Christine Envall Female Bodybuilder Australia


Protein Powder. A simple name for one of the most debated food supplements amongst bodybuilding and weight training circles. A simple name also, for something that comes from such a wide variety of sources and is sold under so many different brands.

With so many types on the market, how do you know which one is the best for your needs? We hear a lot about Whey Protein Isolate, but what of the other protein powders available and how do they differ? Which is the best for gaining muscle and which is the best when you want to get lean? This month I will answer these questions and give a brief summary of the 'strengths' and 'weaknesses' of the main types of protein powder.


Whey Protein Isolate and Whey Protein Concentrate are the two main commercial forms of Whey Protein. Both are produced from whey (a by-product of cheese making). WPI has higher, less damaged protein and lower fat, lactose and flavour levels than WPC. Both have extremely high protein quality and are highly digestibility. One great functional advantage of whey proteins is that they are highly soluble even in acid conditions. This means you can mix them into fruit juice without them going grainy and you can't even tell they are there.


  • WPI contains about 10% immunoglobulin proteins which helps support the body's immune system.
  • Contains the highest concentration (24-25%) of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA's) of any protein source.
  • Enhances production of glutathione, one of the body's most powerful anti-oxidants.
  • WPI contains a compound which has been shown to have pain killing properties which may decrease muscle soreness after intense weight training.
  • WPI may have the ability to stimulate Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) production


  • WPI, particularly ion-exchange, is very expensive. If the WPI is not produced by ion-exchange it may not be have all the strengths mentioned above as these may be lost in other methods of processing.
  • Levels of arginine, glutamine and the essential amino acid phenylalanine are low relative to the other types of protein powder.


Milk protein is made up of about 80% casein and 20% whey protein. Casein has been around for a long time but it doesn't have the high profile among body-builders that whey protein does. The two main types of caseinate are sodium and calcium. I prefer to use calcium caseinate for it's lower sodium content and also because it absorbs a lot of moisture for a filling meal. It can also be mixed with neutral fruits and juices like pear and peach to make a high protein mouse-like dessert. Casein is not acid soluble so don't try to mix it with pineapple juice or other acidic juices or it will go grainy.


  • Slows the transit time of amino acids through the gut which helps increase their absorption.
  • Contains very high (20%) glutamine content which can help spare muscle during training.
  • High level of tyrosine, the 'pick me up' amino acid, compared to tryptophan, the 'sleep inducing' amino acid, so eating casein may give you a 'boost'.
  • High levels of threonine, glutamine, and arginine, the 'glucogenic' amino acids which lend themselves to glucose production during exercise and may prevent muscle breakdown.


  • Not as high in BCAA's as whey protein. �Sodium caseinate contains high sodium levels.
  • Has a bland, slightly chalky taste.


Until recently soy protein was seen by bodybuilders and nutritionalists alike as a 'second class' protein, being incomplete in it's essential amino acid profile. The new Soy Protein Isolates on the market, in particular the Supro brand isolates have been shown to have the same quality as casein and whey proteins and have all the essential amino acids required to be used as the sole source of protein. Good new for vegetarians.


  • High level of BCAA's, glutamine and arginine, the 'critical cluster' amino acids which help spare muscle during a diet phase.
  • May enhance production of thyroxin (thyroid stimulating hormone) and insulin. Increased thyroxin leads to a faster metabolism which is great news for anyone trying to lose body fat.
  • Helps reduce nitrogen loss and enhances fat loss during low-calorie dieting.
  • Soy protein contains isoflavones which may help to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancers and lower cholesterol levels.
  • Relatively cheap compared to whey protein.


  • Not all soy protein powders are made from Supro brand soy protein isolate, so they may not have the necessary levels of essential amino acids and other strengths mentioned above. If in doubt, ring the company and ask which soy protein isolate they are using.
  • Relatively low level of the essential amino acid methionine compared to other proteins.
  • Contains up to 1% sodium which is not suitable for a bodybuilder close to contest.
  • Has a distinct flavour and is slightly salty to taste which may be unpalatable to some people.


Spray dried egg whites are used in some 'egg and milk' protein powder mixes. Egg whites were once considered essential to a bodybuilding diet, but with the introduction of whey proteins they have lost popularity as a supplement.


  • Excellent amino acid profile
  • High quality 'whole food' protein source which has undergone minimal processing
  • Add to water and use like fresh egg whites


  • Large amounts of egg white powder can cause stomach and bowel upsets
  • Expensive and offer no other benefits other than amino acid profile
  • Hard to mix into water
  • Relatively low levels of glutamine 


So now you've seen the strengths and weaknesses of the different types of protein powders, let's look at how to combine them to get the best mix depending on what you're trying to achieve.


A 1:1 mix of WPI and casein creates a protein with an excellent overall amino acid balance. Casein provides the high glutamine level essential for sparing muscle and by slowing gut transit time allows more of the protein to be absorbed. WPI's high BCAA levels and ability to stimulate IGF-1 production will help support muscle growth. Egg white powder may also be incorporated in this mix for it's nutritional quality.


A 2:1:1 mix of soy protein isolate, WPI and casein is ideal for losing body fat while maintaining as much muscle as possible. Soy protein's ability to maintain a strong metabolism during a low-calorie intake makes it an excellent protein for dieters. Casein and WPI help to balance out soy's lack of methionine and boosts the BCAA and glutamine levels. Casein may help to give that much needed 'boost' when dieting and WPI offers the immune stimulating properties also crucial when the body is subjected to severe dieting. It is important to note that for about 2 weeks out from competition it would be necessary to drop out the soy protein due to it's sodium content.


A 1:1:1 mix of soy, WPI and casein is ideal for anyone who needs to add extra protein to their diet. This blend has an overall excellent balance of amino acids, has the strengths of all the proteins while the nutritional short comings are eliminated.

If you are unsure of the content of each type of protein in the product you are purchasing, ring the company and ask. Most companies have a technical expert who can assist you.


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