As an athlete, you’re always looking for ways to improve performance. Beef protein has gained popularity over the last several years due to the paleo diet and those looking for dairy alternatives. But If you think that beef protein isolate is just ground up filet mignon, then think again. Studies suggest that beef protein shows some promising anabolic effects on muscle mass and strength. But is beef protein really as good as whey? We’re going to get into the details about beef protein isolate vs whey, so you can decide which one fits your lifestyle.
What Is Beef Protein?
Beef protein is created using the ingredients beef protein isolate and hydrolyzed gelatin, which are essentially the same thing as collagen. Although beef protein may sound enticing, most supplements are made from spare animal parts such as the hooves, ligaments, hides, and ears of cattle, which are then rendered and treated to be extracted as collagen. Definitely not the same thing as a steak.
So, if you’ve been using beef protein, thinking that it’s high-quality beef, you’re really just supplementing with collagen.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is a complete source of high-quality protein derived from cow's milk. Milk contains two forms of protein, casein and whey. Whey is separated from casein during the manufacturing process of cheese, where it is then strained and processed into whey protein. Whey protein has a very high concentration of the essential amino acids, responsible for building and rebuilding lean muscle mass called the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Studies have shown that the branched-chain amino acids, especially leucine is responsible for stimulating muscle protein synthesis.
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Whey and whey protein isolate are the most popular sports nutrition protein powders, due to amino acid content and quick absorption rate. Providing your muscle tissue with a flood of amino acids post workout, is crucial to initiate the muscle building process, also known as muscle protein synthesis. Numerous studies have shown that whey and whey protein isolate, can help you improve strength, build more muscle mass, and lose body fat.
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Whey Vs Beef Protein
When directly comparing whey vs beef protein, both have diverse characteristics and offer different benefits. Much like Collagen, beef protein contains a higher concentration of four distinct amino acids, glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine. These amino acids are unique and rare in the modern-day diet. Studies have shown that these specific amino acids have several health benefits which may help improve skin health, joint health, and bone health.
Yet when compared to whey, beef protein lacks the same concentration of essential amino acids specifically the branched chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine which have been shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Therefore, if your goal is to stack on more gains in the gym, you might want to reconsider supplementing with beef protein.
Although studies have shown that beef protein isolate can increase the muscle building process a large factor for maximizing performance in an exercise training capacity is digestibility score or absorption rate. Research is limited in regard to beef protein isolate vs whey, however a systematic review investigating the ergogenic effects of beef protein show that it is a viable protein source, which can help build more strength and muscle mass. It’s a well-known fact that most protein sources will help build more mass, the real question is, to what degree does it affect anabolism
Amino acids per 100g
The table above indicates the amino acid content derived from whey protein, beef protein, and gelatin. As you can clearly see from the highlighted rows, whey protein contains a higher concentration of essential amino acids. In fact, whey contains 34.96 grams vs. 19.4 grams in beef protein isolate of essential and branched chain amino acids per 100 g serving.
The second key element in this table are the glaring similarities in amino acid profile between beef protein and gelatin. Remember, gelatin is nothing more than cooked collagen.
Digestibility score refers to the bioavailability or absorption rate of an amino acid. Bioavailability refers to the percentage of protein that is absorbed by your body from certain sources. Just because a protein powder has 25g of protein, does not necessarily mean your body is going to absorb it, or process the entire amount. Absorption depends on the certain type of protein you’re ingesting. Therefore, it’s important to know which proteins digest better, so you can include optimal protein sources in your diet. The higher the digestibility score, the better.
For example, beef protein has s digestibility score of 0.92. However, the majority of beef protein powders are made mainly of collagen and hydrolyzed gelatin, which have an amino acid score of 0. Beef protein isolate, collagen, and gelatin are all derived from cows, therefore, they can all be labeled as “beef”.
Milk Protein Concentrate
Whey Protein Concentrate
Whey Vs Beef Protein – In Summary
- Beef protein is a good choice for paleo athletes and those with dairy or whey sensitivities.
- Beef protein contains unique amino acids, which lack in the modern-day diet such as proline, glycine, hydroxyproline, and arginine.
- Limited studies suggest that beef protein can help build more mass, strength. A massive body of evidence supports and proves that whey protein improves strength, helps build more muscle mass, optimizes body composition, and improves workout recovery.
- Beef protein is not a complete source of protein, and lacks substantial concentration of essential amino acids, needed for muscle protein synthesis. Whey protein contains 34.96 grams vs. 19.4 grams in beef protein isolate of essential and branched chain amino acids per 100 g serving
- Beef protein has a low digestibility score, with an average of 0.30 compared to a score of 1 for whey protein.
- Beef protein has a saltier, gamier taste, when compared to whey protein
- Beef protein does not mix as well as whey protein
Whey Vs Beef Protein: Takeaway
As a fellow gym-goer, our goals are much the same. Amino acid content and digestibility are the two most important factors when it comes to selecting a protein powder, based purely on improving performance, smashing weight, improving strength and stacking gains. Even though beef protein has a digestibility score of 0.92, collagen and gelatin have a score of 0, creating an absorption average of 0.30. With such a low absorption rate, you’re not giving your muscles what they need, in order to grow.
When choosing a protein powder, it’s important to know where your protein originates. Whey protein is milk derivative. Whether it’s organic, free range, or hormone free, milk, is milk. There are no bad cuts of whey protein like there is with beef. With whey protein you know exactly what you’re getting. Strength and muscle are built with essential amino acids. Therefore, beef protein isn’t going to be the first choice for strength athletes and bodybuilders.
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 Valenzuela, Pedro L et al. “Does Beef Protein Supplementation Improve Body Composition and Exercise Performance? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Nutrients vol. 11,6 1429. 25 Jun. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11061429