In recent years the choices for protein supplements have greatly expanded. As I've noted in prior articles in Applied Metabolics, in the past, choices for protein supplements were relatively few. These consisted of milk proteins, egg proteins, meat proteins, and the most rarely used protein supplements, vegetable or plant-based protein products. That, however, has changed in recent years with the advent of numerous types of plant-based protein supplements. How to account for this increased popularity of plant-based protein supplements (PBPS)? For one, many people simply cannot tolerate animal-based protein products, such as whey. Although whey isolate protein is nearly pure protein with less than 2% lactose (milk sugar) content, some users of the product complain about digestive problems after ingesting whey protein supplements. These problems include bloating and even nausea in some cases. Most of the time, this isn't related to lactose intolerance, which is known to cause these symptoms. Lactose intolerance is caused by a lack of sufficient activity of the enzyme required to digest lactose, namely lactase. Although many people claim to have lactose intolerance, according to official figures 65% of the world population have actual lactose intolerance, and it's most common in those of East Asian descent. But lactose doesn't explain why some who consume whey supplements would have gastrointestinal problems after consuming it since whey isolates contain too little lactose to cause such problems.
If it isn't lactose, what does cause digestive problems in those who consume whey and other animal-based protein supplements? That could relate to a low-level allergy to the particular milk proteins found in whey. Some who have experienced such digestive problems with whey isolate supplements, which are the most popular whey protein products, often experience no problems when ingesting a hydrolyzed whey protein supplement. The difference between a hydrolyzed whey protein and a whey isolate is that the hydrolyzed version is largely predigested, with most of the protein in the product already broken down into amino acids. Of course, this is precisely what happens in the body when you consume any type of protein, whether from food or protein supplements. As such, hydrolyzed whey is rapidly absorbed and the fact that most of it is in basic amino acid form means far less chance of any digestive difficulties. But the drawback with hydrolyzed whey is that it's the most expensive type of whey supplement and often the worse-tasting because amino acids generally taste terrible. Even worse, studies that have compared hydrolyzed whey to regular whey concentrates (the lowest grade of whey) or whey isolates have found that the concentrates and isolates are superior for building muscle. The reason for that is that the rapid release of amino acids from the hydrolyzed version tends to cause most of the contained amino acids in the product to be oxidized in the liver, rather than used for muscle protein synthesis purposes.
But . . .