What’s in your supplement? Part 1 – Protein Shakes


Hey there folks!

You may or may not know that I’m a huge fan of Fitness guru Martin Rooney. Martin has written many successful books and has worked with some of the worlds top athletes including elite MMA fighters. I had the pleasure of seeing Martin Rooney speak when he was hosting a seminar in the UK a few years ago at the Bodypower exhibition. One thing he said at that seminar has stayed in my mind so clearly ever since I first heard him say it. He said that people never question what they’re putting in their bodies, they walk around like zombies and consume whatever the supplement companies tell them to. That included people walking around the expo that weekend trying all sorts of free samples without even questioning what they were putting into their bodies.

We have grown to believe the supplement companies thanks to clever marketing and also trust in corporations. After all, they have our best interests at heart right? Well, maybe not so so let’s take a look over the next couple of posts about what make up your supplements.

Today, we’re going to talk about the number 1 staple of any fitness aficionado and that is the beloved protein shake!

Protein shakes are sold in many different forms. It can be quite confusing but there are so many varieties of shakes out there. Post workout shakes, pre bedtime shakes, meal replacement powders (MRPs) Ready to drink shakes (RTDs) etc etc…

The protein in your protein shake can also come from a variety of sources and each even have grades of quality.

The most popular amons the sources of protein in protein shakes is Whey Protein.
Whey is a derivative of the cheese making industry. To put it bluntly, whey is the waste that is left over from turning milk into cheese. Through a refining process, whey protein powder is derived. Whey protein is seen as the gold standard when it comes to protein in protein shakes.

Three types of whey protein are most commonly available on the market. They vary in quality and price. These include:

Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) – Whey protein concentrate usually contains about 70-80% protein. It is sometimes seen as inferior to whey protein isolate however, it still has benefits though gram for gram, contain less protein and sometimes more fat than whey protein Isolates. WPCs are cheaper to purchase than WPI or Hydrolized whey proteins and usually are found in cheaper brands of protein powders. WPCs can contain lactose and fats.

Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) – As the name suggests, The protein in WPI’s are isolated. In other words, through a complicated process, the protein is seperated from fat, lactose etc. This means that whey protein isolates often of 90-96%. Because it is a “purer” protein source than WPC, it is absorbed faster by the body however, because of the isolation process, WPI’s are often more expensive than WPCs’ There are various methods for doing this including micofiltering and Ion exchange.

Hydrolized Whey Protein – Hydrolized whey is basically processed so that the protein is broken down into peptides. It is therefore more rapidly absorbed by the body than both WPC and WPI and although the supplement companies have touted that this type of protein is crucial to your post workout recovery, there has been little evidence to truly support this claim other than the theory (which isn’t so bad).

In conclusion to whey protein, It is a great choice providing you’re not a vegan due to it’s quality and amino acid profile. Infact, it is the most amino dense source of protein out of those i’m listing and that is why it is the go to choice for supplement companies and fitness people alike. As to which of the three to take,  I personally recommend taking a good blend of the three proteins by a reputable company.

Soy Protein is quite a controversial protein source within the fitness industry. Some gurus say don’t touch the stuff with a barge pole, especially if you’re a man and don’t want to grow a vagina however, it was a staple alternative to whey protein to those who were vegan or had an intolerance to dairy products. Soy protein isolate is derived from extracting the protein from a soy bean. It is usually low in fat due to this process and unlike whey protein, doesn’t denature as easily. Soy has been known to be hard to digest but soy protein isolate can be digested fairly easy although absorption of soy protein is slow.
Many people are concerned over the estrogen found in soy protein, which for men, especially those trying to gain muscle, is a big no no and can lead to some nasty side effects and studies conducted at  the US Toxicological Laboratory in Arkansas, isoflavones (substances that are like estrogen and occur in abundance in the soybean) may actually be thyroid depressing compounds. However, providing that the Isoflavones are extracted from the soy protein, this may not be a major concern or indeed, if you’re female. There is however more bad news for soy protein according to experts than good. On the plus side, Soy protein has been shown to lower cholestorol and aid in fat loss but for me personally, Soy is a poor quality and frankly cheap protein compared to whey. If you are a vegan or intollerant to dairy, the good news is that Hemp Protein is now gaining in popularity and credibility within the fitness industry.

On that note, let’s talk about Hemp protein. As the name suggests, hemp is derived from the cannabis plant but don’t worry, it won’t get you high! hemp protein is gaining widely in popularity these days as it is seen as the most complete and highest source of protein for a plant derived protein source. Hemp protein has a full spectrum of amino acids and contains omega 3 essential fatty acids. It is suitable for vegans and is by far the best choice as an alternative to whey protein if you’re a vegan or intolerant to dairy produce. Hemp protein usually is 47% protein and is high in fiber.

