Protein is a no-brainer.
Not just for athletes, but for people who just wanna live healthy lives. Even starting your day with 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes after waking up has been well-documented to keep you lean.
Pick a protein that matches your goals.
Looking for a great pre or post workout shake? Or an all-around effective protein? Try whey isolate or whey concentrate.
Looking for a pre-bedtime protein or meal replacement? Try casein or a protein blend.
Whenever I step foot into a gym these days, I always see people religiously downing protein shakes.
Protein supplements are so ingrained in gym culture that it's difficult to justify ending a workout without one. True story.
The short story? Protein powders work. So let's strip the hype, science and nebulous terminology that surrounds protein powder.
If anything, read this so you can stunt on hulky "gym guy" at your local Golds Gym.
Protein powders are not created equally.
Certain concoctions of powders in the supplement world are known as mass gainers. A mass gainer is essentially a powder that includes proteins, carbs and fats.
Most of the time, you don't need a mass gainer. The reason is that mass gainers contain a shocking amount of unnecessary calories.
Unless you're a "hard gainer" doing cardio several times a week, those unnecessary calories will probably turn into a spare tire around the waist. When buying a protein powder, make sure it is low fat (1-3 grams is acceptable), low carb (1-8 grams is acceptable) and has a higher protein count (20-30 grams per serving).
Whey protein concentrate (WPC) is by far the most popular type of protein supplement out there.
Though WPCs will contain less protein on a gram for gram basis than an isolate and more fat, a high quality WPC contains all sorts of interesting compounds not found in the isolates.
It was discovered that it’s a complete protein, and is abundant in an amino acid known as leucine (1).
People should not be under the impression that a well-made WPC is inherently inferior to a whey protein isolate (WPI) and may in fact be a superior choice, depending on the goals and budget of the person.
Whey protein isolate is more expensive than whey protein concentrate because it is purer, contains more protein, less fat and lactose per serving.
High quality isolates comprise 90+% protein while whey concentrates comprise about 65-85% protein. And if a protein is only 30% protein by weight, what does the remaining 70% consist of?
Well, unfortunately it sometimes remains a mystery, as unhealthy filler is startlingly present in the supplement industry (2).
Whey protein isolate provides the greatest amount of protein, which milk contains. Due to its chemical nature it is the easiest to absorb into your system.
With its high concentration, it appears as the obvious choice over concentrate. However, this decision is individually tailored because whey protein isolate powders are generally more expensive.
Its extra protein concentration may not justify its higher cost.
Whey hydrolysates (aka peptides), are the fastest digesting proteins.
Because they are absorbed the fastest, it makes sense to ingest this protein right before or after a workout.
They are very expensive and not necessarily the healthiest option (depending on the milk source). Many times, you'd do better to pick up a 100% isolate protein.
Casein Protein makes up 80% of total milk protein. Casein is acknowledged for its phenomenal amino acid profile, time-releasing digestion and abundant mixture of peptides.
When you consume casein, you will reach a peak in blood amino acids and protein synthesis between 3 to 4 hours (3).
This makes it a better choice for before bed or as a meal replacement over WPC or WPI.
Protein Blends are generally a combination of several types of protein blends such as egg protein, whey protein concentrate, pea or rice protein, whey protein isolate, casein protein, and soy protein.
Why would you want a blend anyway?
You will receive the full range of proteins and the varying rates of absorption from the different types of protein. These types are usually cheaper, too.
In all walks of life, there are the good guys and the not so good guys. The supplement industry is no different. Many companies have shut down due to falsifying protein testing results through amino spiking scams.
My rule of thumb is to assess products that have been around for at least two years and have received positive feedback.
If a product lasts this long and can battle through the plethora of haters out there, it usually reflects a quality, reliable product.
Short story here? It's probably worth it to pay more.
Now obviously some are ridiculously expensive and others are so cheap that is scares you (it should!), but not all proteins are created equal.
More of the "purer" proteins cost more. That's just reality. I recommend finding a protein that is an average or above average price and that has stood the test of time.
