I am sure by now we have all seen proteins now advertising that they are a better alternative to milk and whey based proteins. Beef protein is one of those newer fad proteins advertising that it is better for you without any of the digestive issues some people associate with whey. An important question, however, is: what is beef protein?
We all like to romanticize with the idea that beef protein is filet mignon being ground down into powder, but it is simply not. The price of beef is exuberant, making this impossible. A quick search on the internet shows that the top 5 selling beef protein products contain the following ingredients: Hydrolyzed beef protein isolate, Hydrolyzed gelatin. Now these sound fancy, but what exactly are they? Hydrolyzed Beef Protein Isolate is also known as Collagen. Collagen is not a complete protein source, and is high in glycine, proline, arginine, and hydroxyproline. Collagen is a support tissue protein that has no use in products for athletes. All these labels are just fancy words for what beef protein really is: collagen, left over scraps, and cow plasma (a component of blood).
Below is an amino acid breakdown of an unnamed whey protein product vs. an unnamed beef protein product vs. gelatin:
The first thing you should notice is the glaring similarities between beef protein isolate and gelatin. They are nearly identical, so for the purposes of comparisons between whey and the other two, we will simply compare whey vs. beef protein.
Notice that there are some massive differences. The whey product has much more of the essential amino acids and BCAAs (34.96 grams in whey vs. 19.4 grams in beef protein isolate per 100 g). The amount of essential amino acids and BCAAs are what we really want to consider when we look at different sources of protein as athletes when it comes to determining what is best for our lifestyles. These are the amino acids that aid in recovery, muscle protein synthesis, etc.
Another massive difference is the amount of glycine that beef protein contains: beef protein isolate contains 20.1 grams of glycine, more than 14 times the amount of glycine in whey protein. Glycine is a filler amino acid added into products to cheapen the cost of the product. Glycine comes up on lab tests that test for protein content based on nitrogen content as protein, which allows companies to pad the amount of protein in their product by stuffing them with glycine. Think of the companies that always have buy one get one on their proteins, and you will notice glycine is almost always added into their protein matrix (or even more alarming, sometimes it isn't ).
If that doesn't have you sold, this should. This is a comparison of the various protein sources we have been discussing using the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). The PDCAAS is a method utilized by the FDA and the World Health Organization that measures the quality of protein based on the amino acid requirements of humans and their ability to digest these protein sources (2). A value of 1.00 is the highest possible PDCAAS score.
As previously discussed, most of beef proteins contain mainly collagen and gelatin, thus they have a PDCAAS of zero. These products are not beneficial for athletes. On the other hand, research shows that blend of casein and whey protein are the most optimal sources of protein for athletes and both protein sources have a PDCAAS of 1.00, the highest possible score. These proteins will aid in recovery, increase the rates of muscle protein synthesis, etc.
If for some reason you are avoiding whey or casein (perhaps you are vegan), an alternative is a combination of both rice protein and pea protein. Research shows that the effects of rice protein are similar to that of whey protein (5). The reason I suggest rice and pea protein is because rice protein is deficient in lysine, but pea protein is not, while pea protein is deficient in cysteine, but rice protein is not. By combining the two, you get a complete amino acid profile with one of the sources of protein shown to be as effective as whey protein in terms of muscle protein synthesis.
1. Eastoe, J.E. (1955). The amino acid composition of mammalian collagen and gelatin. The Biochemical journal, 61(4), 589-600.
2. Recent developments in protein quality evaluation
3. Schaafsma, G. (2000). The protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score. The Journal of nutrition, 130(7), 1865S-7S.
5. Joy, J. M., Lowery, R. P., Wilson, J. M., Purpura, M., De Souza, E. O., Wilson, S. M., Kalman, D. S., et al. (2013). The effects of 8 weeks of whey or rice protein supplementation on body composition and exercise performance. Nutrition journal, 12(1), 86.