We need amino acids, proteins, to live and build muscle. Most researchers consider that there are 9 essential amino acids, meaning that our body can’t make them. A “better” or more “complete” protein powder includes more of these amino acids. Then there’s the question of how digestible is the protein. Can your body actually extract and use the protein?
There’s an excellent review of the literature in 2016 by Dr Phillips, and this is how some of the common supplements score (literature review).
DIAAS Protein Quality chart
Wondering how whey, soy, pea, and rice proteins stack up?
Common Foods Protein Quality Chart
Here’s another chart I drafted up from the same study, that includes common foods next to protein powders, that I posted on another site I co-founded: Bony to Bombshell.
Does Protein Quality Matter?
In one study from 2013, they had a group lift weights for 9 months with 96 workouts. The only difference was one group was using whey, one was using soy protein, and one was using a carb supplement. The people taking whey had 83% better gains than those taking soy. Obviously, those taking the carb supplement did worse since they weren’t getting the additional protein (study). But this is why protein quality matters. For example, let’s say you want to try a plant-based protein. If we know that it takes more plant-based protein to match animal protein, then that’s great, because then we can make that adjustment to have more and carry on.
Disrupted Gut Health & Protein Quality
The top 3 inflammatory foods are eggs, pasteurized dairy, and wheat. What that means, is that if someone is suffering from gut issues, they likely can’t have any whey, dairy, cheese, milk, etc. Most people suffering from gut issues also have a hard time digesting plant proteins.
In that case, they may want to investigate:
- raw dairy with the living bacteria and the intact enzymes.
- ruminant meat, like 100% grass-fed cattle/lamb
- wild seafood like fish
- beef isolate protein powders
How much protein Do I need?
If you’re lifting weights and want to build muscle, research is showing that the ideal is between 1.3 to 1.8 gram per kilogram a day, or 0.6–0.8 g per body weight pound (study). So if you were 77kg / 170 pounds, you would eat between 102g–136g every day.
But there’s something else you should keep in mind.
You probably aren’t eating as much protein as you think you are
In a 2015 study, researchers asked 47 elite athletes how much protein they ate the day before. Then they would measure their urine for a marker of how much protein they actually ate. The athlete’s had a pretty good memory but were still often saying they were eating more than 25% more protein than they actually were.
If you’re struggling to build muscle, and you’re hitting your protein goals, it’s possible you’re not consistent enough on a day-to-day basis (so your weekly protein goals aren’t being met). Or you’re just human, like those elite athletes in the study, and you could be overestimating how much protein you’re eating.
Given that there are no downsides to eating more protein except a higher cost, if you aren’t seeing the results you want, you could try eating 25% more protein.