Even if you have to pay slightly more than the other guys, at least you know exactly what's going in your body.
There are two different categories of amino acids that you should look for when buying a protein product.
They are BCAA and EAA. BCAA stands for Branch Chain Amino Acids, and EAA stands for Essential Amino Acids.
BCAA’s are your muscle building amino acids. These include leucine, valine and isoleucine. Whey is particularly rich in the amino acid leucine, which plays a vital role in stimulating protein synthesis (4).
Because of how effective leucine is, protein powders with added leucine are even better choices.
Regarding digestibility, it is important that you don't get a protein that will make you feel bloated and full. Often times powders are so crudely manufactured, that the gut has difficulty with absorption.
Feeling bloating because your protein powder was made by some cheap loser who was too lazy to make it properly isn't cool.
There are different ways of making whey protein isolate.
One common processing method uses a process called ion exchange, in which whey concentrate is run through an ion exchanger to produce an "ion exchange whey isolate."
While this sounds fancy, it actually has significant drawbacks.
The ion exchange process dentures the protein, reducing the overall health value of the protein. (5)
While still beneficial because of cost savings, this method of production is inferior to that of Cross Flow Micro filtered (CFM)
The CFM processing method uses a low temperature micro filtration technique that allows for the creation of extremely high protein contents (>88%), very low fat and lactose levels, the retention of vital nutrients, with virtually 0 levels of un-denatured proteins.
This process results in a more expensive product that is extremely high quality. If your budget allows it, I recommend finding an isolate powder with this mechanism of separation and preparation.
Filler can best be described as any substance that is non-protein. Therefore, flavouring ingredients or additional carbs and fats would fall into this category.
With any protein powder, a little filler must be present. However, there is a range. Crappy products lean toward the >50% filler range, while better ones are filtered and manufactured in a way so as to minimize filler (<5%).
If a product has a high yield percentage and an excellent BCAA to EAA ratio, it makes mathematical sense that the filler must constitute only a small portion percentage of the overall protein powder mass.
You've seen the "mouth watering taste" or “deliciously good!” claims.
Sometimes the product in question is so inedible and repulsive that it tastes somewhat expired.
If you miss a meal simply because your protein powder tastes terrible, you're getting zero value from your protein powder - no matter how cheap it was. So make sure that you purchase something that tastes decent.
Trying to drink chucks of sludge-like protein powder gets old quick.
The solution is to find a protein that mixes well in a simple shaker bottle - which most protein powders do these days.
If anything, you can resort to a blender to mix less "blend-able" proteins, but you're better off opting for "blend-ability".
The ultimate question is: Does this product work?
We buy products because we want one thing: Results.
So, hedge your knowledge with the advice of some of your athletic mentors. If they're getting results, they're leaving clues.
Supplement manufacturers are renown for marketing their products with outlandish promises. Do not buy into the hype of major companies that price their product far above and beyond what you really need to pay.
The only items of importance are that the product in question is composed of high quality ingredients and that the company or product has a longstanding, positive reputation. Plain and simple.
While artificial sweeteners may not be as harmful as some people claim, research suggests that regular consumption of these chemicals may indeed be harmful to our health (6).
You would do best to stay with naturally sweetened protein powders.
MSG is often used to hide the natural bitter flavor of whey. The safety of MSG consumption is the subject of continuous scientific debate and research.
That being said, recent research demonstrates that some people can experience intolerable symptoms upon ingesting it. Furthermore, when ingested in higher dosages MSG has the potential to be neuroactive in the brain (7).
Good advice: Stay clear of MSG products.
Milk protein from livestock treated with antibiotics and drugs may not be as bad as some people claim.
There is scientific evidence, however, pointing to the fact that it may increase the risk of disease in humans (8).
Studies have proved that the more grass cows eat (instead of other types of crap they are given), the more nutritious their milk and beef is (9).
The filtration process of whey does a good job of eliminating a lot of crap. That being said, if your budget allows, I would urge you to opt whey that comes from cows that have been grass fed and raised without antibiotics or the use of hormones.
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