To say that all serious athletes implement protein shakes is a fair statement. However, with endless options available, those same athletes are likely not taking into account all the considerations about to be discussed. The truth about protein powders is often a topic of misconception in this industry. As a top level IFBB professional athlete, even I am guilty of going for taste and brand familiarity. For several years, I used solely Beverly International products. Recently, I have been into the innovative flavors from Divine Nutrition. When I first began competing, I heavily researched all the different protein powder facts and analyzed everything that I consumed. In my recent years, I have fallen out of touch on what to look for and what to look out for when it comes to protein powders.
After reaching out to the following three supplement companies that I am most connected with and trust, I received a great refresher and have some new found standards that I hope you too can appreciate and consider when selecting protein powder. I asked the following questions to representatives Steven Wade from Beverly International, Lou DeNofrio from Divine Nutrition, and Brian King from Titan Nutrition all independent of one another. What I found were very interesting “red flags” for the consumer, different perspectives within common threads of thought, and one difference in opinion regarding “grass fed” cows as you will see below.
What are the keywords to seek when purchasing protein powder both in the way it is processed and additional ingredients?
Concentrate, Isolate, Hydrolyzed. Milk is filtered which creates concentrate, concentrate is then filtered more to become isolate, isolate is even filtered more to become hydrolyzed. Divine Nutrition
Isolates and Hydrolysates; Whey Isolate, Hydrolysate and Milk Protein Isolate. These should be near the top of the ingredient lists. This is something that can’t be manipulated by the company per regulations. How it’s processed can be embellished or touted incorrectly and shouldn’t impact your decision too much. Beverly International
Cold Filtered. When choosing a protein blend that includes isolates and concentrates, use products that are filtered without the use of heat. Heating the protein speeds the separation process but damages the amino acid chains. Cold processed concentrate proteins have a higher yield than their heat filtered counterpart. Titan Nutrition
Look for microfiltered whey isolate vs ion filtration as it is a more natural process using filters, never heating the product, to separate the isolated proteins. Titan Nutrition
What are the keywords to avoid when purchasing protein powder both in the way it’s processed and the additional ingredients?
Anything artificial. Divine Nutrition
Ion Filtration adds chemicals to the whey and while it does not “heat” the protein, it does give it an electrical charge to speed the separation process. Titan Nutrition
Additional ingredients. The only thing I would recommend enhancing your protein powder with is digestive enzymes to maximize nutrient absorption.
A good clean protein source is expensive. You don’t want it “enhanced” with cheaper ingredients. This is where amino spiking became popular to cheapen protein powders. Companies would use x amount of protein then mix in a cheap amino acid in large quantities and still call it protein even though the amino acid breakdown was way off when tested. Titan Nutrition
Proprietary blend is biggest thing to avoid as companies can organize their list of ingredients out of order. You will probably get more of the cheapest and least effective ingredients and less of the effective ingredients than you think you are. In the end, you don’t really have any idea what you are getting with a proprietary blend. Beverly International
Why are there different size scoops even within a same brand and product at times?
Different flavors of the same product can often have slightly different sized scoops. This is because different flavors can have more or less ingredients (to create the flavor) than one another. Also there can be a different consistency or fluffiness/volume with different flavoring ingredients. I can’t speak for other companies, but our labs even do product settling tests, where each batch of powder is tested in ways to replicate shipping and even sitting on a shelf for months and determining how much, if any the product settles after canning. This is to make sure that the scoop size will correctly deliver the serving size consistently. Beverly International
Typically protein is bought in 2 and 5lb containers. More and more I see 2lb protein containers that are actually 1.78 or 1.82 lbs. Then they add a smaller scoop that yields only 20g so you get the same servings/container. What your missing is about 5g of protein in each scoop. That adds up! A quality 5lb container should again contain a full 5 lbs of product and will yield around or over 70 servings of 24g of protein. Any less and you either didn’t get a full 5lbs or the protein quality is such that it has a lower yield. If a bigger scoop has to be used to get the same amount of protein per serving you’ll end up with less servings/container. Titan Nutrition
How do you know you’re getting a good deal for your dollar as far as volume of product?
