Is Your Protein Drink or Powder of Any Real Nutritional Benefit?


Back in the day, the only people you found gulping down protein drinks were big, hulking body builders (or those wanting to be big, hulking body builders).

Now, according to one nutrition industry expert, more than 60 percent of consumers are enhancing their diets with protein drinks and powders.

“Hundreds of protein powders and drinks have flooded into health food stores and supermarkets, marketed as dieting aids, meal replacements, energy and endurance boosters, sports recovery aids, and easily-absorbable sources of protein for athletes seeking to build muscle and strength,” says sports drink guru Anders Porter of Team Core Power. “We’re witnessing a global protein revolution.”

With so many protein products to choose from, Porter cautions consumers to beware, because, all protein drinks and powders are not ‘created equal.’

“The protein in a protein-supplement must be undamaged and bioavailable to be of nutritional benefit,” says Porter. “And with many products on the market, these basic requisites aren’t being met.”

“Because neither the FDA nor any other government agency routinely tests protein powders and drinks to assure ingredient quality, and because sometimes, even the prettiest labels can be misleading, unintentionally or intentionally, it makes sense for consumers to arm themselves with enough information to be able to ask retailers and manufacturers some hard questions before spending their cash on protein drinks and powders,” says Porter.

According to Porter, there are five key questions that health-conscious consumers should be asking about any protein drink or powder before they shake it up, pop-the-cap or chug the contents:

1.  What is the source of the protein; Plant or animal?

Animal proteins are more complete than plant proteins, as plant proteins are deficient in at least one nutritionally indispensable amino acid (IAA). IAAs cannot be created by our body and must be provided through food. Milk as a protein source contains all the IAA’s.

As a source of protein, milk has a biological value of 91-93, followed by soy with a biological value of 74, and wheat with a biological value of 64. Milk protein has a digestibility of 94-95 percent, compared to 91 percent for soy, 86 percent for wheat and 88 percent for rice protein.

2.  Has the protein been ‘heat dried’? 

Drying of protein powders by heat to increase shelf-life can cause the degradation of amino acids.This degradation process could continue during the storage of the powders. In one study, drying caused considerable reduction in protein quality by destroying biological availability of the essential amino acid, Lysine. If your protein drink contains heat-dried powders, you may be consuming damaged, nutritionally incomplete protein.

3.  Are the ingredients imported, or produced domestically?

You need to establish that the manufacturer can trace the origin of every ingredient used in his protein product. Ingredients imported in bulk from the cheapest source will lower production costs, but always at the expense of product potency and efficacy.

4.  Does the product contain artificial flavors, colors or preservatives?

Indigestible chemical flavorings, colorings, and preservatives create immune responses and will drain your body’s energy, not enhance it. Keep things natural.

5.  How much protein am I getting per serving?

Note the protein grams-per-serving count on the label. Count this against your daily protein intake requirements as established by The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A 150lb individual, for instance, requires 60 grams for non-athletes, 90 grams for endurance athletes, 109 grams for strength athletes.* You can see that an individual’s daily protein requirements can nearly double depending on their level of activity.

Porter says a recent analysis of protein powders and drinks, by two independent testing laboratories, found that almost one-third of the products examined did not meet quality standards.*

“If what goes into your body is important to you, spend a few minutes researching the companies, their manufacturing techniques, their sources for ingredients, and their philosophy toward health and toward the consumer,” says Porter. “If a company doesn’t have those things posted and easily accessible, they’re probably not for you.”