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Proteins Ranked From Best to Worst

Which Are Muscle-Building Gold?
Which Are Useless? Here's Your Definitive Guide!

No matter where you are in your journey to a better physique, optimal intake and delivery of protein should take center stage. High-quality proteins fuel your muscles with a continual and healthy supply of key amino acids that help to maximize muscle protein synthesis, promote fat loss and improve your body composition.

Note that we said “high-quality” proteins, because you are kidding yourself if you think all proteins are the same. While other tissues can use a combination of 20 different amino acids to build protein, skeletal muscle relies heavily on nine of them. These are the essential amino acids, the ones we must consume in our diet.

What is the single best way to make sure you are getting a healthy dose of all the essential amino acids? Ask yourself one simple question: Did this protein come from an animal? Animal protein sources (milk, chicken, turkey, beef, pork, fish, egg, etc.) provide a complete and balanced array of the essential amino acids (again, those amino acids your muscle needs to stimulate growth and repair). Other protein sources that are not from an animal (typically plant sources) are oftentimes missing one or more of the essential amino acids and consequently do not stimulate muscle protein synthesis to the same degree.

Beyond the source of protein, the method with which a protein is manufactured is another consideration that can impact how easily a protein can be digested. Outlined below (and ranked from best to worst) are the most common sources of protein found in various foods and protein supplements. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each will help you derive maximum physiological benefit from every protein calorie you consume.

Whey protein is a fast-digesting milk protein that boasts a healthy supply of the essential amino acids. Usually somewhere around 50% of all amino acids found in whey protein are the essential amino acids and they are a powerful stimulator of muscle protein synthesis both at rest and after completing a bout of resistance exercise (Tang, Moore et al. 2009). Research tells us that a 10 to 12 gram dose of the essential amino acids consistently stimulates peak levels of muscle protein synthesis (Tipton, Ferrando et al. 1999, Borsheim, Tipton et al. 2002), and this amount is easily attained in high-quality versions of whey protein.

Processing methods play a big role in determining the bioavailability of protein. A protein isolate, like that found in ProSource’s Original NytroWhey, is derived via sophisticated ultra microfiltration technology to achieve a biological value of at least 90. This means that at least 90% of the final product is protein, while a protein concentrate could have a biological value anywhere from 50 to 89. (More about this below.) A hydrolyzed whey protein isolate, like that found in NytroWhey Ultra Elite and BioQuest’s mass builder MyoZene, is preferred when rapid-action nutrient uptake is desired.

Hydrolyzed whey is processed in such a way that complex aminos have been broken apart, yielding smaller protein fragments (commonly called peptides) that can be digested and absorbed into the bloodstream much faster than a non-hydrolyzed protein. Studies have shown that this swifter utilization generates a greater insulin response, reduced soreness and improved recovery of strength after an intense workout (Van Loon 2007).

Athletes supplementing with hydrolyzed whey protein experience a significantly greater increase in lean body mass and muscular strength, as compared to supplementation with lesser caseins or whey concentrates. When hydrolyzed protein is consumed with leucine, it increases muscle protein synthesis and enhances whole-body protein balance. For athletes seeking maximum muscle support, particularly in the interval directly after intense exercise, hydrolyzed whey gets our #1 recommendation.

Times do exist, however, when the absolute fastest uptake of muscle-supporting aminos is not your principle consideration. You should, for instance, be supplementing with protein throughout the day, not just directly after exercise. For these situations, a premium, well-processed 100% whey protein isolate such as ProSource’s original NytroWhey should be prioritized. As mentioned in the previous section, the word ‘isolate’ means the final protein product is at least 90% protein and provides assurance that the final protein product you are paying for is indeed mostly protein and is largely devoid of things you don’t want in your protein like carbohydrates and fat.

Do not think, however, that all whey isolates are the same. The best whey isolates (like NytroWhey) are precision-manufactured using high-performance, ultra micro-filtration processing, a precise and complex synthesis that involves ceramic cold filtering to deliver the purest, most bioavailable protein. This state-of-the-art technology also removes the lactose and other undesirables typically found in other forms of whey protein. Cold filter processing also preserves the most fragile protein fractions (alphalactalbumin, lactoferrin, and glycomacropeptides) that are essential catalysts for enhancing bioavailability, and boosting growth and recovery.

Fortunately, multiple research studies have been published that demonstrate the muscle-building and body-composition-improving power of a whey protein isolate. For example, Cribb and Hayes (Cribb, Williams et al. 2007) provided a whey protein isolate to resistance training men and reported significant improvements in strength and body composition when compared to changes seen when carbohydrate was ingested. Other studies published by Candow and colleagues (Candow, Burke et al. 2006) and another study by Penning et al. (Pennings, Boirie et al. 2011) also reported that ingesting a whey protein isolate led to greater increases in muscle growth and strength when compared to other forms of protein or carbohydrate.

Whey protein isolate should form the sturdy foundation of your supplementation regimen. It’s a solid #2 in our ranking of proteins.

