For bodybuilders and athletes, the importance of protein is well-known and indisputable. As a macronutrient, protein is the key contributor to muscle growth and retention, especially when paired with resistance training. From a dietary standpoint, protein is available from a variety of whole foods as well as nutritional supplements such as protein powders. Thanks to advances in knowledge and processing techniques, there’s now a wide selection of protein powders on the market.

Protein powders are a convenient meal option for athletes to meet their daily protein requirements. They are commonly used around training sessions, where digestion is paramount. There are a number of factors which impact the digestion of protein powders, many of which are inherent to the product itself.

When nutrients enter your digestive system, a process kicks off to enable the body to use the energy. The body releases hydrochloric acid and enzymes that break down food. Specifically, protein is broken down into amino acids, allowing them to be absorbed through the intestinal wall and utilized by the body. If the body is unable to break these proteins down, the absorption rate is much lower—meaning you’ll get less out of what you’ve consumed.

While they’re the most common, whey protein powders can be difficult for some people to digest. Lactose intolerance is fairly common, and due to the fact that the main carbohydrate in whey protein is lactose, some people may experience digestive issues with whey proteins. The enzyme lactase is needed to digest lactose, and it is underproduced in those with lactose intolerance. Supplementing with digestive enzymes can help alleviate these symptoms, and allow athletes to use whey protein options.

Adding a digestive enzyme directly into a protein supplement is beneficial, whether or not you’re lactose intolerant. An ingredient such as DigeSEB® provides the body with key enzymes to help break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in the stomach. DigeSEB is a patented blend of five digestive enzymes including amylase, lactase, protease, lipase, and cellulase. Regardless of whether you have specific dietary issues, the addition of a digestive enzyme is beneficial as it boosts the product’s bioavailability.

A product with high bioavailability means the body is able to uptake and utilize a large proportion of its ingredients. This can be due to an enhanced digestive process, where the body is able to break the molecules down for efficient absorption into the system. It can also be due to a higher quality product. Specific to protein powders, advances in processing methods are yielding superior products.

When selecting a whey protein, there are three different forms—concentrate, hydrolysate, and isolate. The distinguishing factor between the three is the fat and lactose content due to the processing methods, as well as the processing methods themselves. Concentrates have the highest fat and lactose content, which can make it slightly slower or harder to digest. Hydrolysates go through an additional process using heat or acid to break down the amino chains to make them highly digestible. Finally, isolates go through a rigorous but gentle micro-filtering process, leaving behind just trace amounts of fat, sugar, and lactose. This produces a whey protein that’s 90–95% pure. The additional benefit of the processing method used with isolates is that it’s less harsh than that of hydrolysates, and leaves behind milk’s natural micro fractions which are known to aid digestion.

Whey protein is quickly digested, but choosing a high-quality option, such as an isolate, further aids the digestive process. Post-workout is a prime timeframe for protein supplements, but it’s also a time your body needs additional digestive support. The body has diverted its attention from the digestive system to the working muscles during your training session, and it takes time for the body to return to homeostasis. Consuming a high-quality isolate with a built-in digestive enzyme product such as DigeSEB can help ensure the body is better able to break down and utilize the amino acids as they flood the stomach.

Other key factors to consider when shopping for a protein supplement include the presence of gluten, soy, hormones, or fillers. These compounds can cause digestive issues—or even allergic reactions—in some users. Supplementing with a product that is free of these items and includes a digestive enzyme is your best bet for superior results. Hosstile’s protein, ISO[H1], is a non-GMO, grass-fed whey isolate which contains 300 mg of DigeSEB, making it a high-quality protein choice. These factors combine to guarantee that you’re getting the most from your protein supplement to aid recovery and muscle growth, especially around workouts.