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But do these whey protein powders, bars and drinks live up to all the hype? Are these so called miracle whey protein products as healthy for us as the protein suppliers would have us believe? To be capable of making sound choices in the purchase and use of any whey protein powder or protein product requires some understanding of:
• What is protein?
• Real food vs. whey protein products
• What is whey and where does it come from?
• How is whey protein manufactured?
• How best to use whey protein products?
This article will not only address all of the points you should consider before buying a protein product but provide you with the insider secrets to protein supplements and in doing so show you how to safely choose a whey protein product, when to use it and how to achieve the training and health results you desire. Read this article carefully, put it to memory, and you will become the resident whey expert in the gym.
13 years ago I started Promax protein as a compliment to my sister brand Maxim. Promax soon became the biggest protein brand on the Danish market. During my time in Maxim-Promax our sale of protein products increased exponentially from ZERO to a large percentage of the total company turnover of 26 million kroner in 2005 when I left Maxim-Promax. Selling a company you have started from nothing is never easy but there was no running away from the fact that the more research I did into the ingredients used in protein and other sports nutrition products, the more I became concerned as to their safety. It got to the stage where I stopped using protein products myself, couldn’t recommend them to customers, therefore the decision became easy to sell up and get out.
So in this article I will share with you what I learned from working with some of the biggest suppliers of whey protein powder, how the protein powder is manufactured, the ingredients used to help protein powders to mix and taste pleasantly and how do you safely choose a whey protein product. But before we get to the really juicy stuff it’s a good idea to learn a bit more about protein and why it’s so important for your health!
Protein comes from the Greek word meaning “of prime importance” as it is fundamental for all life. If you suck all of the water out of a lean athletic body over 50% of what’s left is protein. The genetic structure of every cell in your body is composed of protein. Your muscles, brain, skin and even the hemoglobin that transports oxygen around your body are made from protein. In fact every body function from the blinking of an eye to performing on the sports field is controlled by thousands of different enzymes – and all enzymes are proteins.
Furthermore did you know more than 98% of the molecules of your body including, muscles, organs, teeth and bones are replaced every year? Over the last month your skin and membranes have completely rebuilt themselves. Over the last 3 months you have got a completely new blood supply. Over the last 6 months every protein cell in your muscles has been replaced. Unlike carbohydrates and fats your body has no protein store to draw upon. Body structure is all re-built day-by-day exclusively from the protein you eat. Therefore if you eat garbage proteins from fast foods etc. you will grow a garbage body? That’s right every time you eat a poor quality food its builds right into your body’s structure. There’s no getting away from the fact: You are what you eat.
Both the protein in food and in your body is made from small molecules called amino acids. Just like the letters in the alphabet can be combined to give thousands of words, the different amino acids can be combined to give countless proteins. Your body can make 21 of the amino acids but it can’t make the 9 amino acids, they are called the essential or vital amino acids. All of these essential amino acids need to be provided by the food you eat.
A COMPLETE protein contains all of these essential amino acids in the correct ratio as would be found in milk, eggs, meat or fish.
Today the majority of people don’t eat the type of food they were born to eat; namely fresh organic meat, fish, vegetables, fruit etc. Unfortunately most modern food is technologically enhanced, comes in a package with a long shelf life is essentially dead as it contains little if any nutrients, often overloaded with simple carbohydrates (high Glycemic index that cause blood sugar swings), too much of the wrong type of fat (trans fats), too little of the essential fats, and too little fiber. Furthermore most people are chronically dehydrated due to inadequate water intake. This results in most people not getting enough quality protein in their daily diet. It is interesting to note that our ancestors whose natural diet was much healthier than the average modern diet consumed between 25-35% of their calories from protein, that’s double the amount of protein most people eat today and also double the amount nutritionists recommend we eat!
Our poor diet has its consequences. We are becoming fatter and unhealthier and if you are overweight you have less energy, are at a bigger risk of developing diabetes, heart disease etc. Because of the fact that the incidence of obesity is growing rapidly whey protein products are not only popular as an after training recovery drink by sports people but are also becoming increasingly popular because more people understand that maintaining or increasing their muscle mass is critical to long term weight loss. But before we look at the benefits and controversies of whey protein lets look at its source milk!
The milk you see in the supermarket shelf’s is not the type of milk you and I were designed to drink. Humans are the only species that drink milk from other animals; but we are designed not to drink milk after we stop breast feeding. This is probably the reason why many people are either intolerant or allergic to milk or milk based products such as yoghurt, cheese etc. In fact there are 20 substances in cow’s milk that humans are potentially allergic to. While it is perfectly fine if you can tolerate milk to drink raw organic milk that has not had its ingredients destroyed by pasteurization, I would not recommend drinking the milk you find in the supermarket.
