Protein: This is single-handedly the most researched over the counter supplement in the history of sports nutrition. Consisting of a full spectrum of amino acids that include all the essential amino acids (EAA) including the popular branched chain amino acids (BCAA), the most common term that is thrown around from which people describe the mechanism by which protein benefits those looking to improve body composition such as increased lean muscle is protein synthesis. Even without exercise, the human body synthesizes protein from the dietary intake at a rapid rate while the body is growing through adolescence and into young adulthood. The rate at which protein is synthesized slows significantly after age 20 and this is the reason that even among active, highly trained adults, the actual rate of muscle growth will be far less in relative terms to that of a healthy teenager.
Now, while protein is and should be primarily consumed through whole foods, the need for additional protein in the form of supplementation definitely has its place. Whether it be a matter of convenience or the solid data behind supplementing with protein for its effects on protein synthesis and recovery, protein supplementation is here to stay. Now, while you have probably been beaten to death with the vast amount of protein options out there as anyone and everyone seems to have their own variation, there is a not so bright side of things when it comes to this part of the industry. I’ve been in the game for over 8 years now and I can tell you…there is a lot of things that aren’t brought up or known the by the layperson. With that being said, I might ruffle some feathers with this, but hey, the insight is something to mull over.
A Lot of It Comes from the Same Place
One thing that still shocks me is that a majority of people are under the impression that each company manufactures the products they sell themselves. This is far from the truth as very few companies do their own in-house manufacturing. Applying not only to protein powders, but pre-workouts, capsules, tablets…virtually all products they sell are more than likely made at one or more contract manufacturers for that company. This is a necessity as the astronomical cost of the manufacturing equipment, purchasing of raw materials, containers, etc. is an investment equating to a literal fortune before a product has even been produced to be sold. Regardless, of how much is being made you have to keep in mind, this is a perfect example of “You have to spend money to make money” and there is a sizeable investment up front needed to produce any product for sale before the task of selling to make that money back and then of course profit.
With this being said, companies that claim to have superior products over another are often times either sensationalizing things or they are blowing things a little bit out of proportion. It is true however that 2 companies can have a product such as a whey protein made at the exact same co-manufacturer and have a vast difference in the quality of ingredients used. This comes down to the desired cost of goods (COGS) they have decided to invest per unit of protein. The type of grade of protein such as Whey Protein Concentrate 34 (WPC34) vs Whey Protein Concentrate 80 (WPC80) is one such example. One company may use pure WPC80 to reach their label claim for protein while the other may use a blend of WPC34 and WPC80 to reach the desired label claim with cheaper material dropping cost down, yet both can simply list “Whey Protein Concentrate” on the ingredients and you would be none the wiser. This just demonstrates that the manufacturer isn’t what may make a brand superior, but the choice of formula the company opts to go with for their specific product.
It Might Not Be As Fresh as You Think
When a production run of protein is started, the ingredients for a particular product including protein powder, flavoring, sweeteners and excipients such as emulsifiers and thickeners are all measured out according to the batch specifications, combined in a mixing vat, and blended together to make the formula. The mixed product is then either moved directly over to the filling station or sometimes put in giant holding bags before it is filled into containers. This typically is a quick turnaround time and the container is then sealed and there is a lot number is stamped on the container that indicates the expiration date for that particular tub.
Most, if not all products have a 2-year shelf life, so for example, if a product is made in May 2018, the expiration would be May 2020. While a product past expiration to some degree isn’t necessarily dangerous, the problem is that the materials, just like any other substance degrade over time, and therefore, the older the material is, the less potent the actives are. A mix that is tested and verified to deliver 25g of protein when it is manufactured may only yield 20 or so grams if tested a few years later due to the degradation. Certain elements such as flavors, especially natural flavoring, can degrade much quicker and affect the taste of the protein.
With this in mind, the problem lies in what happens when we rewind to examine the raw materials that are being used. Mind you, the expiration date on the container is simply based on when the container was filled with the formulated blend…it doesn’t take into account how old the protein and materials used in the blend may be. For example, a manufacturer may have over-ordered a large quantity of whey protein back in December of 2016 and didn’t have the volume they expected. Now say it’s May of 2018 and that same protein is set to expire in December, yet taking the protein, mixing it for a product and putting it on a container with a fresh new lot number and expiration date somehow magically resets the age of the protein…Magic! Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing how old the material used may be in spite of the expiration date. The best you can do is purchase from reputable brands and trust that they do their due diligence to check the certificate of analysis for the materials that go into their product and demand that quality materials that aren’t in risk of expiring are used.
There is a Huge Variance in Protein Quality
As briefly alluded to earlier in the article, there can be a great degree of variation in the quality of materials used. While two proteins can be identical at a glance, it really comes down to the cost of goods that a company opted to go within producing the product. For example, a product may simply list ‘whey protein concentrate’ as the protein source in the ingredients. While one product may use pure WPC80 to reach their label claim for protein while the other may use a blend of WPC34 and WPC80 to reach the desired label claim with cheaper material dropping cost down, they both say simply “whey protein concentrate”.
Another example I’ve seen time and time again is label dressing. A product that may list Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate, and Whey Protein Hydrolysate may look great, but in reality, to get to the 25g of protein claimed on the label, they may use 22g of protein from the concentrate, 5g protein from the isolate to hit overage and ensure they make label claim and then add in 1mg of hydrolysate just to have it on the label. The same thing goes here for buying protein: To get the best quality, buy from reputable brands and remember that you’re paying for what you get…products may not be as equal as one might think.
While there are other shady things that I’ve seen go on in this industry unchecked for quite some time, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of great brands out there that care about the consumer and are in it for more than just making a profit. While it may seem daunting at first and that everyone is marketing about why their product is ‘better’, just take it all in with a grain of salt and remember that things aren’t as they appear sometimes.
Trusted Protein Powders
With all of the above taken into consideration, there’s still plenty of brands that are doing it the right way. When choosing a protein powder, make sure that you are going with a brand that you trust and one that is open about how their product is made. The below brands go above and beyond to make sure that their protein quality is at the highest level.
NutraBio – In-house manufacturing. 3rd party ingredients testing (results posted at checkmysupps.com). 100% full disclosure labels. Expiration dates from the date of raw goods manufacturing (not finished goods manufacturing). Only uses WPC80 for Classic Whey. Other proteins comprised of Isolate and/or casein.
MTS – All products manufactured in NSF Certified facility. Expiration dates from the date of raw goods manufacturing (not finished goods manufacturing). Uses WPC80 and Isolate.
Purus Labs – In-house manufacturing. Expiration dates from the date of raw goods manufacturing (not finished goods manufacturing). Uses only WPC80 for Myofeed.