Understanding types of Protein for young athlete's diet

“What are the different types of protein – is one better than other?  What is the best protein diet for young athletes?” are some questions often asked. 

So we wanted to give some useful break down that might be helpful. The most common types of protein are plant, animal and milk protein. Plant protein sources can be soy protein, pea protein, rice and hemp. Milk protein can be whey and casein. Animal protein include chicken, turkey etc. 

We always recommend that nutrition should come from natural foods but sometimes it can be impractical or near enough impossible to have the right nutrients when you have a busy life especially if you an athlete trying to balance education commitments with your demanding sporting commitments.

We have therefore taken combination of our own work with one of London’s Leading Applied Sciences practitioners and the vast library of various researches to give our summary.  


Whey Protein

Whey protein is milk based. While whey protein concentrate retains small amounts of lactose, the isolate version contains very little as most of the milk sugar gets removed during its processing.

Whey is rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Leucine, one of these BCAAs, plays a major role in promoting muscle growth and recovery after resistance and endurance exercise (2Trusted Source3Trusted Source).


Young people have a less mature microbiome causing poor nutrient absorption - this means ingredients that are hard to absorb is not the best source of protein.  

 From our work with the Applied Sciences Practitioners we learnt that amino acids in plant proteins and animal proteins all have the same molecular structure however from the research it was discovered that whey contains more molecules than just proteins and it is potentially these that improves absorption, along with other nutrients.  In a food matrix, whey proteins protect Vitamin B12. This vitamin is very unstable and poorly absorbed by our guts. Whey protein has also shown to improve the absorption of Iron from food.

When amino acids are digested and absorbed into your bloodstream, they become available for muscle protein synthesis (MPS), or the creation of new muscle. Studies reveal that whey protein can help build and maintain muscle mass, assist athletes with recovery from heavy exercise and increase muscle strength in response to strength training (4Trusted Source5Trusted Source6Trusted Source7Trusted Source8Trusted Source9Trusted Source).

One study in young men showed that whey protein increased MPS 31% more than soy protein and 132% more than casein protein following resistance exercise (9Trusted Source).

Other studies in normal-weight, overweight and obese individuals suggest that whey protein may improve body composition by decreasing fat mass and increasing lean mass (11Trusted Source12Trusted Source13Trusted Source).

  1. Casein Protein

Now onto casein which is also a protein found in milk. However, casein is digested and absorbed much more slowly. This can be good source to eat at nights when body goes into rest mode. The protein in Greek yogurt is almost entirely casein, which is slow to digest.

Casein forms a layer when it interacts with stomach acids, delaying your bloodstream’s absorption of amino acids. This results in a slow and steady interaction of amino acids, reducing the rate of muscle protein breakdown (22).

Research indicates that casein is more effective at increasing MPS and strength than soy and wheat protein — but less than whey protein (5Trusted Source6Trusted Source23Trusted Source24Trusted Source25Trusted Source26Trusted Source).


  1. Egg Protein

Eggs are an excellent source of high-quality protein rich in Mega 3 fatty acids. Its natural complete food source too providing all 9 sources of omega 3 fatty acids that your body isn’t naturally capable of producing on it own. Of all whole foods, eggs have the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS). This score is a measure of a protein's quality and digestibility (28Trusted Source). Additionally egg protein is second only to whey as the highest source of leucine, the BCAA that plays the largest role in muscle health (31).

A point to note is that egg-white protein hasn't been studied as much as whey or casein.

Egg-white protein could be a good choice for people with dairy allergies who prefer a supplement based on animal protein.


  1. Pea Protein

Pea protein powder is especially popular among vegetarians, vegans and people with allergies or sensitivities to dairy or eggs. It's made from the yellow split pea, a high-fibre legume that provides all but one of the essential amino acids. Pea protein is also particularly rich in BCAAs.

A rat study noted that pea protein is absorbed slower than whey protein but faster than casein. In a 12-week study in 161 men doing resistance training, those who took 1.8 ounces (50 grams) of pea protein daily experienced similar increases in muscle thickness as those who consumed the same amount of whey protein daily (35Trusted Source).

 Though pea protein powder shows promise, more high-quality research is needed to confirm these results.

  1. Hemp Protein

Hemp protein powder is another plant-based supplement that is gaining popularity.

Although hemp is related to marijuana, it only contains trace amounts of the psychoactive component THC. Hemp is rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and several essential amino acids. However, it is not considered a complete protein because it has very low levels of the amino acids lysine and leucine.

 While very little research exists on hemp protein, it appears to be a well-digested plant protein source (37Trusted Source).

  1. Brown Rice Protein

Protein powders made from brown rice have been around for some time, but they are generally considered inferior to whey protein for building muscle.

Although rice protein contains all of the essential amino acids, it is too low in lysine to be a complete protein.

There isn't a lot of research on rice protein powder, but one study compared the effects of rice and whey powders in fit, young men.

  1. Mixed Plant Proteins

Some protein powders/ bars contain a blend of plant sources which could include some of the below combination:  

Due in part to their high fibre content, plant proteins tend to digest slower than animal proteins. Although this may not pose a problem for many people, it can limit the amino acids your body can use immediately after exercise.

 Our Conclusion

Given out focus is particularly on young athletes whose gut microbiome is still maturing, our favourite choice is Whey Protein. As Whey contains more molecules than just proteins and it is potentially these that improves absorption, along with other nutrients we have chosen Whey in our first range of product launch. That’s not to say we won’t bring other options too. In a food matrix, whey proteins protect Vitamin B12 and as this vitamin is very unstable and poorly absorbed by our guts it gives us another reason to give thumbs up to Whey.  Whey protein has also shown to improve the absorption of Iron from food.

 A word to note for any protein type. One study has also shown that as protein intake increases, so does a body's need for water, so if you are increasing their daily protein, be sure they drink more water. 

We recommend that you get your nutrient from your diet of natural foods but if you are time pressed or need a top up we have made a Whey Protein bars with simple natural whole foods ingredients that also combine rich plant proteins like almonds, cashews topped with super chia seeds. https://proyouthnutrition.com/collections/all


Photo by Mark DeYoung on Unsplash