If you have ever walked down a grocery or health food store aisle containing protein powders, you are likely to find a wide variety of protein supplements. How to pick the right supplement? How often should I take it? Can I tolerate it well?

Different source is available from Whey to Pea, Rice, Hemp, Soy proteins. Are the vegan one better? How much protein should I eat daily?


Proteins are the building blocks of life. Protein is needed for growth and repair of the body and maintenance of good health. Protein is also required for energy metabolism, muscle synthesis and maintenance, cell signaling, immune responses, and enzymatic reactions.

The amount of protein we need is varied and depends on our age, lifestyle. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g/kg of body weight per day for healthy individuals aged 19 and older. This equates to approximately 55g of protein per day for a person weighing 150 pounds. This is the minimum amount needed to prevent protein deficiency. But research indicates that the RDA requirements are not adequate to maintain optimal health, and in fact more protein is needed for women who are pregnant or lactating, older individuals, active people, and athletes. Athletes and very active people may need more up to 1.2-1.8 g of proteins per kilogram of body weight per day.


Protein is available in a variety of dietary sources. These include foods of both animal and plant origin. Both animal and plant-derived proteins are made up of 20 amino acids. Nine of these are not synthesized by humans and are considered essential. These essential amino acids must be obtained from the food we eat.

Proteins from animal sources (eggs, dairy, meat, and poultry) are considered high biological value protein because they contain all nine essential amino acids. Plant-derived proteins (from legumes, nuts, seeds, etc.), on the other hand, typically lack one or more of the essential amino acids and are considered a lower biological value protein.

But when these Plant-derived proteins are combined (e.g.: rice and beans), not only do they provide a complete source of protein, but they also offer a protein profile that is lower in saturated fats and cholesterol.


Powder supplements offer an easy, convenient, and reliable source of high-quality protein. The most common sources of protein supplements include whey and casein (animal-derived) and soy and pea/rice blend (plant-derived). Depending on the source and purification methods used to manufacture the supplements, a consumer may or may not obtain a high-quality product. The health care practitioner will help you choose the right brands.  The quality and digestibility of a protein is vital considering the nutritional benefits it can provide. In 1989, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) along with the World Health Organization (WHO) in a joint statement recommended utilizing the protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) to determine the quality and digestibility of a protein.

Antinutritional factors may be present in some protein sources, such as soybean meal, peas, etc., and may cause reduced protein hydrolysis and amino acid absorption. It is important to consider these factors since the ability of the gut to adapt decrease as we age.

PDCAAS score for whey protein is the highest at 1.0 compared to other common protein sources, due to their high content of essential and branched chain amino acids. Soy protein isolate is also considered a high-quality protein source (containing all nine essential amino acids) and contains a PDCAAS score of 1.0.7 Pea protein concentrate has a PDCAAS score of 0.89 because it contains lower levels of the sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and methionine. People with genetic mutations such as mutations of the SUOX, CBS genes, GCLC and GSS may have trouble tolerating protein powder with higher sulfur amino-acids content.


is highly recommended if you have a milk protein allergy/sensitivity, lactose intolerant (which is the case for a majority of the population) if you want to avoid soy products, or consume a vegetarian diet. Including a pea/rice blend protein powder is a great alternative to whey protein, has a high PDCAAS score, and provides all nine essential amino acids.

This is the protein blend of choice when you are doing a cleanse. During a cleanse, you want to remove all animal sources (pro-inflammatory) as you want to favor detoxification processes to help your body remove toxins, chemicals, drugs, xenobiotics from your system.

Pea protein also contains a variety of phytonutrients such as polyphenols, which may have antioxidant activity; saponins; and galactose oligosaccharides, which may be beneficial for the large intestine.


contains beneficial phytonutrients such as phytosterols, saponins, and isoflavones (phytoestrogens). These nutrients have been associated with positive cardiovascular benefits, menopausal symptoms, and osteoporosis.

Soy protein can also be found as soy protein concentrate and soy protein isolate.

Concentrates have some fat and carbohydrate removed, providing about 70% protein content. They are highly digestible and are usually found in nutrition bars, cereals, and yogurts.

Isolates are refined even more and do not contain fiber but provide 90% protein content.6 They are easily digestible and can be found in protein supplements and infant formulas.


widely used protein sources for supplementation. Whey protein contains a high amount of the amino acid cysteine. Cysteine has been shown to enhance glutathione levels and has strong antioxidant properties as it helps our body to get rid of toxins and xenobiotics. It also contains a high concentration of branched chain amino acids (BCAA). BCAAs are important for their role in the prevention of muscle breakdown during exercise and tissue maintenance

There are different forms of whey protein:

Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) and Whey Protein Isolate (WPI).

  • WPC is about 80% protein and is created by removing water, lactose, and some minerals.
  • WPI on the other hand contain protein concentrations of 90% or higher since there is significant removal of fat and lactose making it the purest form of protein.

Unfortunately, the manufacturing process often leads to some proteins breaking down and becoming denatured, reducing the effectiveness of the protein. Therefore, even though WPI contains higher protein concentrations than WPC, whey protein concentrate contains more biologically active components. People who are lactose intolerant will tolerate well a Plant derived source of protein, they might be able to utilize WPI with less negative side effects

Protein hydrolysates from WPC and WPI contain di- and tripeptides and therefore can be easily absorbed. Hydrolysates are proteins broken down in smaller fragments to enhance their absorption.


Whether you are using these protein supplements as a post-workout drink or as a part of a cleanse, high-quality protein supplement will help meet your daily protein needs.

Adapted from Nilima Desai, RD , blog post for Metagenics

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