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Friday, June 6, 2014

Whey-ing Your Options for the Best Protein Powder

Protein powder: whey your options
Recently while strolling through our nearby warehouse superstore, my boyfriend pointed out a dominant display in the supplements area. “That’s like a lifetime of whey for just $19.99!” he joked.

Seriously: This hulking container might last an average person a year, and it contained plenty of preservatives to give it a shelf life of nearly forever.

Noting the “bargain” price, my boyfriend asked why professional-brand whey protein powders cost so much more. “After all,” he said, “it’s just a byproduct of cheese making.”

Anyone who knows me knows that's a dangerous question for Jinifit, since I could wax poetic for hours about such topics. (As you might guess, I’m quite the hit at dinner parties and other social occasions.)

“Well,” I replied, mentally bullet-pointing numerous reasons why professional-brand whey proves superior.

Turns out I didn’t need to recount those reasons at all. I simply picked up a container of the warehouse whey and began reading its ingredients. My boyfriend quickly got the point.

Why Whey?
I’m a staunch whey fan. Why would I advocate whey with the preponderance of crappy powders and shady supplement manufacturers?

Well, whey is tops among bodybuilders and fitness folks for many reasons. It provides a complete array of amino acids, for one. Plant-based powders like pea protein can provide pretty impressive amino acid profiles, but manufacturers often combine powders and they still don’t match whey’s superior profile.

Whey also provides an impressive branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) profile. BCAAs comprise 35% of the essential amino acids in muscle protein, so you can understand why they become crucial for anyone wanting to build and maintain muscle.

Leucine, the most prevalent of the three BCAAs, is the only amino acid that can stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Not only that: Leucine might actually slow down protein breakdown.

Beyond amino acids, whey also contains immune-boosting protein fractions like beta-lactoglobulin and immunoglobulins. Whether you have an immune-compromised illness or just become sick often, whey can provide a much-needed boost to bypass colds and support optimal immunity.

Whey might be the most-researched and written-about protein powder on the market, and a quick Goggle search will reveal anything you want to know.

Instead, let’s talk taste. Nearly every client I’ve had wincingly describes some god-awful protein powder they once tried. “Grainy,” “grassy,” “clumpy,” and “chemical-y” are among the adjectives people sometimes describe protein powder.

On the other hand, every once in a while I’ll see some manufacturer claim their whey tastes like a milkshake. Nonsense. You’re not drinking a milkshake, so why should it taste like one?

That said, whey knocks other protein powders out of the ballpark taste-wise. Because it comes from dairy, whey provides a creamy, rich texture. And unlike some other proteins, whey dissolves quickly into nearly any liquid without nasty clumpy-ness.

If you’ve had bad experience with protein powders, I encourage you to try a few brands of whey and see what works for you.

Whey-ing the Science
I’m convinced whey is your optimal protein powder no matter whether you want to lose fat, build muscle, or boost immunity. Fortunately, the vast majority of research shows whey superior for these and many other reasons. If you have a few hours to spare, click here and check out some of the research

Let’s talk muscle building. Recovery is a vastly undervalued aspect of heavy lifting. Whey can help replenish protein stores around your workout and improve muscle synthesis. One study found whey protein had a more dramatic effect post-workout increasing muscle protein synthesis compared with other powders. 

If your goal is to become lean for a two-week July Maui vacation, whey provides your ticket to curb appetite and aid fat loss. One rat study found whey reduced their appetite and decreased visceral as well as subcutaneous fat. Researchers here found whey improved insulin sensitivity, making you a more efficient fat burner. 

Whey Superior to Other Protein Powders
Whey dominates the market, but visit any sports-nutrition store and you’ll find an overwhelming selection of protein-powder options.  Casein, which comprises about 80% of the protein in dairy, is popular among bodybuilders as a slow-release protein. That becomes ideal before, say, bedtime or as a meal replacement when you want a slower-burning protein.

I’ve never been a big casein fan because of its potential dairy reactivity. Simply put, using casein protein daily can create food intolerances. You’ve got better options for slow-releasing protein powders, which I’ll share in a minute.

For muscle building, one study shows whey stimulates muscle protein accretion better in older men than casein. 

Speaking of food intolerances, soy protein isolate is a cheap, inferior protein frequently found in protein bars, shakes, and processed foods. When researchers compare powders, whey nearly always beats soy.

One study found compared with soy, whey protein is higher in leucine, absorbed quicker and results in a more pronounced increase in muscle protein synthesis. Researchers concluded “daily supplementation with whey was more effective than soy protein or isocaloric carbohydrate control treatment conditions in promoting gains in lean body mass.” 

