Best Protein Powder For Calisthenics – Whey Vs Plant-based

human flag calisthenics

Posted On October 15, 2020

No matter what type of diet you follow, whether you are a carnivore, a vegetarian, or a vegan, your body needs protein to survive and carry out many of its functions – especially when training calisthenics. There are many protein-rich foods of both animal and plant origin. However, in this article we are going to delve into non-vegan and vegan protein supplements for calisthenics. We will analyze what is whey protein and where it comes from, and we will compare vegan and non-vegan protein powders, as well as BCAA supplementation and its benefits.

Table of Contents
1. What Is Protein?
2. Animal Protein Supplements
3. Types Of Whey Protein
4. Plant-based Protein Alternatives 
5. BCAAs
6. Protein Intake Amount & Timing

What Is Protein?

Protein is one of the macronutrients that make up an important building block of our diet, such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Our body needs macronutrients in large amounts to maintain its function and produce energy.

Having said that, protein is made up of small compounds called amino acids. Even though there are hundreds of amino acids in nature, the human body only needs 20 of them. Our bodies can produce 11 of those 20. The remaining 9 essential amino acids must come from protein-rich foods or supplements, such as whey protein powder, vegan protein powder and BCAAS.

Protein is a fundamental component of life. Without it our bodies would not even exist. This is because just about everything in our bodies requires protein – structurally or metabolically. From our heart to our brain, our bones and our muscles, all of our organs, arteries, veins, skin, hair, require protein and amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. One of its main jobs is to build, maintain, and restore muscles, organs, and tissues.

Summary

Proteins, made up of 20 amino acids, are macronutrients involved in human structure and physiology. 

Animal Protein Supplements – The Rise Of Whey In Calisthenics

Although there are many potential sources of animal protein, milk has become the most widely used. This is likely due to the ease of extraction from a liquid medium and the resulting price differential. Whey is one of 2 main proteins found in milk – the other being casein. Casein is not routinely used because it is digested significantly slower – which can not only lead to bloating, but is not as effective at reaching recovering muscles.

This is thought to be because of the lower concentration of the amino acid, leucine, in casein. Leucine is also important for increasing protein synthesis, and its increased presence in whey protein has enhanced function as compared to casein. 

Whey is generally found in a powder form that can be mixed with water or milk. This is then vigorously shaken and consumed immediately after a calisthenics workout. This is called a Protein Shake.   

Summary

Whey is a milk protein that is used in most animal protein powders to do its cheap extraction and effective chemistry.  

whey vs casein

Types of Whey Protein To Consider

Not all Whey is the same. The cows that produce the milk that is used for extracting whey protein vary. Grass-fed cows are considered more ‘organic’ and are thought to produce higher quality products. It is unclear however if this would affect whey protein, especially given the extraction process. The whey protein chemistry itself is unlikely to be altered by the diet of the cow. 

Similarly cows that receive antibiotics and hormones may shed some of these compounds into milk, but the protein powders extracted from this milk would again be unlikely to have these compounds. Again, this is because of the rigorous extraction process.  

Instead, whey protein quality should be judged by the concentration of product and how easily it is absorbed. Whey protein powders can differ based on:

1. The % of protein in the powder.
2. The stage of digestion the protein is in.  

Whey Concentrate
(WPC)

Protein Bottle

30-90% Protein

Whey Isolate
(WPI)

Protein powder Bottle

90+% Protein

Protein Hydrolysate
(WPH)

whey protein bottle

Pre-digested

Whey Concentrate still contains a large amount of carbohydrates and fat as compared to Whey Isolate, which undergoes further purification. Whey Protein hydrolysate is whey protein that has been treated by digestive enzymes. It is therefore partially broken down already and it’s digestion and absorbtion is therefore more rapid.  

Plant-based Alternatives To Whey In Calisthenics

Although Whey protein is technically vegetarian, if you’re a calisthenics athlete that follows a strictly vegan diet, you might want to find an alternative. Lucky for you, there are plenty of plant-based protein powders on the market. 

Plant based protein powders are made from peas, beans, soy and other plant based foods. Generally plant amino acid profiles are incomplete and notoriously low in leucine, an important amino acid. 

Plant protein powders made from peas have been found most comparable to whey and to have similar results for calisthenics athletes (perhaps due to the similar leucine content).

Soy based powders are generally given scrutiny due to the presence of isoflavones, a plant compound with similar biological effect in humans as female sex hormones. It is unclear whether these compounds are completely removed during the purification process.  

Generally plant protein powders have a less desirable flavour and texture than whey. This is of course personal preference and may be overshadowed by a desire to consume a plant based product. 

Summary

Plant protein powders are much more varied than animal protein powders. Pea-based protein powders have similar effectiveness to whey. The main consideration is leucine concentration.  

plant protein supplement powder

What Are BCAAs

BCAAs are branched chain amino acids, a specific group of essential amino acids. BCAAs include: valine, isoleucine and leucine. These three essential amino acids make up almost a third of the body’s muscles and, due to their chemistry, also play a critical role in protein synthesis. This is due to leucine’s ability to switch activate enzymes associated with protein synthesis. 

Animal products such as eggs, oily fish, white fish, shellfish, and lean meats are high in BCAAs, but they are still present in plant foods such as peas and soy. 

BCAAs alone are claimed to be able to:

1. Increase Protein Synthesis
2. Decrease Protein Breakdown
3. Increase Lean Muscle Mass

These claims are largely unfounded, and are based off animal studies. 

Why Complete Sources Of Amino Acids Are Better Than BCAAs 

Complete sources of amino acids such as whey are much more effective than BCAA alone as seen in a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. This is because protein synthesis is enhanced only in the presence of ALL essential amino acids. This seems to be due to the fact that humans, unlike some other animals, do not have sufficient available protein in the body for tapping into for protein synthesis. Moreover, complete sources of protein contain BCAAs, and in the case of whey, this subset of amino acids is quite significant.  

Summary

BCAAs are a subgroup of amino acids. Leucine is the most active, and is associated with activating protein synthesis. In humans, without consuming the full complement of amino acids, BCAAs are unlikely to have additional benefits over regular protein consumption.  

bcaa protein

Amount Of Protein Needed For Calisthenics

Protein is required for general upkeep usually given as DRI (Dietary Reference Intake). This is upkeep for sedentary persons and is 0.8g per Kg of mass. This is insufficient however, for anyone training calisthenics. For building muscle, and for sufficient muscle repair, it is recommended that calisthenics practitioners increase their intake to 1.6-2.2g per Kg of mass per day.   

Protein Consumption Timing In Calisthenics 

It is recommended that protein is taken immediately after workouts as this is when protein synthesis is maximum. This will allow for the best recovery and muscle building stimulus – especially when paired with a high leucuine protein powder such as whey protein powder. Generally it is recommended that at least 25g of protein is consumed within 1-2 hours post-workout.    

Summary

About 1.6-2.2g per Kg of mass of protein is recommended for calisthenics athletes per day. At least 25g of protein should be consumed within 1-2 hours post workout for maximum protein synthesis.    

Written by Vic

Melbourne-based Personal Trainer, Calisthenics Athlete and the Founder of Street Workout St Kilda. Super passionate about bodyweight training and the art of movement.
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