Humans are simple creatures, we love exciting words and flashy headlines. Protein marketers know this, and bet on it. Take a stroll through the protein isle of any store and you will be assaulted with labels claiming all sorts of things. “100g of protein” “lean muscle” “Miccellular Isolate Whey” are some of the common things. This is all to capture your attention. They hope you buy protein the same way you buy toilet paper, whichever brand looks and sounds the best. I will post another article explaining the pros and cons of each protein source and which one is right for you! This post will just touch on reading a label properly so you don’t get screwed over. You don’t need to be an expert to know how to spot a lower quality product, here are some quick tips:
The Ingredient List
Protein companies are required to list ingredients in the order of greatest quantity. The first couple of ingredients are usually the bulk of the supplement. This is the first thing you look for. If the supplement says whey isolate on the front in flashy letters (the priciest form of whey) it better damn well have whey isolate as the first ingredient listed. If you ever see “proprietary blend” as the first ingredient be cautious. This means there’s a certain blend of each ingredient that they won’t disclose. They could say 25 grams of protein but have it all in their own proprietary blend. This means they can have 5 grams of the expensive high quality protein like isolate and 20 grams of a cheap protein like concentrate. Don’t ever buy a supplement that says proprietary blend. The company should be honest with you and disclose where and how much of each source of protein that have.
Protein Per Calories
We’ve all seen those high calorie protein powders. The ones that come with a measuring cup as a scooper. Do you think you really need to be getting extra calories from your protein powder? I personally always recommend getting your calories from real food, and using a supplement as a snack to hold you over before your next meal. Most forms of protein come with some kind of fat, and added carbs (for taste). The trick is finding out what percent of the calories are coming from protein vs carbs and fat. For example: Do you choose the protein that has 32g of protein per serving but is 300 calories? Or do you choose the protein with 20g of protein and 100 calories? The first option may seem more enticing but only 40% of it’s calories come from protein. The second option is at 88% from protein. To find out how many calories are coming from protein simply multiply the grams of protein by 4 (1g of protein = 4 calories). Take that number and divide it from the total amount of calories per serving and that will give you the percent. A good Protein per calorie range is in the 80 percent range, if it’s unflavored it can get in the 90’s.
Current methods for measuring the amount of protein in a supplement measure the amount of nitrogen is has. Protein is made up of amino acids, which all contain nitrogen. This would work out perfectly if companies only used complete proteins like whey, casein, or egg. Some companies like to add additional amino acids on top of their complete sources to increase the protein per serving. This is because amino acids are cheaper to manufacture than protein. They may add essential aminos like BCAA’s which could benefit you, but they can also add non-essential aminos that do you no additional benefit. Most companies won’t disclose added aminos so there is not much you can do about spotting this. One way to tell is to check the ingredient list, look for amino acids (they all have complicated names that end with “ine”). If they’re listed as ingredients it probably means they were added in extra. So you could have a supplement with 25 grams of protein, but it could also have 5 grams of glutamine added to it. So you’re left with 20 grams of protein and 5 grams of glutamine (which won’t benefit you)
Know Why You’re Taking It
There are at least 10 different kinds of protein. Some are similar, some are vastly different. You need to know why you’re taking it. Here is a quick summary of the more common proteins you’ll see:
Whey: Protein from milk that breaks down quickly in body.
Casein: Another type of milk protein. Because this type is digested more slowly, it’s ideal for providing your body with smaller amounts of protein for a longer period or time—such as between meals or while you sleep.
Concentrate: Contains slightly more carbohydrates and fat than purer forms, but also contains more health-promoting components. Can be clumpy.
Isolate: A purer form of whey, filtered more so essentially all of the fat is removed.
Hydrolyzed protein: Protein broken down into smaller fractions, so it’s absorbed into your body faster than a concentrate or isolate.
Milk protein: An ingredient that mirrors milk’s protein composition—80 percent casein, 20 percent whey.
Know why you’re taking a type of protein and you won’t fall for this. If you’re taking it post workout and need some calories quickly, choose a form of whey. If you have some extra money you can go with an isolate or hydrolyzed, they tend to digest even faster than regular whey concentrate. If you need a protein to hold you over over to digest slowly through the night, go with a form of casein. Casein will digest slower because of the way it breaks down in your body. So it is recommended to hold you over between meals or through the night.
Now you have the tools necessary to go out into the protein isle with your head held high. Be brave, and don’t fall for protein supplement tricks. Now go, be free, and get shredded for me!