A slight amount of carbohydrate (4g) and small amount of fat (1g) is acceptable. Stay away from products that have 10+ carbs in a serving. You’re buying PROTEIN. Don’t pay for cheap fillers. Titan Nutrition
You can never just go by who is giving you the largest quantity of product for the least cost. That usually means you are just getting very cheap and poor quality product. You have to compare apples to apples. Like comparing one companies Whey Protein Hydrolysate to another. But even this is only an apples to apples comparison if the ingredient is listed in a similar place on both products. For example, you might compare one product that has WPH as one of the first two ingredients and another that has WPH listed as the seventh ingredient. You can be sure that the latter of the two products would have hardly any WPH in it. Beverly International
What’s all the hype about grass fed whey and is it important or not?
Grass Fed proteins are popular now and for good reason. They contain almost zero omega 6 fatty acids, the fats responsible for inflammation. They are hormone free and gluten free. Titan Nutrition
Meat and dairy sourced from grass-fed cows have been found to be significantly higher in nutritional value than that from cows that are grain-fed. Grass-fed diets for cows promote a more favorable internal pH environment, which provides beneficial bacteria as well as a broader nutritional content to the cow. The amount of the fatty acid, conjugate linoleic acid (CLA) is 3-5 times higher in grass-fed whey compared to commercial whey products. CLA has been shown to enhance muscle growth and metabolism, which helps the body to burn fat. Consuming a diet that includes grass-fed meat and dairy has many potential nutrition benefits such as greater nutrient availability, higher CLA and a boost in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats benefit the body by acting as an anti-inflammatory.
Grass-fed whey protein provides an optimal biological value and is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids and a higher concentration (approximately 25%) of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) than any other non-whey protein source.
Grass-fed whey protein concentrates better preserve naturally occuring protein fractions called immunglobulins than commercial whey protein isolates. This allows the alpha lactoglobulins and lactoferrins to help boost the immune system and increase production of your body most powerful antioxidant glutathhione. Divine Nutrition
This really has no impact on the quality of a protein powder. A grass fed vs non grass fed protein powder will not build muscle or burn fat any different than one another. In the end, it’s still the same protein. If you are eating a steak from the cow, I’m sure you’ll taste a difference in the meat and can justify personal preferences to one or the other. But protein powders are several steps down the line of consumption. Grass fed protein powder vs non grass fed is indistinguishable to your body. A true grass fed protein powder would be unnecessarily expensive also, because the manufacturer would be limited to a very small population of cattle sources, because grass can only grow in certain places all year around. And most of the cows that produce the majority of milk and cheese we consume don’t live in these areas. Beverly International
What are the different sources of where protein even comes from?
The best dairy protein sources are actually right here in the United States. We have an exceptional dairy industry. New Zealand is a great source too. Egg is the other most effective source for a bodybuilding protein and US sources are also best for this. Beverly International
What are the different types of proteins found in protein powder and when is it optimal to use which ones?
Whey Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Hydrolysate, Whey Protein Concentrate, Milk Protein Isolate, Egg White, Micellar Casein, Calcium Caseinate are all good sources in your best protein powders. On a scientific level, Whey proteins have advantages at times like pre or post training when you want something that digests and gets in your system quicker. MPI, and caseins on the other hand are slower release and stay with you a little longer, so they’re a good choice as a meal replacement or before bed. But ultimately the quality of the protein you are consuming is far more important than timing. And it’s hard to go wrong with any combination of these. Beverly International
Whey Isolates are one of the quickest and most absorbed of all the proteins. More expensive then concentrate, which is only 70% protein on average and less expensive than its big brother Hydrolyzed which is the purest and highest quality protein available. Isolate is about 90% protein. Isolate is great for the low carb dieters seeing that most isolates are low in sugar as well as fat. Isolates are great pre & post workout or any other time of the day. Divine Nutrition
What “blend” is best and why is this important?
A blend is generally better than any singular source. All proteins have strengths and weaknesses in their amino acid profile. And when you combine sources together each one will bolster the other and fill in the gaps of what might be missing from one another. This helps you to utilize more of your protein overall for muscle growth. A combination of Whey, casein and egg gives you the best of all areas and a very strong amino acid profile. MPI is a natural blend on its own because it’s the native protein in milk and is about 80% casein and 20% whey. Beverly International
So there you have it…the weigh in on what YOU should be considering when seeking protein powders if they are a part of your meal plan. With all the endless options out there, it is easy to lose sight of the important factors so happy hunting to a more knowledgeable and empowered YOU!
Autumn Swansen, Physical Therapist, Doctor of PT
IFBB WPD Olympian and Arnold Champion
ISSA Certified Personal Trainer & Nutritionist