Milk protein isolate doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. Milk protein is a robustly complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. Better yet, once milk protein isolate has been derived from raw milk (usually through filtering or dialysis), you’ve got a high-quality protein with a protein biological value of at least 90 (comparable to whey’s at 94) with less than three percent fat, a low carb count and almost no lactose. Another big advantage in milk protein isolate’s column is that it simply tastes good. Unlike hydrolyzed whey or whey isolate, which require highly sophisticated processing methods to render them clean-tasting and flavorful, milk protein isolate is a sturdy, easily digestible, and pleasant-tasting protein with excellent texture and a long shelf life. It also is ideal for promoting a feeling of satiety or fullness. This makes milk protein isolate an excellent candidate for being added to protein bars, where it keeps bars moist and delicious while adding amino content.

Milk protein isolate is not a fast-acting protein, consisting as it does of roughly 80% casein and 20% whey. Its slower, extended digestion rate makes it an excellent complement to faster-uptake hydrolyzed whey and whey isolate in the best, most nutritionally complete protein bar offerings. Working in tandem, these three proteins facilitate amino uptake and utilization in muscle tissue over both the short and long terms. In this way, milk protein isolate functions as a valuable nutritional gap-filler, ideal for consuming on the run. and supporting muscle recovery in longer intervals between meals and overnight.


Whey concentrates are a very popular form of protein included in various protein products, such as protein blends, meal replacements and weight gainer formulations. The positive side of a whey concentrate is that you are starting with whey protein (as opposed to a soy or pea protein concentrate), the fast-digesting milk protein that contains a healthy dose of essential amino acids. As a result, a whey concentrate has good potential to support your exercise training and physique goals.

It should be noted that manufacturers are not required to disclose whether the amount of protein in the product is 50% protein or 89% protein. This is important simply because a whey concentrate that is only 50% protein can contain a lot of undesirable calories. It is important to find a whey concentrate product that is 100% whey protein, formulated via advanced low-temperature, ultra-filtration processing, with no cheap fillers or unproven blends, as found in many "bargain" whey products sold by less scrupulous manufacturers. This ensures that key growth factors and nutritional components of whey are preserved, resulting in a powerful stimulus for muscle growth.

Casein protein is one of two proteins found in milk. In comparison to whey, casein is also considered a high-quality protein due to its rich concentration of essential amino acids. Interestingly, casein, upon ingestion, behaves much differently than whey with regard to muscle protein metabolism. Casein only modestly stimulates muscle protein synthesis, but has an exceptional ability to prevent muscle protein breakdown due to its ability to slowly digest and release amino acids into the blood. While Tang and colleagues (Tang, Moore et al. 2009) reported that casein had the smallest impact on muscle protein synthesis when compared to the ingestion of identical amounts of soy and whey, the biggest interest for casein seems to lie with its potential ability to promote muscle protein balance and metabolism throughout sleep (Trommelen and van Loon 2016).

Beef protein is a complete source protein and a standard serving of lean beef provides a healthy dose of the amino acids. Studies have been completed that demonstrate ingestion of a 6-ounce serving of beef can stimulate significant increases in muscle protein synthesis (Robinson, Burd et al. 2013). When ingestion of beef occurred over the course of several weeks of following a resistance training program, beef ingestion was able to stimulate similar changes in lean and fat mass compared to those seen with chicken and whey protein (Sharp, Lowery et al. 2017). As a part of one’s diet, beef is an excellent consideration, but obviously the need to prepare it limits one’s ability to ingest it during busy times or when you are on the go. 

When it comes to plant proteins, soy protein is the best of the bunch, but that's rather faint praise. In comparison to other high-quality sources of protein such as hydrolyzed whey protein isolate, soy protein has less effect on muscle protein synthesis when ingested at rest or after acute exercise (Tang, Moore et al. 2009). Further, other research has examined the impact of soy protein ingestion on acute hormonal changes and soy ingestion may negatively impact the release of key hormones related to muscle hypertrophy (Kraemer, Solomon-Hill et al. 2013). Soy is often viewed to be a more natural or healthy protein, particularly by vegetarians, and it is viewed more favorably by women due to its high content of phytoestrogens and isoflavones (Setchell 1998). Soy protein, however, is probably not the best choice when it comes to supporting adaptations to high-intensity exercise training and muscle recovery.

When one looks at the quality ratings of different proteins, many plant proteins rank in the bottom half or lower because they have lower amounts of the essential amino acids. There is also very little research available to appropriately support their ability to promote recovery and positive adaptations to exercise training. Unfortunately, many protein, food or energy bars use different forms and combinations of plant proteins as opposed to higher quality sources of protein, simply because they're cheaper. Wheat protein, in particular, appears in substantial amounts in may protein bars, sometimes listed as a primary ingredient. This is unfortunate because wheat protein is an incomplete and inferior protein source, under-supplied in the branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) that are critical to muscle repair and recovery. While definitely suitable as part of a balanced, healthy diet, exercising individuals are typically not advised to consume all or even a majority of their daily protein from various plant sources. Their low concentrations and low digestibility ratings mean that a suboptimal delivery of many of the key essential amino acids will result.