Commercial milk has been heated to high temperatures (pasteurization ) that destroy most if not all of the goodness in the original milk.
Furthermore non organic commercial milk has come from cows that don’t conform to organic standards which further decrease the quality of the milk. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that as whey protein comes from milk, the quality of the whey protein can only be as good as the quality of the milk. This is a key point we will investigate further in this article.
When we talk about whey we are actually referring to a complex ingredient made up of protein, lactose, fat and minerals. Protein is the best known component of whey and is made up of many individual proteins such as: alpha-lactalbumin, Beta-lactoglobulin, bovine serum albumin (BSA), immunoglobulins (IgGs), lactoferrin, glycomacropeptides, and minor peptides such as Active Peptides, Growth Factors, lactoperoxidases and lysozyme . Each of the individual proteins and peptides found in whey have their own unique health giving properties. They also work in a powerful health building concert when they are present in the original native form and full range as found in fresh raw milk.
Hippocrates, the Greek physician of the 5th century B.C., the “father of medicine”, stated that the body has an inner adaptive or healing power. To strengthen this healing power, he prescribed liquid whey to his patients. It was true natural whey that had not been processed. It provided full biological activity and numerous health benefits. However 99% commercial whey proteins available now are derived from extensively processed milk and cheese, are therefore incomparable to the vitality in Hippocrates 2500 year-old prescription.
Most people using whey protein products don’t realize that until very recently, whey was considered a waste product by the dairy industry and dairy farmers usually fed it to their pigs or the cheese industry threw it away. It was only after having dumped millions of liters of whey out that the cheese manufacturers investigated making whey protein from their waste product. It’s important to understand that the whey you find in your whey protein product can only be as good as the quality of the milk that’s used in the cheese making process. AND the techniques used to extract the whey in the cheese making process also affect the quality of the whey that comes out of the other end. So let’s take a step by step look at the source of the milk and how whey protein is ultimately manufactured.
There are several considerations that are vital to consider before buying a protein product, these are:
1. How healthy are the cows that supply the milk for the whey protein product?
The milk that is produced today is in most cases very poor quality compared to the milk that was produced 100 years ago. Why because the quality of the milk is determined by the health of the animals that are producing it. Far too many cows today are:
Given antibiotics and other medicine
Given hormones to produce more milk especially in the USA
Exposed to pesticides sprayed on the farm
Fed grains, instead of grass (cement, sawdust and other waste materials is also given to cows in the USA)
Kept inside instead of being allowed to roam free outside in the sun and fresh air
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that all of the above not only affects the cow’s health but also the quality of the milk that a particular cow produces. Milk quality is generally better in New Zealand and EU countries so the first step is to make sure the whey powder used in making the product comes from quality milk. I would personally not recommend buying protein products from USA manufacturers unless they can guarantee it’s free of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides etc.
It is also interesting to note that organic milk from healthy cows contains up to 20% more protein than milk from commercially farmed cows!
2. Has the milk been pasteurized at high temperatures?
Most whey protein comes from milk that’s been pasteurized, but what does pasteurization mean and why is it important? Pasteurization (heating the milk and liquid whey at very high temperatures) by definition means the complete destruction of all the enzymes in the milk. Milk is declared pasteurized when you don’t find any enzymes left.
But pasteurization not only kills the enzymes which are important complex proteins it also:
1. Alters the amino acids in the milk and destroys many of the important proteins
2. Destroys the unsaturated fatty acids
3. Kills most of the vitamins
4. Reduces the availability of the minerals
So after pasteurization the milk is for all intense purposes not only essentially dead but puts a strain on your body because your pancreas needs to produce lots of digestive enzymes to digest and absorb the dead milk! Understanding how pasteurization affects the quality of the milk is incredibly important because the quality of the Whey protein powder, bars and drinks can only be as good as the milk its coming from. Dead processed milk can only produce dead processed whey protein and that’s not what you want to feed your body if you want to be healthy and excel on the sports field. So the second step in choosing a quality Whey protein product is to make sure the milk used to produce the whey protein has not been pasteurized at high temperatures!
3. How has the whey protein been transported, stored and processed?
The manufacturing facilities or cheese making factory that produce the whey protein are often some distance from the farm that produces the milk. So it’s important to make sure that the milk is both transported and stored in a way that doesn’t damage the product. Furthermore as most whey protein is a by product of cheese production we must also investigate how the whey is processed during the cheese making process.
The chemical modification and pH regulation (drastic acidification ) to produce cheese denatures and damages the whey proteins. The damaged proteins, much of the fat and lactose are then filtered out and what remains is a narrow range of non-denatured proteins that have survived not only the cheese manufacturing process but also pasteurization at high temperatures.
