Regular, intense weight training and other strenuous forms of exercise can put the body under enormous stress and greatly increase its need for certain nutrients. One of these is protein. While estimates vary as to how much protein a person needs per day, it is clear that weight training athletes need more of the stuff than the average person, and for that reason many bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts use supplements to make sure they get enough. Whey protein powder remains the most popular supplemental form of protein out there, and is a mainstay of almost any serious bodybuilder’s supplement regimen.
There’s a few things to look out for when picking a whey protein product, so I thought I’d share a few tips on how to pick a good one here. I hope you find them helpful.
- Pick a reputable brand. Seriously, this is more important than most people realize. When tested in independent laboratories, many protein supplements are found to not live up to their claims ingredients wise. Commonly, these fraudulent products may contain vast quantities of stuff like maltodextrin – which is relatively cheap – and much less of the costlier protein than it says on the can, which is a bummer for anyone who has purchased the product, as protein was probably what they were after and now they’re unknowingly consuming less of it than they think they are. Also, you might be shocked to learn what some of the “manufacturing plants” of these companies look like; One partially home based outfit I know of started out making their products in their bathtub. The picture really isn’t pretty. You don’t want to stuff your body with contaminated crap three times a day. Instead, pick a product from someone who has a really good reason to take care of their good name and reputation – and that usually means that they have been in business for a good long while.
- If you don’t like the taste, you aren’t going to keep using it. It can actually be pretty hard to make a protein product taste good, and it shows. While most protein supplements today taste amazing compared to the chalky, ill tasting crap we used to gulp down in the eighties, some companies still struggle to get it right, and end up losing a lot of business as a result. You shouldn’t have to buy a poor tasting whey protein, however, as whey owns much of its popularity to the fact that it not only tends to taste much better than other proteins, but also is a lot easier to mix. You will find few popular whey protein products that taste awful, and as these things often come in different flavors, finding one that suits you is often usually pretty straight forward. Chocolate, vanilla (partly because you can easily mix it with other flavors) and strawberry are probably the safest bets, but I’ve also found some excellent tasting banana and orange flavors – although these are fewer and farther in between. Lately I’ve been using Scitec Nutrition’s Protein Delite, which is definitely one of my personal favorites taste wise. While great taste will usually come at the expense of a little less protein content and more flavoring and sweetener (or sugar), I’ll gladly make that sacrifice (up to a point) if it means I’m going to be able to enjoy my protein drink without a clothes peg on my nose.
- Don’t buy bulk of something you havent’ tried before. Buying bulk can seem like a good idea economically, but that’s only if you know that you will actually be using all fifteen pounds of the stuff. Last time I checked, half used cans of protein powder weren’t a big hit on Ebay, so if you buy a can the size of a small kid you probably want to make sure that you’re already a fan.
- Read the label. One reason why I almost exclusively shop my supplements online is that it’s a lot easier to have a good look at what types of ingredients the manufacturer has decided to put in them. Not only do I need to know what the sources of protein are, but I also want to know if unhealthy chemicals of any kind are added.
- Know what constitutes “good ingredients.” Basically, a higher percentage of protein is of course always better (as long as it doesn’t interfere with the taste too much, of course). If most of the calories in a product that markets itself as a protein product are coming from either carbohydrates of fat, it probably isn’t a good product, and was in all likelihood very cheap to make. Also, there are different forms of whey protein available, and to be very brief, most often you’ll find the product containing either whey protein isolate or whey protein concentrate, or both. Whey protein isolate better than whey protein concentrate, but if you’re going to pay a lot more per gram of the former than you’re paying for the latter, I honestly can’t say if the difference is going to be worth it. Most products that are considered high quality usually contain a great deal of whey protein isolate, though, let me state that.
- Know that a whey protein product can be of excellent quality even if it also contains other sources of protein. While whey is a good quality, fast acting protein and might also have several important health benefits, we’ve seen research over the last few years that more than suggest that it’s not the end all, be all of proteins. For instance, Casein – the form that is roughly four times more abundant in milk than whey – has shown itself as highly valuable for people wanting to put on muscle. Casein is a slow acting protein, which means that as your body repairs and builds tissue in between your workouts, it can benefit from the more constant supply of amino acids that casein supplies. While consuming your whey protein powder with milk will also give you some casein, we see no reason to not have some of it added to our whey protein, other than the fact that casein might be a bit harder to mix than whey. That way you can avoid having to consume large quantities of milk, which is probably a good thing for everyone who is not a baby cow. A type of protein you do not want in your whey protein, though: soy. Soy is not a quality protein, and I don’t recommend soy products to anyone – and certainly not bodybuilders. In a later article we will discuss the reasons why soy is not something you should be eating.
- Don’t pick a protein supplement on the basis of someone telling you about the amazing results they got from using it. Basically, whey protein is a food product, not some magic ingredient that has the effect that, say, anger and frustration had on Bruce Banner. Using a protein supplement is just a way to help ensure that your body gets enough of the stuff, and it really is just a supplement, nothing more. That’s why you won’t read any reviews on protein powders here that state things like “I put on 20 lbs of mass with this product, dude!” We recommend using a whey protein product to most people who spend a great deal of time in the gym, but don’t expect miraculous results.
- Know that more ingredients isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes a manufacturer will try to make their product look good by stuffing it with a ton of different ingredients that by themselves are considered to be beneficial. The problem with that approach, however, is that unless your daily intake approaches a large can a day, you probably aren’t going to get much out of the minute doses of ginseng, ashwaganda, creatine, tribulus, magnesium, caffeine, echinacea, valerian root, horny goat weed, chromium, acai, acetyl-L-canitine and boron that your new wonder product contains.
- If you’re not a fan of artificial sweeteners, consider using a product that uses a natural alternative like stevia. Products like Jay Robb Whey Protein (which we personally love) contain stevia, and more and more bodybuilders, health and fitness enthusiasts seem to be turning to those.
- Expect to try out a few different products before you find one that you absolutely love. After all, nobody can tell you if you will like the taste of something or not. I personally like to order a few smallish cans of different brands at once, which lets me both compare the differences in taste as well as allow me to use a different brand each day so that I don’t get sick of any one taste.
Hope you found my little guide helpful, and if you have any questions or – even better – recipes for great tasting protein drinks, let me know!
(Note: Whey is a by-product of cheese production, and if you don’t use any dairy products at all then the wonders of whey protein were probably not meant for you. Good alternatives to consider would be products containing egg or pea protein. As already mentioned, we urge you to stay away from soy products of any kind, with the possible exception of those containing only fermented soy. You aren’t likely to run into a fermented soy protein powder any time soon, though.)