Are All Protein Powders Created Equal?
The supplement industry contains literally hundreds of different protein powders. Prices and ingredients vary between brands. Some protein powders are especially beneficial post workout, others will serve better as a meal replacement. But why are some more expensive than others? And do the costs really serve up to their value?
Is your protein organic? Is it derived from hemp or from whey? Does the whey come from cows that eat grass or that eat hay? Does the protein digest quickly? These are all valid questions. In this article I will break down common protein powders that are popular among crossfitters, body builders, vegetarians and even non-fitness enthusiasts.
But First, The Role of Protein..
Our body uses protein to repair and build tissue, It supports the making of new hair, cells, muscle, bone and even skin. It also plays a crucial role in other bodily functions such as the production of enzymes. Protein improves brain function and has a part in muscle contractions.
Not consuming adequate amounts of protein can slow our healing process and therefore lead to over training. It drives me crazy when I hear people say they don’t have a post workout shake or meal that contains protein. A banana is not going to cut it and neither is a itsy bitsy tiny yogurt.
Post Work Out: Shake vs Solid Meal.
First, let me say that having a meal post workout is better than not having one at all.
After working out, protein has one job; to reach your muscles as fast as possible to begin healing damaged muscle fibers caused by repetitive and intense muscle contractions. The most ideal solution will be to consume protein in liquid form within the hour of finishing your training session due it’s rapid availability. And you shouldn’t have just any protein liquid, you should have whey protein in this scenario.
Whey protein has made its way to many gym bags and with good reason, it has a high Biological Value (BV). The Biological Value provides a measurement of how efficiently the body utilizes that protein. Whey contains all the essential and nonessential amino acids and has a high BV of 96 compared to soy (74) or beef (80). The higher the BV, the better.
Different Proteins for Different Situations.
Let’s suppose you are laying on the couch binge watching episodes of House of Cards. You need to have some protein to reach your quota for the day or because you simply don’t feel like cooking. So which type of protein should you choose? Whey again? Maybe, however if your protein powder has a long list of ingredients then it’s best to consume moderate amounts of that type or none at all.
Yes, we all need protein. We know it’s essential and that it supports fat loss, muscle growth and performance. But at what cost? Some of these protein manufactures add harmful ingredients like Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) which is a very common flavor enhancer as well as aspartame and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). A lot of body builders like Hydro Whey by Optimum Nutrition. However this type of protein contains HFCS. You might as well add a bit of Coca Cola to your blender.
Using these types of proteins for a long periods of time may generate free radicals in our bodies that can increase the risk of brain damage, behavior disorders and adverse reactions. We all have different genes, cells and different food allergies. You may have a higher threshold than I, or vice versa, to consume ingredients such as these. I’m not saying to absolutely stop having whey. It’s been found in study after study to be extremely effective, I’m just saying to be mindful of what you are having and how regularly you are having it.
The Flipside of Whey
Yes, some supplement companies may add low quality ingredients to their products but not all whey are created equal. We need to keep an open mind and realize that whey protein has helped thousands if not millions of people achieve the health and bodies they want. To say whey is completely harmful would be a dishonest statement.
Whey protein contains an ample supply of the amino acid cysteine, which appears to increase levels of glutathione. Glutathione is one of the most powerful antioxidants in our bodies that can boost our immune system and combat various diseases.
Different Types of Whey
- Whey Protein Concentrate- This type of whey has low levels of carbohydrates, fat and some minerals and can contain anywhere between 20% – 90% protein.
- Whey Protein Isolates- This type of has some of the purest protein source available. During the processing of whey isolate there is a considerate removal of fat and lactose. If you are lactose intolerant this type of protein may serve you better. Even though some whey protein isolates can contain more than 90% protein or higher, some of it’s peptide bonds can be lost during the manufacturing process reducing its effectiveness.
- Whey Protein Hydrolysate- This type doesn’t require as much digestion as the other types of whey. This form is pre-digested into smaller protein fragments for even quicker digestion.