The whey proteins that are left are then transferred to the whey processing plant. What is then required is extensive filtration to remove the many denatured proteins in order to produce the highest percentage of protein. Unfortunately the fragile vital protein components, which determine the biological activity of the protein, are not retained. From this point on there is little heat added and some of these whey proteins products are then referred to as undenatured / cold processed. However this is marketing bluff by the protein supplier because even though in the last part of the manufacturing process the whey is cold dried and processed they forget to tell you the milk that the whey has come from has been blasted at high temperatures in the pasteurization process and further harmed during the extraction from the cheese.
Most commercial methods of processing whey do not improve or even maintain the fragile immune modulating and regenerative components or the biological activity that was originally in the milk. They originate from the manufacturing of cheese and are by-products. So ask the manufacturer of the whey protein powder if his whey protein is a by product of the cheese making process. If it is then you will know that its not only been pasteurized but treated with harmful acids and therefore time to change protein brands.
4. How to make whey protein powder without damaging the fragile proteins
The key point in regard to the quality and effectiveness of whey is that the full range of biological activity and proportion of the protein components be preserved in their original native form as nature intended. Only whey that is not by product of cheese manufacture can achieve that goal. Additionally, the health of the milking cows and quality of the milk is the foundation of this type of product.
Processing whey protein to remove the lactose, fats, etc. without losing its biological activity takes special care by the manufacturer. Maintaining the natural “live” non-denatured state of the protein is essential to preserve whey health properties. The milk that the protein comes from must be from healthy cows and must never be high heat pasteurized. The extraction of the whey protein from the milk must be done at low temperatures that do not "denature" the protein.
By carefully extracting the whey from the milk results in a living, full range, biologically active, whey protein that supports your immune system function and health. These include, lactoferrin, lysozyme, lactoperoxidase, glycomacropeptides, alpha lactalbumin and bovine serum albumin. Non-denatured, bioactive whey proteins enhance intracellular glutathione production by supplying to the cell the dipeptides cysteine and subsequently glutamyl-cysteine. Glutathione has been found to enhance immune function, eliminate toxins and carcinogens, increases antioxidant and ionizing radiation protection and supports DNA synthesis and repair, protein prostaglandin and leukotriene synthesis, amino acid transport, and enzyme activity and regulation.
It is also interesting to note that many people who appear to be allergic to conventional milk products do not react to non-denatured native whey protein that has been manufactured the “whey” nature intended!
5. What if any ingredients have been added to the whey protein product?
I recommend that if you are going to use a whey protein powder then you only use a pure whey product with no additives, colors or flavors. Most protein powders come with a nice synthetic chemically enhanced taste together with stabilizers, preservative, artificial colorizing and sweeteners. To give you an example of what an artificial flavor looks like here is a list of all the fifty artificial ingredients to create that great “strawberry” taste found in Burger kings milk shakes!
“amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl acetate, ethyl amylketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphenyl-2-butaone (10 percent solution in alcohol), alpha-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum eher, gamma-undecalactone, vanillin, and solvent."
Don’t be fooled when a label states, natural identical, natural flavorings, aroma etc they are just clever ways to hide the fact that synthetic chemicals have been used. Think what all these chemicals are doing to your insides? And this is just the artificial flavor, adding colorings, preservatives and stabilizers only adds to the chemical experiment your body goes through every time you drink your favorite protein powder! Furthermore to get the nice sweet taste aspartame or a similar artificial sweetener is also added. Artificial sweeteners are really nasty chemicals that have never been shown to be safe for human consumption and are linked to a wide variety of diseases! Read this article on aspartame for more information: www.alun.dk/nyhed-aspartam-er-kraeftfremkaldende.asp
This is why I recommend buying a plain neutral 100% whey protein powder with no nasty additives. Furthermore whey protein bars and whey protein ready made drinks and shakes are often even worse in terms of nasty ingredients so stay away from all of them!
5. Does the protein product live up to its label claims?
Unfortunately this problem is more wide spread than people think. Through either carelessness or plain cheating to make more money far too many protein product suppliers’ products don’t meat their label claims. This is really sad because we buy a product in good faith and trust that what we are paying for is what we are getting. You can check out some of the products quality on independent tests done on: www.consumerlabs.com
Suppliers can cheat by declaring a higher protein content than is actually in the products and then adding sugar etc as a filler, using Soya or milk protein as an ingredient but saying its 100% whey protein etc. This can be via declaring a higher percentage of protein than is physically in the product, using cheaper protein (Soya, casein etc.) mixed with whey but saying it’s a 100% whey protein, or even adding cheap fillers such as maltodextrin.
