Which type of Protein Provides the Best Workout Recovery?

Evan Stevens

In our previous article, The Ever Changing Science of Protein, discussed how science is ever changing and how new evidence or looking at entire bodies of evidence can change our perceptions of what we thought to be true. We discussed the importance of (or lack thereof) timing of ingestion and why as long as you are taking protein within the anabolic window 24 hours post exercise you will get the benefits of protein supplementation. In this article we continue our journey with a look at what we deem “quality” protein and co-ingestion with carbohydrates (CHO).

Quality

female athlete drinking protein shakeThere are differences in what we deem “quality” of a protein. High quality protein typically means it has all your essential amino acids (EAA) and has enough of the branched chain amino acid leucine.

The major protein types are soy, casein, and whey, with whey typically chosen as the gold standard of quality protein because of the amount of leucine in it. Proteins such as whey and soy are digested quickly, resulting in high circulating amino acids and a short, acute rise in MPS. Whole-body protein synthesis is improved with whey (because of the stimulation by leucine) but whole-body breakdown is suppressed with casein. Overall, whey is the best post exercise and at rest in terms of muscle protein synthesis (MPS), soy is second, and casein is third up to three hours post exercise. After three hours however it gets a little murkier. Casein is slowly digested and may provide the slow, continual MPS when the right conditions are met (leucine is added with the meal). In fact, when leucine is added to a meal with any kind of protein, MPS isn’t significantly different between soy, whey, and casein. The only reason why we consider Whey to be the gold standard is because of tis leucine content. You still need the right EAA balance for general health but they all provide that; so long as leucine is added in to the meal, there really isn’t a significant difference.

If you want to know more about why leucine is so important, read Protein Quality Dictates Recovery – Not Timing.  This article covers the basics for leucine and protein quality; whey has enough leucine in it to get over the “leucine trigger point” or the point where we have enough leucine in our blood to start MPS. Exercise lowers this trigger point too and makes it easier to spur MPS. We previously wrote that whey was the de facto protein source for this reason (reaching the leucine trigger) but any protein with added leucine will do the trick it would seem.

Related Article: Food vs Protein Supplements

Which Protein Wins Overall

Overall whey protein is still best if you want to take it for muscle recovery immediately post exercise. Older adults may want to look into supplementing with casein before bed however because of its longer digestion period, suppressing muscle protein breakdown (MPB) and keeping net MPS balance positive overnight (when it is usually negative).

A final note on quality: there has been an emergence of a new type of protein gaining traction in the market and it has captured a lot of people’s attention. Insect protein (crickets mostly) has hit store shelves, boasting its sustainability and ease of access because it is relatively inexpensive. The problem is that it is a very poor quality protein, lacking several EAA as well as leucine. While it may appear to be an attractive option, you are wasting your time and money on it, even if it advertises added leucine.

Co-ingestion with CHO

It has been hypothesized and long believed that ingesting protein with your post-workout carbohydrate drink will provide added benefits opposed to if they were taken separately. It is thought that co-ingestion with CHO would increase the insulin response compared to protein alone and results in an improved net protein balance.

Local insulin infusions do result in improved MPS and blood flow at rest. When combined with protein, there is a further increase in MPS and attenuation of MPB beyond just protein ingestion or insulin infusion alone. Keep in mind that this all happens at rest however. After resistance exercise (or any type of exercise for that matter), there is no added MPS benefit with CHO co-ingestion or insulin infusion, nor suppression of MPB so long as quality protein intake is adequate (20-25g). There is no added benefit to providing extra sugary drinks post resistance exercise on muscle protein synthesis, all the benefit comes from the protein itself, not the insulin, which is most likely because the amount of insulin required for optimal MPS is surprisingly low (10-15 IU/ml, or 2-3 times basal resting rates of healthy adults – easily achievable with small doses of protein >0.25g/kg). While CHO may help replace glycogen reserves post exercise, it is not useful for increasing MPS as once thought.

Related Article: The Ever Changing Science of Protein

Recap

  • Science changes; our ideas about protein change with new and more data available (part 1).
  • Timing of ingestion not as important; MPS high up to 24hrs post workout (part 1).
  • Quality refers to the profile of essential amino acids; Soy, Casein, and Whey are all high quality.
  • Differences in Soy, Casein, and Whey are unimportant so long as there is enough Leucine.
    • Leucine concentration acts as MPS trigger.
  • Casein before bed is recommended; slower digestion means continual protein release, keeping net protein positive, MPS sustained, and MPB low.
  • Insect protein may be hot right now but it is poor quality protein, lacking EAAs.
  • Taking protein in with sugar does not improve MPS, contrary to previous suggestions.
    • Insulin is spurred by a small amount of protein, more sugar will not add any additional benefits.

Related Article: Fat, Carbs, Protein and Recovery. Is There A Silver Bullet?

You Might Like:

Is There a Magic Bullet to Protein Consumption?

Evan Stevens In the last three parts we discovered that a lot of what we thought about protein supplementation isn’t quite as important as was once believed. Casein, soy, and whey are all adequate; whey...
woman weight training

Does Protein Impact Trained Athletes Differently?

Evan Stevens Previously at Forever Fit Science we looked at how science changes and why we often need to re-evaluate our previously held beliefs and knowledge base. Timing, once thought to be integral to muscle...
people enjoying protein supplements

The Ever Changing Science of Protein

Evan Stevens You would think that by now we would have a pretty firm grasp of protein. It is one of the three main macronutrients and is essential for life as we know it. Its...
group spin class

Protein Intake For Masters Athletes

Moji Kaviani, Ph.D., CEP There is robust evidence supporting that master athletes (40 years and over) can benefit the same as younger individuals in response to various type of exercise. These benefits include but not limited...

Food vs Protein Supplements

Evan Stevens The final talk in this session was a breath of fresh air for a lot of us. It dealt with the comparison of regular foods versus the use of protein supplements. What researchers...
A Group of runners running in a running race

Can Intermittent Fasting and Exercise Prevent Cancer?

Box full of vegetables.

How Long Does It Take To Reverse The Effects Of A Bad Diet?

Woman eating chocolate bar.

Does Dark Chocolate Aid In Muscle Recovery?

People eating burgers

Processed vs. Unprocessed Foods

Man lifting weights

Regaining Homeostasis With Diet & Exercise

man asleep on a bed with white sheets

How Intermittent Fasting Affects Sleep

woman standing on a beach flexing both her arms

Prolonged Fasting for Health & Longevity

Woman cutting a pear in her kitchen

Canadian Food Guide- A Dietary Guideline

The word keto spelled with food

The Effects of Exercising On a High Fat Diet

Person holding a rail and stretching on a bridge

Do We Really Need A Cool Down After Exercise?

Leave a Reply