The world of health supplements can be nebulous territory and choosing a protein powder is no exception. There’s a really wide spectrum ranging from pharmaceutical grade medical foods to products that are not only not bioavailable (read: you can’t absorb them) but are actually loaded with sugars, fake sugars, chemicals, dyes and worse. One of the more important factors to remember is that the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, meaning the manufacturers can make whatever claims they like without any science to back it up. This is why consulting your medical practitioner is a must when choosing supplements; they can help steer you in the right direction.
While there are tons of different types of protein powders out there, it cannot be overstated that all whey proteins are not made equal. Brands matter, as do manufacturing processes. In general, all animal proteins are more bioavailable than plant proteins, with dairy proteins being the most bioavailable, then eggs and meat. Bioavailability is how easily your body will assimilate the protein. Just because something has 20g of protein doesn’t mean you’ll absorb 100% of that 20g. Another way of thinking about it is how efficiently your body is absorbing the protein. The more bioavailable a protein is, the easier it is for your body to break down and access all 20g. When you hear advertisers talking about complete proteins, this means the spectrum of amino acids, essential and nonessential amino acids that the protein contains. Here it’s also true that animal products are a better choice for that reason because in general they are more more complete (sorry, vegans). With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown.
1.Whey – To start, 95% of the whey proteins are very poor quality. They are heated during production, which denatures the protein and makes it unavailable. A good whey protein is grass-fed, non-denatured and comes from pasture-raised cattle that aren’t given antibiotics or hormones. A great example is Whey Cool by Designs for Health. The downside of whey protein is that a lot of people don’t tolerate it well, even people to seem to do well with dairy. If you find that you get bloated after consuming, this is not the protein for you. **A note on whey protein isolate – the argument for the isolate form is that it is 90-95% protein, with no carbs or fat and very little lactose. However, it is again not very bioavailable, and without the beneficial immunoglobulins and also more processed.
2. Pea – pea protein might be the best choice for vegetarians, especially if it’s partially digested and broken down. It’s a legume, which wouldn’t work under a strict Paleo diet, but allergenically speaking, a lot of people don’t have any problems with legumes. That will definitely be less bioavailable than the whey or the hydrolyzed beef. Again, Designs for Health makes a PurePea protein that I’d recommend.
3. Rice – Another option for the vegetarian crowd, rice also has a low allergenic potential. The down side is if you’re carb counting, or on a grain free or paleo diet. Metagenics has a nice rice protein and also makes a metabolic detox that is rice based.
4. Hydrolyzed Beef – Hydrolyzed means it’s partially digested and broken down into smaller peptides which are more easily absorbed, making it even more bioavailable than eating whole beef or beef protein powder that’s not hydrolyzed. Beef has some unique muscle-building properties, and if the protein powder is full spectrum it will have collagen proteins in addition to the other amino acids. Collagen proteins are especially helpful with tissue breakdown that you would see in stress, chronic illness and hard training. Intense training breaks down tissue and then you build it back up, which increases strength. With the added collagen you’re getting a more balanced protein intake than you would be if you’re just eating the lean protein like whey or like methionine and beef protein that doesn’t have collagen in it. The only product I know of is Designs for Health PurePaleo, which is gluten-free, dairy-free, and legume-free (quite a feat)!
5.Bone broth protein- Bone broth as a whole is now being recognized for its extensive health benefits. Bone broth can help –
- Treat leaky gut syndrome
- Overcome food intolerances and allergies
- Improve joint health
- Reduce cellulite
- Boost immune system
- Maintain skin integrity
Historically, bone broth or stock was a way our ancestors made use of every part of an animal. Bones and marrow, skin and feet, tendons and ligaments that you can’t eat directly can be boiled and then simmered over a period of days. Simmering causes the bones and ligaments to release healing compounds like collagen, proline, glycine and glutamine that have the power to transform your health. These are wonderful for healing the gut and maintaining healthy skin. Bone broths contain minerals in forms that your body can easily absorb: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and other trace minerals. They contain chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, compounds sold as pricey supplements to reduce inflammation, arthritis and joint pain.
If you want real bone broth and real bone broth benefits, you can certainly make it yourself at home. For most, this can be a time invasive process that just lends itself to a freezer full of Ziplocked chicken carcassses. Enter the beauty of the Dr Axe Bone Broth Protein, which you can consume in a variety flavors in your morning smoothie, or use in its Pure blend as chicken broth. Add a little sea salt and garlic and you’ve got a nutritious, warming beverage, or use in place of less nutrient dense stocks or broths. This is a product with the same benefits of a homemade broth and a quality protein powder, containing 20 grams of muscle-building protein to support healthy muscle building, maintenance and metabolism
The downside of protein powders compared to whole foods is that they’re more processed and are not in the whole-food form. Often they doesn’t have as many of the cofactors and enzymes, but in the context of a diet where you’re eating a lot of other nutrient-dense foods, having protein powder as an adjunct is ok IF you use a high quality product. That said, there are clearly a variety of choices out there, some toxic and some healing. Your best bet is to stay away from anything offered at big box stores or supplement chains, and consult your natural health practitioner for the best recommendations for your dietary goals.
Want more information or a custom nutrition plan to match your goals? Set up a consult with Dr. Doyle here.