Eggs have been regarded as one of the kings of protein by the body building community for a long long time. Everyone remembers seeing Rocky Balboa make up a crude protein shake up by cracking a few raw eggs into a glass and downing it. Thankfully, we don’t need to be that drastic as Egg Protein is available in a safe powdered form these days. Albumin, which is the protein found in the egg white, has a very high biological value and is rich in amino acids. It is also very easily digestible and inexpensive. Of course, if you have an intolerance or allergy to eggs, this should be avoided. Egg protein is commonly found in protein blends these days but can be bought as a stand alone powder.

Casein is the protein you find in milk and due to its slow absorption rate and issues with regards to intolerance and its effect on causing flatulance. It has recently come back into the spot light because of its slow absorption rate and is hailed as a great protein to consume before bed time to provide slow release protein during night. Casein clots in the stomach allowing it to be slowly released and Micellar Casein is said to be the best kind because it is the most natural and easily digested form of Casein. There has been debate over which is better, Casein or Whey but both can be good choices although Casein would be the better choice before a fasted period such as before going to bed.

Pea Protein and Rice proteins are two other plant based protein sources that are found in protein supplements. They are isolated proteins from their respected sources (peas and rice, who would have guessed?!) and are usually fairly good for people with intolerances and are vegan friendly however, they are both relatively cheap but are incomplete in their Amino acid profiles. If you are a vegan and wanting a protein shake, many recommend a blend of rice, pea and hemp.

Protein quality

The quality of protein is usually measured by its Biological Value or BV. BV indicates the absorption rate of a protein in the human body. In the beginning, eggs were seen as the most easily absorbed source and was given a BV rating of 100 however, since science took over where nature left off and whey protein and isolates were available, certain sources of protein exceed the 100 mark. Below is a table of most of the above sources mentioned and their BV

Whey Protein – 106-159
Egg Protein – 100
Casein  –  77-80
Rice Protein – 83
Soy Protein – 74
Pea Protein – 65

(I could not find a BV for hemp protein at this time)

Other ingredients added to protein shakes:

Well this article could go on forever but i’d like to just focus on a few added ingredients supplement companies include in their protein shakes very briefly just to round this post up. They will include:

Branch Chain Amino Acids

Creatine is a very popular supplement and can also be found in many foods such as red meat. Creatine monohydrate is stored in the muscle and can promote to anaerobic energy since our bodies use creatine phosphate during short bouts of intense exercise or stress. Creatine is also a “cell volumiser” which basically means that it fills the muscles with water making them not only feel bigger and fuller but also keep them hydrated so they perform better. Creatine is often added to post workout formulas or mass gain formulas.

Glutamine is a non essential amino acid (meaning it can be formed by the body) and is known for its muscle tissue rebuilding and sparing properties. Supplement companies often fortify their protein shakes with added glutamine for this reason.

Branch Chain Amino Acids are the three essential amino acids,  leucine, isoleucine, and valine which unlike other amino acids, are metabolised in the muscle rather than the liver. Branch chain amino acids are known to aidin muscle growth, repair, energy, recovery and strength. For an athlete or anyone that regularly trains, supplementing with BCAAs is a good idea and stacks well with glutamine. A good protein shake should contain these BCAAs.


What else is in there?

Other than the above, you’ll also find thickening agents and sweeteners. Most supplement companies have ditched the rather controversial sweetener Aspartame for the more favourable sucralose though some, including The Protein works, have Stevia options.

So which shake do I choose?

This is fundamentally the million dollar question and it all depends on your goals. As with most things in life, if you choose cheaper products and brands, the chances are you’re going to get a cheap and inferior product (Although there are companies out there selling cheap products but selling them at premium prices)

If you’re looking for an all round protein shake, go for a whey blend and if you’re a vegan or intolerant to dairy, you could go for a hemp or one of the plant based alternatives. Stick to established brands. One i’d recommend is The protein works as they offer great quality products with good taste and have lots of offers regularly. If you’re brave, you could also formulate your own blend. Other brands that definitely get my nod include BSN, MusclePharm, USN, Gaspari Nutrition, Nutrex, MHP and Optimum Nutrition.

So there you have it, a little info about what’s in your protein shakes. In the next installment, I’ll share with you what goes into your preworkout! If you liked this article then please please please could you share it on facebook and tweet it so that your friends can read it too? I’d really appreciate that, thanks!

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About the Author Fahad

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