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Every food you eat consists of a combo of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. A protein molecule is made from a long chain of amino acids. Each type of protein has a unique sequence of amino acids. Therefore, the proteins found in broccoli differ from those found in salmon for example. As our understanding of nutritional science increases, we have started to learn the differences between different types of proteins, and how they affect the body differently, from physiological markers such as muscle protein synthesis and blood acidity to more noticeable effects such as increased satiety and a stronger immune system.
For athletes looking to improve their performance or regular folks trying to look good naked and live a healthier lifestyle, protein is an important macronutrient to understand and utilize. For these individuals, a recommended protein intake is 2 grams/kg bodyweight, or 1 gram/lb. For a 70 kg (155 lb) individual, that means they should aim to consume 140-155 grams of protein daily.
It can be difficult to achieve that target consistently solely from whole and unprocessed foods, so many people look to protein alternatives such as protein shakes and bars. For decades the protein supplements of choice were dairy based, specifically casein and whey protein, but nowadays plant proteins are becoming more and more popular. Instead of taking sides, we’re instead going to discuss the pros and cons of dairy and plant-based proteins so you can learn to best use either protein source when appropriate. Let’s start with dairy-based proteins.
Dairy-based proteins, typically derived from cows milk, can be separated into casein and whey proteins. Before whey and casein are separated, they are known as "milk protein", and that's the type of protein Orgain used in their Grass-Fed Clean Protein Shake which I'm holding. Milk Protein is 82% casein and 18% whey protein.
Milk proteins are extremely bioavailable, easily absorbed from food sources and then efficiently incorporated into the proteins of an organism's body.
Milk proteins contain abundant Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's), the main amino acids responsible for stimulating an increase in muscle protein synthesis (MPS). With all other factors equal, more MPS, more muscle!
Milk proteins are widely available! Due to the size of the dairy industry, milk, casein, and whey protein can all be had at a relatively inexpensive cost, with different levels of quality from concentrates to hydrolysates all having different price points.
Any food can be allergenic, but dairy-based foods are the most common food allergy, and should be strictly avoided if you have a dairy allergy. Likewise, those with a lactose intolerance should steer clear, even from products from like whey isolate which contain virtually zero lactose.
Dairy protein products are derived from animals and vegans and vegetarians looking to reduce their animal product consumption, plant proteins are a lower impact alternative by conventional measures.
Plant-based proteins, once a niche product, have dramatically increased in popularity recently. Soy protein, once the plant protein of choice, has recently taken the backseat to newer options such as pea, pumpkin seed, and hemp proteins. In fact, the protein drink I'm holding from Vega contains those three plant-based proteins.
Plant proteins are not commonly allergic (soy protein being the exception), and in my experience, it's harder to develop an intolerance to plant-based proteins. For those with sensitive guts and damaged intestinal tight junctions, plant proteins are a better choice until gut health is restored.
While plant proteins typically contain less protein per gram of product, they also contain more fiber! As it has been shown, fiber is one of the most important variables which determines the satiation value of a food, and a plant-based protein drink will stave off hunger longer than a dairy alternative.
Plant proteins, due to their structural makeup, don't have as pleasing of a texture or taste as dairy derived proteins, and often protein manufacturers add extra sugar, emulsifiers, and stabilizers to plant protein products to make them more palatable.
Plant proteins aren't as efficiently absorbed as dairy protein, having lower biological values. This means that you'll need to consume more plant protein than dairy protein to ensure you receive an adequate amount of protein for your desired goals.
Overall I prefer dairy protein sources, specifically hydrolyzed whey protein, but recently I've been using more plant-based protein products as I love how easy they are to digest, plus fiber!
For plant based protein supplements, Vega is my go-to for prepackaged protein drinks, and Organifi for protein powder. The Organifi Vanilla Complete Protein is one of my favorite protein powders overall, with a good ingredients label and great taste.
Stefan Burns is the creator and main author of Wild Free Organic. A swimmer in high school, soon afterwards he discovered a passion for the health, wellness, and fitness fields. Stefan is a jack of all trades, expertly knowing how to use all the different wellness “tools” available to radically and permanently transform one’s health, from fasting and sauna usage to calisthenics and powerlifting.