The Ultimate Guide to Protein

Confused as to what types suit your training goals? Don’t be. We boiled it all down right here.

The Ultimate Guide to Protein

Protein in a mass-building or get-lean diet is a lot like a 401(k) plan: You know you need it, but you’re not always sure which one to pick. Just as diversifying your investment portfolio is crucial to long-term wealth, so too is including a variety of different proteins in your daily meal plan. The proteins found in whole foods, like beef, poultry, fish, and dairy are vital, but so are those found in protein powders, bars, and ready-made shakes. The problem is there are as many options as there are 401(k)s. That’s why we’ve put together a guide to help you navigate your way through the different tubs, bars, and shakes available in the marketplace today.

Protein Bars

Assuming you don’t have the time (or desire) to prep every meal and snack, convenience is a big deal. That’s where meal-replacement bars come in handy, as they’re much more physique-friendly than anything you’ll find at fast-food chains and convenience stores. If you’re hurrying out the door for work, throw a bar in your bag. If you’re afraid of getting stuck in the office with nothing healthy to eat, keep a box of bars at your desk. Most bars on the market these days include protein, fats, and carbs, making for a small meal to tide you over until the next meal. Plus, there are a number of low-carb bars available that include sugar alcohols, which aren’t readily absorbed in the body like regular sugars. Because the protein doesn’t absorb as fast as in liquid form, bars aren’t ideal for pre- and post-workout, but they’re fine to include in your diet in moderation.

Ready-to-Drink Shakes (RTDS)

Once again, when talking convenience, RTDs are very low-maintenance. Just crack the top and drink. Like bars, RTDs travel well and can be stored easily at work, but they’re always better refrigerated. Though not a horrible choice around workouts, RTDs still aren’t your best bet before or after training, as they typically contain milk protein, which is 80% casein (slow-­digesting). If possible, save RTDs for snacks.

Casein Protein

Casein is great before bedtime for providing a steady trickle of aminos during your overnight fast, and it’s even been found to enhance muscle building when added to whey in a post-workout shake. Look for a powder that includes micellar casein, the slowest-digesting casein of them all, though forms listed as ­“caseinates” are good as well.

Whey Protein

When it comes to building muscle, nothing beats whey. It’s the ideal protein for stimulating muscle growth before and after workouts. The best whey powders on the market contain whey protein isolate and/or whey protein ­hydrolysates—these are the purest forms of whey, the ones that digest the quickest and get to your muscles ASAP. For your basic supplement regimen, start with a protein powder that’s either 100% whey or a blend that lists whey as its first ingredient.