Another study found soy protein partially blunted serum testosterone (bad news for both genders), while whey helped blunt increased amounts of your stress hormone cortisol during recovery. 

Why I Only Recommend Professional-Quality Whey
I recently read a riveting blog entitled “10 Things I Know About Protein That You Don't.” Who on earth is this smug guy hubristically assuming I don’t know certain things about protein, I thought.

Turns out, I learned quite a few things: That the word “undenatured” is basically meaningless, for instance, and that cold-filtered whey is still heated. Mind you, he wasn’t advocating buying cheap whey, but his blog definitely questioned some of the claims professional-quality whey liberally throw around.

I also see grass-fed whey sometimes mentioned on pricy powder containers, yet Mark Sisson makes a good point why the term is more or less meaningless.

Think about why we prefer pastured animal products in the first place – favorable fatty acid profiles, more fat-soluble vitamins, cleaner, better-tasting meat,” he wrote on a recent blog. “Why do we take protein powder? For the protein... Feel free to use grass-fed whey protein, but don’t think it’s doing anything special.” 

What to make about these often confusing and even misleading claims used to sell designer whey powders? 

Well, quality certainly matters. Whey derived from cows fed their natural diet, treated humanely, and ethically sourced trumps those mass-market protein powders even if they cost more. Think beyond dollars to your long-term health.

“Beef” encompasses a broad category. A fast-food hamburger would qualify, but so would a Kobe steak or a grass-fed sirloin. Likewise, those giant tubs of whey and super-high quality professional-brand whey unfairly get put in the same category. They aren’t.

Dr. John Berardi notes cheap whey often contains casein (potentially contributing to food intolerances), the sugar lactose, and potentially harmful ingredients not listed on the label. For those reasons alone, I can’t recommend most commercial whey powders.

When you buy professional-quality whey, you know you’re getting a rigorously tested product that health professionals sell to their patients. The company’s and practitioner’s reputations are on the line, so they typically offer the purest products that get immediate, lasting results.

Is There Ever a Time Whey Isn’t Ideal?
If you have dairy intolerances and notice bloating, fatigue, or other symptoms post-shake, whey might not be for you. I believe many problems stem from casein and other reactive fragments “slipping” into the powder, yet I’ve met the occasional person who absolutely can’t tolerate whey. For those folks, I recommend a high-quality pea-rice protein powder..

One complaint I sometimes hear is that whey doesn’t keep people full. Because it absorbs very quickly – faster than most other protein powders – whey isn’t going to hit that satiation point slower-absorbing proteins can provide.

Around your workout when your muscles demand amino acids, fast absorption makes whey ideal. When you need a meal-replacement powder, not so much.

That’s when a plant-based protein powder becomes perfect. Consider one that also contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients that altogether mimic what you would get in food.

Alternately, you can – no pun intended – beef up whey protein with my Jinifit shake recipe below that’s guaranteed to keep you full for hours.

Even if you don’t suspect food intolerances, rotating so you aren’t using the same powder every day becomes ideal when you’re having a shake every day.

Get Lean for Summer? Substitute a Meal or Two for Whey
Healthcare professionals have an open secret to lose fat fast for an upcoming event or getting toned for swimsuit season.

We don’t skip meals or otherwise starve ourselves, which ultimately elevates your stress hormone cortisol and becomes counterproductive for fat loss. Instead, we substitute a meal or two with a protein shake. I use this recipe with my clients determined to lose fat fast because it works.

The Jinifit Meal-Replacement Shake

I’ve designed my shake to mimic the protein, healthy carbs and fats, fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients you would get in a balanced meal. My shake requires a lot less work and tastes better! Here’s the recipe:

·       1 – 2 scoops chocolate whey powder (Aim for 20 – 30 grams of protein, though avid athletes might need more)
·       8 – 10 ounces unsweetened coconut or almond milk (modify to taste)
·       1 cup frozen strawberries or other berries
·       1 tablespoon almond butter
·       ½ cup kale or other raw leafy greens
·       Raw cacao nibs (optional)
·       Unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
·       Ice

Blend and bam, you’ve got a fast, filling meal that jumpstarts your metabolism so you feel energetic while burning fat.

If you want to step up your fat-loss routine, substitute these shakes for two meals. (Some folks might need three shakes to feel satiated.) Then enjoy one healthy meal that includes protein, healthy fats, loads of veggies, and some starchy carbs like sweet potatoes or quinoa.

There, I just saved you the hundreds of dollars you would have paid a nutritionist or dietitian!

What’s your go-to protein powder? Do you alternate powders or use a different one post-workout as opposed to meal replacements? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook fan page.
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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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