How To Pick A Protein Supplement By: Nathan Diaz, R.D. Nutrition for Performance
I’m really pleased to share the following information by Nathan Diaz from Nutrition for Performance. He is a sport & performance dietitian, having earned his B.S. in Biology from the University of Central Florida in 2012, and a M.S. in nutrition from Florida International University in 2016. As a credentialed dietitian through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Nate is the co-owner of Nutrition For Performance LLC. (NFP), a virtual nutrition coaching practice. Through NFP’s proprietary process known as The Competitive Edge System™, Nate has helped hundreds of athletes gain their competitive edge free of cookie-cutter meal plans, endless pills and restrictive diets. In addition, he teaches culinary skills that help his clients translate their nutrition knowledge into delicious meals that are both nutritious and delicious.
Click on the link below to reach Nathan Diaz if you have any questions about your nutrition!
How To Pick A Protein Supplement
By: Nathan Diaz, R.D. Nutrition for Performance
Have you ever walked into a supplement store only to be stunned by all the different protein powders on the shelves? It can be overwhelming! Where do you even start? How do you know if one is better than the other? How do you know if a particular brand is safe to ingest?
With its flashing labels and empty promises, the protein supplement market can become cloudy in terms of which one is right for you. If you don’t know the questions to ask, you can feel lost and confused, and even pay top dollar for a sub-par product. Before getting into the questions, it’s important to first understand what exactly is protein and what its primary uses are.
Protein is a complex macronutrient that’s essential for building muscle mass and enzyme formation, allowing the body to function at its optimal level. When ingested, this complex macronutrient gets broken down into smaller building blocks known as amino acids. Some amino acids are produced by the body (non-essential) while others need to come from the diet (essential).
There are several different avenues in which we can get our protein. These include plants, animals, and protein powders.
The issue with protein powders is they’re not all created equal. In some cases, this can be detrimental to your health and in the case of athletes, your careers. This article will teach you how to distinguish which protein powder is optimal for your performance. You’ll be equipped with a mental checklist that will help you navigate any supplement marketplace to ensure you’re putting the best in your body.
Let’s jump right in!
There are three main questions you MUST ask yourself when choosing the right protein powder for you:
- Is it third party tested/certified?
- What is the amino acid profile?
- Does it contain more than just protein?
- What is the quality of the protein powder?
Is it third party tested and certified?
The first thing you should consider when choosing a protein supplement is whether or not it’s third party tested, preferably through NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) or Informed Choice.
When a supplement is third party tested, that means a company not affiliated with the supplement company (hence, third party) comes in and evaluates the supplement to vouch for its quality. More specifically, they ensure there are no banned substances in the product and that what the supplement company has on the label is in fact what’s in the product.
By reading the label, you become fully aware of what’s going into your body. It’s your seal of approval that the product you’re buying is safe.
Whether you’re a professional athlete or a weekend warrior, ensuring your product is safe and free of banned substances should always be top priority.
What is the amino acid profile?
Next, you need to consider the amino acid profile, specifically the three branched chain amino acids. We need to look at leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The ideal profile would be a 2:1:1 ratio, respectively. Anything less is not as effective; anything more is excess that’s not needed.
Think of muscle building as a switch and leucine as the person turning the switch on. When there’s not enough leucine, the muscle building switch stays off. When you have adequate amounts of leucine, the switch gets turned on. The goal of building muscle is to keep that switch turned on as often as possible.
Does it contain more than just protein?
More often than not, supplement companies give taste to their product by using “fillers.” Though great taste is important, it should not be at the expense of nutritional profile. Some proteins taste so bad that companies need to add sugar and fat so their product has a halfway decent flavor to it. But your protein supplement should be just that: a protein supplement. It’s not a meal replacement. Look for powders with minimal sugar and fat added.
What type of protein is it?
Let’s look at the different types of protein and how they affect muscle building. When it comes to animal based protein powders, there are three main types. Whey Isolate, Whey Concentrate, and Casein.
We’ll get into the difference between whey concentrate and whey isolate later, but for now, let’s distinguish between whey and casein.
Whey is considered a fast digesting protein, which is great for supplementation, especially around your workouts.
Casein is a slow digesting protein. That means it takes a lot longer for casein protein to get broken down and absorbed versus it’s protein brother, whey. Though this is not ideal around training sessions, this is a great option to take before bed to continue the muscle building process.
A study was conducted to determine which protein, whey or casein, was best for optimizing muscle protein synthesis. The results showed that muscle protein synthesis was optimized in the group that took whey protein immediately after exercise versus casein protein.
Think of your muscles as a sponge. After a workout, they are depleted and in need of protein, like a sponge needing water. What do you think is more ideal? A protein that takes a longer time to get digested and absorbed, or one that gets broken down and absorbed quickly? Probably the latter.
Now that we’ve determined that whey is the best protein around training sessions, let’s now discuss which whey protein is optimal, isolate or concentrate.
Which protein is optimal?
Whey concentrate is a less filtered form of whey that contains some amounts of milk sugars (lactose) and fats. It is lower in cost, but of a lesser quality per scoop (~15g protein per scoop).
Whey isolate on the other hand is a more filtered form of whey that removes excess sugars and fats, giving you a more pure product. It is slightly higher in cost, but of higher quality per scoop (~25g protein per scoop).
By weight, weight concentrate contains only 80-85% protein whereas whey isolate contains 90% or more.
Though both forms can be used to see great results, whey isolate ensures you are getting the highest quality, and most efficient product for your dollar spent.
By now, you should feel more confident in your ability to choose an amazing protein powder that will help elevate your performance to the next level. Remember to look for the NSF for Sport certification, ensure it contains a 2:1:1 BCAA profile, check that the nutrition label doesn’t list any unnecessary ingredients that will alter the nutritional profile, and ensure you are buying the highest quality protein you can to optimize muscle building. Next time you shop for a protein supplement, ask yourself these questions, check the boxes, and feel good about your selection.
- Boirie Y, Dangin M, Gachon P, Vasson MP, Maubois JL, Beaufrère B. Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Dec 23;94(26):14930-5.