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Guide to Protein Powders for Cyclists – Whey or Soy?

By Jiri Kaloc

Some people say whey protein is the best while others swear by plant-based protein sources. Which one is right for you? Let’s take a closer look at the advantages and problems with the most common protein sources such as milk, beef, eggs, soy, rice, or pea.

Milk-based proteins are the most popular

Most protein powders you’re going to find online or at your local fitness store will contain milk-based proteins like whey and casein. These are high-quality proteins with a complete amino acid profile and very good digestibility, that’s why they are also among the best-studied ones. Whey is the fastest digesting milk protein that’s also high in BCAAs so it’s ideal after a workout. Casein, on the other hand, digests slower so it’s best before bed for those that want to maximize muscle growth.

But you don’t need to worry about the differences too much, either one is going to do the job well or you can even choose a blend. There are two big downsides to milk-proteins, though. If you’re allergic or sensitive to dairy, you can’t really use any of them. Also, mass factory farming of dairy cows isn’t sustainable and causes animal suffering.

Beef is one of the most common protein sources.

Eggs or meat for those who can’t tolerate milk

For those who can’t or choose not to use milk-based proteins, there are several other types of animal-based protein powders that boast similar quality. Egg-derived protein is a good option for vegetarians. It is considered a complete protein like dairy.

Meat-based powders are also a viable option with beef being the most common source. Insect-based protein emerged recently as an interesting alternative. The popular ones are made with cricket powder and are of similar quality as beef. These are definitely the most sustainable to produce out of all animal proteins. The downside is that they are a little more expensive because the demand is still low.

Soy protein is a great option unless you’re allergic

Plant proteins are generally not complete but that shouldn’t deter the average athlete from giving them a chance. As long as you have a varied diet that includes a mix of many protein sources, you will get all of the amino acids you need. Soy is one of the best plant protein options. It contains high-quality protein and research has shown it’s as effective at improving strength and lean body mass in response to resistance training as whey. Soy is a common allergen so, just like dairy, it’s not for everyone.

Whey protein powder © Profimedia

Pea and rice proteins are well tolerated

If you’re looking for a hypo-allergenic plant alternative, then rice or pea protein might be your best option. Both of these are highly digestible, inexpensive, and very well tolerated. They are incomplete proteins so it’s best to get them in a blend.

In the next article, we will take a look at how to read the labels on protein powders so you know what’s the difference between a concentrate and isolate and how to avoid unwanted additives and recognize sweeteners.

Next up in Guide to Protein Powders for Cyclists series