As we arrive at the other end of the spectrum of protein quality ratings, we have things like gelatins, collagen and other fillers. For an individual who is concerned about their physique and maximizing the delivery of healthy amino acids and other bioactives, these proteins hold very little priority as they operate primarily as a filler and do next to nothing when it comes to supporting fat loss and improving your body composition. Unfortunately, many protein bars and “gainers," especially the bulk gainers, have traditionally used these sources of proteins to increase calorie and protein content, when in reality the proteins being added will do very little to support your health and performance goals.


Any discussion about protein quality begins and ends with the concentration of the essential amino acids found in the protein. Whether you are the person who wants to lose a few pounds or someone who wants to pack on a few more pounds of muscle, optimal protein intake will support these goals. Any protein containing whey protein isolate as one of the first ingredients (such as NytroWhey) offers reassurance that the highest amounts of important amino acids will be provided. As a step up from there, NytroWhey Ultra Elite and MyoZene utilize a hydrolyzed whey protein isolate to maximally deliver important amino acids, while going the extra step and further processing the protein in order to speed the delivery of those amino acids to your bloodstream. Scientific studies have demonstrated that hydrolyzed proteins promote the highest levels of muscle protein synthesis and best support your recovery.

Read more about NytroWhey Ultra Elite here.

Read more about MyoZene here.

Read more about Original NytroWhey here.

Scientific References

Borsheim, E., K. D. Tipton, S. E. Wolf and R. R. Wolfe (2002). "Essential amino acids and muscle protein recovery from resistance exercise." Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 283(4): E648-657.

Candow, D. G., N. C. Burke, T. Smith-Palmer and D. G. Burke (2006). "Effect of whey and soy protein supplementation combined with resistance training in young adults." Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 16(3): 233-244.

Cribb, P. J., A. D. Williams, C. G. Stathis, M. F. Carey and A. Hayes (2007). "Effects of whey isolate, creatine, and resistance training on muscle hypertrophy." Med Sci Sports Exerc 39(2): 298-307.

Essen-Gustavsson, B. and P. A. Tesch (1990). "Glycogen and triglyceride utilization in relation to muscle metabolic characteristics in men performing heavy-resistance exercise." Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 61(1-2): 5-10.

Kraemer, W. J., G. Solomon-Hill, B. M. Volk, B. R. Kupchak, D. P. Looney, C. Dunn-Lewis, B. A. Comstock, T. K. Szivak, D. R. Hooper, S. D. Flanagan, C. M. Maresh and J. S. Volek (2013). "The effects of soy and whey protein supplementation on acute hormonal reponses to resistance exercise in men." J Am Coll Nutr 32(1): 66-74.

Pennings, B., Y. Boirie, J. M. Senden, A. P. Gijsen, H. Kuipers and L. J. van Loon (2011). "Whey protein stimulates postprandial muscle protein accretion more effectively than do casein and casein hydrolysate in older men." Am J Clin Nutr 93(5): 997-1005.

Robinson, M. J., N. A. Burd, L. Breen, T. Rerecich, Y. Yang, A. J. Hector, S. K. Baker and S. M. Phillips (2013). "Dose-dependent responses of myofibrillar protein synthesis with beef ingestion are enhanced with resistance exercise in middle-aged men." Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 38(2): 120-125.

Setchell, K. D. (1998). "Phytoestrogens: the biochemistry, physiology, and implications for human health of soy isoflavones." Am J Clin Nutr 68(6 Suppl): 1333S-1346S.

Sharp, M. H., R. P. Lowery, K. A. Shields, J. R. Lane, J. L. Gray, J. M. Partl, D. W. Hayes, G. J. Wilson, C. A. Hollmer, J. R. Minivich and J. M. Wilson (2017). "The Effects of Beef, Chicken, or Whey Protein Post-Workout on Body Composition and Muscle Performance." J Strength Cond Res.

Tang, J. E., D. R. Moore, G. W. Kujbida, M. A. Tarnopolsky and S. M. Phillips (2009). "Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men." J Appl Physiol 107(3): 987-992.

Tipton, K. D., A. A. Ferrando, S. M. Phillips, D. Doyle, Jr. and R. R. Wolfe (1999). "Postexercise net protein synthesis in human muscle from orally administered amino acids." Am J Physiol 276(4 Pt 1): E628-634.

Trommelen, J. and L. J. van Loon (2016). "Pre-Sleep Protein Ingestion to Improve the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise Training." Nutrients 8(12).

Van Loon, L. J. (2007). "Application of protein or protein hydrolysates to improve postexercise recovery." Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 17: S104-S117.

Use as directed with a sensible nutrition and exercise program. Read and follow all product label instructions and warnings thoroughly before use. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

The articles featured herein are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Specific medical advice should only be obtained from a licensed health care professional. No liability is assumed by ProSource for any information herein.

Chad Kerksick received his PhD in Exercise, Nutrition and Preventive Health in 2006. Since that time he has conducted several studies examining the impact of exercise and nutrition and continues to conduct research in these areas resulting in over 70 peer-reviewed publications, 100 research presentations, two books and several book chapters. The information provided throughout this article are not to be construed as endorsements of ProSource or the products discussed. Further, the views discussed are those of Dr. Kerksick and not the university or any organization in which he is affiliated.