Which processes produce proteins?

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Entire proteins may undergo industrial processing in order to obtain their most beneficial fractions. The goal may be to achieve better assimilation, greater efficiency or simply to obtain isolated amino acids that are more useful than others. A number of terms may apply further to these processes: total proteins, protein isolates, protein concentrates, protein hydrolysates, peptides, pure amino acids, etc.

A recap on proteins

A protein is a molecule made up of a long chain of amino acids (more than 100). They include essential and non-essential amino acids.

Essential amino acids are crucial for our body and must be provided by our food.

Non-essential amino acids can be produced by our body.

When a protein contains fewer than 100 amino acids, it is called a polypeptide, and when it contains fewer than 10 amino acids, it is called a peptide.

In the digestive process, proteins are cut up to become peptides that can be assimilated thanks to dedicated transporters. Amino acids do not have specific transporters in order to be absorbed, which is why they are assimilated much more slowly than peptides. Consequently, it is not advisable to consume amino acids alone.

What are the production processes?

Protein concentrates

Concentrated proteins are made using a technique called ultrafiltration. When used cold, this technique does not affect the nature of the protein, because the lactose is not warmed up. This process consists of using membranes with microscopic holes that retain the proteins, while allowing the water, sugar, fats and mineral salts to flow through.

The power produced using this technique contains about 80% of proteins.

Protein isolates

  • Microfiltration : This mechanical technique is quite natural. The process is the same as for protein concentrates, except that the pores in the membranes are even smaller (0.1 to 10 mg). The protein is even purer and can reach concentrations of 95%. This is the least aggressive technique and allows the protein to keep its biological properties. The only negative aspect of these proteins is their price, because this process is expensive.
  • Ion exchange : This concentration and purification technique uses ion exchange columns. This technique requires the use of chemical elements (hydrochloric acid, etc.) in order to retain only the required protein. This aggressive process destroys all the lactose, fats and impurities, but the quality of the protein is slightly impaired.

The powder produced using this techniques contains about 90% of proteins.

Protein hydrolysate

This technique takes a protein concentrate or isolate that undergoes hydrolysis, which amounts to chemically digesting the protein so that it can be assimilated very quickly. Consequently, casein hydrolysate can be compared with whey hydrolysate in terms of speed of digestion

The downside of this technique is the bitter taste that it produces.

What are the resulting products?

  • Gainers : A mixture of proteins and glucids. These products provide high quantities of calories in order to gain weight.
  • Whey protein: Whey protein is a lactoserum. It is constitutes 20% of the milk proteins. It is easy to digest and has a high content of branched amino acids. This protein is quickly assimilated. It has a rather anabolic effect.

We may distinguish between:

  • Whey concentrate : This product contains about 80g of proteins per 100g of powder,
  • Whey isolate : This product contains about 90g of proteins or more per 100g of powder,
  • Whey hydrolysate : This product contains about 80% of peptides (small proteins). This is the product that is assimilated most quickly.
  • Bio-active whey : Bio-active wheys are usually enriched with peptides with particular properties conducive to muscle growth.
  • Casein: This is the other component of milk, and constitutes 80% of the milk protein. Casein is a protein that is assimilated slowly. It has a rather anti-catabolic effect.

We may distinguish between:

Calcium caseinate: This product is usually concentrated. In this case, the casein is impaired and loses its configuration (the micelles), which means that it is not absorbed so well.

  • Micellar casein : This is a form of casein isolate. The protein is preserved so that the amino acids can be diffused slowly. It is also found in full milk proteins.
  • Soy proteins : Soy proteins are consumed mainly by vegetarians and vegans. This is an anti-catabolic protein.
  • Amino acids : Amino acids are absorbed relatively quickly, which means that they have a slightly anabolic effect. But this property remains very weak.

Branched amino acids (BCAA): BCAA optimise recovery and muscular weight gain when consumed during exercise.

Marie Fauchille
Dietician | Nutritionist
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