It’s marketing war out there in proteinshakistan. Good luck trying to make an informed choice by reading the labels of all the brands of protein shakes available.
So let’s come together and try to bring some clarity to what the shakes actually contain and discuss if there’s any space for protein shakes in a clean diet.
If nothing else I hope you can help me to make up my mind: to supplement or not to supplement, that is the question.
This article is the first of two looking at protein supplementation and in the first part I’ll take a look at dairy based protein powders and whey protein in particular.
With age, turning 39 in June, and keep working out regularly and intensely I find that my recovery time is increasing. Over the past 20 years I have used protein shakes, mainly gainer products with 1:4 protein and carbs ratio, on and off in cycles of my heavy weight lifting phases, and I’ve experienced amazing gains. The key benefit has been improved recovery time allowing me to workout harder, more often and with full power, meaning a feeling that my body responds to load with a “kick-ass attitude”. And as a result good gains in muscle mass and strength.
Although I’ve experienced fantastic results from using protein supplementation I have feeling that it’s not very healthy, neither in the short nor in the long-term, and I’ll talk more about that in the next article. I think it’s important to add that I’ve use protein supplements as a compliment to a paleo diet and plenty of good sleep. I strongly believe that a solid foundation of good habits is critical for gains and that supplementation is only that – supplementation. Supplements as food replacement is a convenient way of fuelling up your body on the run but I do not believe in protein shakes as core strategy for neither weight gain nor weight loss. Learning how to eat well is the foundation – eating clean is not a diet, it is a lifestyle.
Is a protein shake a protein shake a protein shake?
No. People talk about protein shakes as a collective name for two different things: protein shakes which is only that – protein powder mixed with a liquid, or a gainer shake which is a mix of proteins and carbohydrates (sugar) plus a liquid. The established rule for optimal ration between protein and carbs in a gainer is 1:4. And to complicate things further there are many different types of proteins used in the shakes – read on!
My whey, high whey or some other whey?
I have strong reservations against dairy as food for humans and outlined some of that in my article Milk – our favorite poison?. The biggest immediate concern I have is about casein and my longer terms concern is about the disease and medication that cattle may carry through to humans.
I could go non-dairy based protein supplementation such as pure egg protein or vegan protein supplementation but I’ll leave that discussion for a future article.
Casein makes up approximately 80% of the protein in cow milk and is frequently used in protein supplements and is positioned as a very beneficial “slow release protein”. The “slow release” is correct and according to some research also the key reason one should avoid it – the body can simply not digest casein and it forms mucus that clogs up your digestive system reducing uptake of nutrients. It’s actually so great at clogging up the system that casein is used as glue. While casein does break down and is slowly absorbed in intestines it’s never completely absorbed and leaves approximately 10% residue in adults. A residue that keeps your immune system busy and diverted from protecting you from illness.
The other 20% of the protein in cow milk is whey. It’s actually a waste product from cheese manufacturing that very successfully has been turned into the most praised (legal) sports supplement around. Whey contains the branched chained amino acids (BCAA) leucine, isoleucine and valine which are essential to building and maintaining lean muscle. However it’s also loaded with lactose, unprocessed dry whey as much as 70-80%. Approximately 65% of the western population suffer from lactose intolerance causing a range of annoying issues such as flatulence, bloating and digestion issues.
However, whey protein as a food supplement comes in many forms, from the cheapest high lactose version of dried whey powder to purer whey protein isolates to the purest and “fastest” form of hydrolyzed whey protein. For a in-depth explanation of the different types of whey protein check out the two articles I linked to at the bottom of this post.
For now, let’s agree that micro/nano-filtered whey has the best combination of purity (5% lactose) and a high percentage of essential BCAAs intact. If possible with some hydrolyzed whey mixed in as research shows that it’s an effective and clean way of boosting blood amino acids and insulin levels pre and post workout.
So, if I go with dairy based protein powder supplementation I have narrowed it down to micro/nano filtered whey mixed with hydrolyzed whey.
This seems pretty good so far…. BUT I have some major concerns about protein powder supplementation. Stay tuned for the second part of this series on protein powder supplementation to learn about my 3 top health concerns using protein powder supplementation.
What are your thoughts on protein powder supplementation in general and whey protein in particular? Share your thoughts in comments!
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