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by Tolly Taylor on April 7, 2014

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Protein supplements are for goal-oriented people, right? So let’s lay out the goals for this article: one, help you figure out whether or not protein supplements are for you; two, help you figure out which supplements might suit you, and; three, give you tips for using them. Registered dietitian Alex Black is back to help us out.

Here’s what you need to know before you start buying and using protein supplements:

First, are they for you? According to Black, you shouldn’t be taking protein supplements if you’re trying to lose weight, and you probably don’t need to if you’re only going to the gym once or twice a week. For those trying to lose weight, real food is what you need, not protein powder after your workout and then food. Skip the supplement and wait to eat until you get home. For the average gym-goer, you once-to-twice a week types, you’re wasting your money. For you, there is no bang-for-your-buck, there are just bucks leaving your pocket.

On the other hand, if you have trouble gaining and maintaining weight and/or are currently training at a high volume, protein supplements could help.

Second, it’s important to know the three major types of protein powders: egg, soy, and milk proteins. Black and I focused on milk proteins—whey and casein—since they’re the most popular supplements.

What’s your price range? The quality of the supplement doesn’t necessarily depend on the price. There are good, cheap protein powders, and bad, expensive ones.

Here’s what four popular brands do for you:

We broke this into two price ranges, and the four brands were chosen from best sellers on the Amazon and GNC websites. Prices are based on website listings.

In the <$13 per pound price range, we looked at:

– CytoSport Muscle Milk (Chocolate Flavor): This powder uses casein as its protein. Unfortunately, this supplement has four ingredients that Black deems unnecessary: crystalline fructose, aspartame, soluble corn fiber, and sucralose. Basically, it’s a whole lot of sugar you’re putting in your body—natural and artificial—that you don’t need. There’s making your protein powder palatable, and then there’s adding sugar on sugar on sugar.

– Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard: This powder contains whey protein. While it does have aspartame, it doesn’t have three additional types of sugar. When you compare the Optimum with the CytoSport, Black says, “the Optimum’s winning.”

In the $13-$24 per pound price range, we looked at:

GNC Pro Performance AMP Whey Protein (Vanilla Flavor): Ding, ding, ding! Red flags galore here. Besides aspartame, this one also contains titanium dioxide, which is “made up of nano particles of titanium bits, and often found in sunscreen and skincare products.”

If you’re like me, you thought having a little metal in your blood stream wouldn’t be the worst thing. After all, look at Wolverine. As it turns out, though: not the best thing for you.

SFH (Stronger, Faster, Healthier) Pure Whey: This bad boy only has four ingredients. Four. CytoSport as 20, Optimum has nine, and GNC has 17. It does have one type of sugar—Stevia—but it’s “to date the safest low calorie sweetener on the market.” Plus, it contains a grass-fed protein.

Pretty much, if you can afford a slightly more expensive protein powder, this is the better choice. Overall, Black says, it’s important to first decide what your price point is, compare proteins within that price point, and then find one that has the fewest ingredients and the fewest ingredients that you’d have to look up.

Tips for use:

- Don’t use protein powder as a meal replacement; eat real food.

- Take the supplement within 15-30 minutes of a workout.

You can find all of Alex Black’s nutrition articles here and her article on protein powders here.

Tolly Taylor is a regular contributor to BroBible.

[Photo: Deymos Photo/Shutterstock]

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