While the jury is really out on how much MSG impacts the health and we can absorb in our body, I would stay away from this type of protein as a precaution. Its more expensive and unnecessary anyways.

Casein Protein

Casein protein powder is derived from milk. Milk is part casein and whey protein. I would say that casein protein powder is the 2nd most popular protein powder used by bodybuilders at the moment. Casein digests much slower than whey protein with a biological value at 77. Its been shown in studies to release very slow and minimizing the catabolic effect as a result. Casein is preferred protein powder for night time or day meals that aren't around your workout or breakfast. Its ideal for those times you need a slow increase and emptying of amino acids to keep your blood stream amino acids steady. That way you never have the chance to break down muscle due to lack of amino acids in the blood.

Milk protein

Milk protein is both whey protein and casein so you get the best of both worlds. Its BV at 80 means its mainly casein. It digests slowly while at the same time has extra BCAA from the whey portion.

Egg

Eggs have 100 BV. They were the common protein form back in the golden age of bodybuilding before protein powders were common. Eggs are starting to come back. The cons to eggs are they are expensive if you get them in powder form. And there is only so many eggs the average person can eat in a day, without feeling like puking. The cholesterol could be hard on the liver if you go overboard.

Soy

Soy protein is derived from the soy plant. Its more of a common source of protein powder by vegetarians and non-bodybuilders. Vegetarian bodybuilders usually drink this as a source of protein. Soy has gotten a lot of negative press over the years and I believe rightly so. Some studies have suggested soy lowers testosterone, libido, sperm, and increases estrogen. Ive gone over the studies and there are studies that suggest that and then there are others that don't. There is even a wise tale that japan wives give it to their husband to keep them from straying. Your going to have studies that say anything, but the fact there are so many studies that show a negative impact in conjunction to the wives tales and anecdotal evidence, definitely makes me think soy does do these things.

Soy contains the highest level of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are found in plants that act like weak estrogens. Now they can actually act like estrogen blockers because they are so weak and prevent the more potent real estrogen from attaching. This is how nolvadex works in men when they use it post cycle after steroids to lower estrogen and increase testosterone again. Everytime you eat oatmeal or fruit your getting a dose of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens have health benefits. The difference between soy and other food sources, is it is many times higher than any other food source per serving. I believe that is why soy has a negative impact and the other foods don't. The levels of phytoestrogens become so high that it overloads the body and instead of acting like weak estrogens it just becomes an estrogen effect on men.

Conclusion

There really is no such thing as the best protein form to gain muscle mass. The only 2 protein forms I recommend you should always stay away from as pointed out earlier, is soy protein and hydrolyzed protein forms. Fast digesting proteins like whey are preferred during breakfast, preworkout, and postworkout. Casein protein powder, milk, or meat would be better at those other times. Even then, whey protein can be used at other times like before bed if its taken with plenty of fats to really slow down the digestion. As you can see any protein form can work, it just depends on what time of the day you are using them and whether you add fat or fiber to slow down the digestion to accommodate its natural digestion speed.