Protein supplements have become a celebrity in the modern fitness world. For many, protein supplements are an invaluable part of reaching their personal fitness goals. Although you can get all the protein you need from food, supplements can be extremely convenient and helpful in meeting your dietary needs. However, with the size of the supplement industry today it is confusing to figure out exactly what protein supplements are right for you. So before you go out and spend all your money on something that you don’t need, take a look at the guide below. It outlines the major forms of protein supplements and your best approach to using them.

Whey Protein Supplements

The current most popular protein supplement is whey, and for good reason. Whey protein is one of the two proteins found in milk, and is actually a by-product from cheese production. Whey protein has been a staple in the diets of many bodybuilders, powerlifters, and athletes for years but recently has gained much greater popularity with the average gym-goer.

To fully understand why whey is regarded so highly it’s important to take a quick side track and explain a couple popular protein quality measurements. The first is Biologic Value, or the BV score of a protein source. BV measures the amount of protein in food that becomes incorporated into the body of the person that eats that food. BV helps show how well a protein source is used to build new protein in the muscles. The second measurement is the PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score) of a protein source. This is a more specific measurement adopted as a standard by the FDA to explain protein quality.

So back to our look at supplements and the power of whey. Whey boasts the highest BV score of any food and has a PDCAAS of 1.00 (the highest possible). On top of the high quality, whey protein makes a great post workout supplement because of how quickly it is digested. Taking whey protein about 30 to 60 minutes before a workout and directly after ensures that your muscles will have the necessary building blocks available for recovery.

Egg White Protein Supplements (Albumen)

Another increasingly common protein supplement is egg protein, or more specifically powdered egg white protein. Egg white protein has a slightly lower BV score than whey but also boasts a PDCAAS of 1.00, meaning it is still a high quality protein source.

Egg white protein digests slower than whey. This makes it a useful protein for preventing protein breakdown in your muscles, whereas whey is more useful for encouraging protein synthesis. To put it plainly, whey is great for building muscles and egg white protein is great for keeping them.

Egg white protein is a useful addition to anyone’s nutrition plan, and is especially helpful for those who are allergic to dairy. Egg white protein is best used before bed to prevent protein breakdown during sleep or as part of a meal or shake any time during the day.

Casein Protein Supplements

Casein is the other protein found in milk, making up about 70-80% of all milk protein. Casein exists in milk as micelles, which are large particles dispersed evenly throughout the milk, and it’s what gives milk it’s white color. Casein has a BV score slightly lower than egg white protein but it also has a PDCAAS of 1.00. If you haven’t noticed yet, proteins used in supplements will almost always be the highest quality ones.

The characteristic that makes casein special is that it actually forms a clot in the stomach, providing a slow sustained release of amino acid for hours. This extremely slow digestion property of casein makes it the best tool to fight muscle breakdown, especially before bed when you are entering a long fast.

Soy Protein Supplements

Although not as popular with bodybuilders or athletes today as the other protein types, soy can’t be left out since it is definitely the most widely used vegetable protein source in supplements and foods around the world. Soy is a complete protein, and for those who don’t eat meat or eggs it can serve as a great source of protein. Soy has the lowest BV score of all the supplements mentioned here, but like the other supplements soy protein has a PDCAAS of 1.00.

Certain compounds in soy called isoflavones have raised some concern recently due to possible side effects. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens, and some believe that these phytoestrogens will have a negative hormonal effect on men, lowering testosterone. There are studies out there showing evidence that soy may lower testosterone as well as plenty of studies showing many positives of soy. Trying to sort through all the information and see the exact truth is tough. In my opinion I believe it is possible that soy lowers testosterone but it probably has plenty of positives too. If you want to use soy that’s up to you, but remember there are plenty of great alternatives.

General Recommendations

Though you may come across other protein supplements, the ones mentioned here are the most widely used and effective. They are all high quality sources of protein with specific strengths and when used correctly are very helpful in meeting one’s fitness goals. One thing  to consider when starting a protein supplement regimen would be how much to consume. If you’re consistently working out, aim for about 1 gram of protein a day per pound of body weight. There are all kinds of different recommendations out there about this, but with this one you’re really playing it safe. Even if you don’t quite meet the 1 gram per pound you will be getting plenty, and you’re also not getting so much that you start smelling ammonia every time you’re in the bathroom after a workout. It is also a good idea to get the majority of your protein requirement from solid food if possible.

Another thing to consider is the quality of your protein supplements. Only buy from reputable companies, and watch out for companies that load their supplements with unnecessary ingredients. A straight protein supplement should have little fat and carbs. One more thing to consider is what’s being used to sweeten your protein supplement. Most use artificial sweeteners and flavors that some people choose to avoid. There are some protein brands that sell “natural” protein supplements that will only use natural flavors and are normally sweetened with rebaudioside A (stevia). I prefer these, but the choice is ultimately up to you. Buy high quality protein supplements and use them correctly and you’ll be well on your way to meeting your fitness goals. Protein supplements can be bought at a variety of stores including GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, BodyBuilding.com, and ProSource. While you do some price hunting for the best protein supplements for you, remember that when it comes to protein supplements – quality is critical.