I mentioned in the picture above how PROGENEX® More Muscle has more sodium than other protein supplements, but that’s not exactly a bad thing. Other protein powders like Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard has 130mg and BSN SYNTHA-6 Protein Powder has 220mg per serving. But if you are constantly training hard you are losing a lot of sodium through your sweat. Athletes need sodium for muscle and nerve functions. The body uses sodium as an electrolyte to help keep the right amount of water inside and outside your cells and in your blood. If you are somewhat of a sedentary person then this protein powder may not be for you as your daily sodium needs are probably much lower.
Non Whey Proteins
Whey is derived from milk and some people are lactose intolerant and will not digest these food supplements very well. Products like Vega Sport Performance, Garden of Life or SunWarrior Protein (one of my favorites) can be a great option for some since they are free of dairy, soy and even gluten. These are very popular protein powders among vegan and endurance athletes. You don’t have to be a vegan to enjoy the benefits of a protein like this though.
What’s especially unique about these protein powders is there reduction of saturated fat and cholesterol. This is a huge plus. Not to mention that they contain other nutrients such as phytochemicals and fiber (You don’t want to have a protein with too much fiber post workout since this slows down the digestion process. This would be an unwanted effect.)
Are You Also Paying For Taste?
Let me answer that for you, YES, some of you are. Some people are more interested or are highly influenced by a protein supplement that tastes good rather than one that simply does more good. I don’t care what anyone says, “generic” or whey protein powders taste better than vegan or plant based protein powders. Some plant based protein powders even smell and taste like bird food. Ok fine, I may be exaggerating here. The texture can be somewhat grainy and this can make the protein taste somewhat chalky. The reason whey protein powders don’t usually have this problem is because these protein manufacturers add a ton of other ingredients and additives to cover up the plain taste. Who is not going to like a protein powder that tastes like Cookies & Cream?
Flavor and taste is a huge purchasing factor for some and I agree with this to some extent. No one wants the taste of sand in their mouth, I get that. But take into consideration that the reason you are taking a protein supplement is for a desired outcome, not for taste. You can mask the taste in certain ways. I personally like my Sunwarrior Chocolate Protein with almond milk, ice and a cup of blueberries. I would not recommend to have these plant based powders with just water because they’re not going to have a pleasant taste this way. Instead, use some almond milk, coconut milk or hemp milk.
So what does this mean for you? What do I recommend?
As you can probably tell by now, you can go crazy trying to pick the protein that is suitable to your body and to your goals. There is no such thing as the perfect protein elixir, there are good ones and there are better ones. We can’t dodge all “bad” ingredients, we can only try our best to make better and more informed decisions.
If you are simply having a protein supplement as a meal replacement, I would definitely recommend having a plant based protein powder. These forms may do more good for you in the long run. Also if your focus is weight loss, keep in mind that whey protein powders have slightly more calories and higher sugar content, hence less optimal for you.
If you’re going to use a protein supplement for post workout purposes then you’re going to want to have one that has at least 20g of protein per serving and that is made from whey. If you can afford it, I would recommend Tera’s Whey Organic. The manufacturers use milk from grass fed cows which means the milk is of higher quality and free of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). Another option, but not as tasty, is to have Vital Whey Natural. It only has 16 g of protein per serving so you might want to use a scoop and a half to two.
How much you are willing to spend will depend on your budget, goals, environmental views, taste preferences and food allergies if you have any. Protein powders should NEVER be used as an exclusive source of protein. Why? because other sources offer protein like fish and meat offer a variety of unique benefits such as omega 3s and 6. I do however believe that if a person is healthy and trains regularly, sleeps well and fuels properly then supplementing with protein powders can definitely assist them in accomplishing fitness goals. If your diet is really not optimal, then I advice cleaning up your diet first and then consider using supplementation. Below is a chart highlighting some of the protein powders that I have mention above.
What protein powder do you currently use and why do you use it? And if you don’t, which one will you choose? Post your comments below. Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook for other great tips and info.