The only thing to do to make sure you are getting what you pay for is to firstly ask the supplier for an independent analysis and if they wont or cant give you one then that says something of their quality control, secondly only buy from companies with a reputation to loose and lastly if the price sounds too good to be true then it probably is!
Furthermore another reason why to buy form a reputable supplier and not the cheapest is that with increased quality control then there is less change of illegal substances finding its way in to your Whey protein supplement. A few years ago a report was published that showed several sports supplements contained substances that would cause you to fail a drugs test!
6. How best to use Whey protein products? Whey protein powder vs. real food
Whey protein supplements can never replace the health and performance benefits of protein from good organic meat and fish. However the optimal time to ingest protein is right after training. Its here your muscles are “hungry” for protein for repair and growth and carbohydrates to replenish your energy levels, at the same time your enzymes and hormones such as insulin are primed to optimize recovery from training. Consuming a carbohydrate and protein meal immediately after training or competition results in a large secretion of the hormone insulin (transports nutrients such as glycogen, amino acids, etc. from your blood to your muscles) and activates the enzymes that help in this transportation process. This period lasts for about an hour after training and scientists have called it the “window of opportunity”.
This “window of opportunity” is in fact evolutionary advantage passed onto us from our ancestors. It gave ancient man a better chance to survive, because his body recovered faster from physical exertion. This meant he was better able to find food or fight off a hungry tiger etc. that presented one of his many dangers.
For most people it’s often not practical or palatable to take a protein rich food such as a chicken breast or boiled egg with them to training and most people are not hungry after training. Therefore to take advantage of this “open window” whereby you can rapidly supply your body with protein if real food is not an option for you then I suggest eating a piece of fruit and consuming 20-40g of a natural non-denatured whey protein powder that conforms to the standards above. This is the only time you should use a whey protein supplement as the health focus should be on real food, which not only contains protein but also vital nutrients that protein powders don’t!
Sportsmen and people on a diet are often tempted to add protein products to increase the protein content without adding too many calories at the same time. The result can be a diet unnaturally high in protein, something that is unnatural and unhealthy. In nature protein always comes with fat and fat soluble vitamins. Protein requires vitamin A and other fat soluble vitamins for its metabolism and a diet too high in protein without adequate fat rapidly depletes vitamin A stores. This can lead to serious consequences such as heart arrhythmias, kidney problems, autoimmune disease and thyroid disorders. Diets too high in protein also cause a negative calcium balance, where more calcium is lost compared to the amount taken in, a condition that can lead to bone loss and nervous system disorders. Its ok to use a whey protein powder after training but don’t live off the stuff, or you could risk serious health consequences.
Furthermore when you buy a quality “live” whey protein it’s important to mix it up correctly in order not to damage the fragile whey proteins. With this in mind use a conventional electric mixer or blender at low speed only for less than 30 seconds. You may also simply use a spoon or shaker and mix the protein with water, milk or a dairy substitute. Never mix the protein with liquids above room temperature or acidic fruit juices. This can denature the bio-activity of the proteins.
7. What protein products should I use?
Make sure this whey protein powder is 100% natural and not chemically enhanced with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame etc, synthetic colors, flavors or other nasty ingredients. None of these ingredients has ever been shown to be safe for humans to consume. For these reasons don’t buy any of the popular “brand name” commercial protein products!
Purchase products that clearly state in writing where the whey is derived from and that it is not a by-product of cheese manufacture.
It is important to note that as a container of whey protein powder is opened and closed over and over, it becomes oxidized; progressively losing it’s original bioactivity. That said, if you are going to purchase a non-denatured whey protein product, you will be better off requesting multiple small containers than one large one that will be repeatedly entered. It’s more expensive but again you get what you pay for!
So there you have it follow these 7 essential steps before buying a whey protein product to make sure you get a quality protein powder. Before we conclude this article lets have a look at the science to back up the benefits of whey protein powders.
The only protein product that I have been able to find that conforms to the above “safety” characteristics is Wellwisdom Immune-Enhancing Proteins which can be found on: www.alun.dk/shop/valleprotein-whey.asp
But before we conclude this article lets have a look at the science to back up the benefits of whey protein powders.
There are thousands of scientific studies showing both the sports and medical benefits of whey protein powders. However the raw ingredients used in these studies is high quality medical grade whey protein powder and not the cheap highly processed whey used in 99% of the whey protein products on the market. Therefore great care must be taken not to confuse the research on medical grade, high quality whey protein isolates with cheap and poor quality whey proteins. Far too often supplement company’s site research to back up the quality of their products when in reality you are comparing apples and oranges or a quality whey protein powder with a garbage one! So don’t believe the marketing hype of manufacturers ask them to prove what they say before you part with your money!
Recently, scientists have discovered that certain proteins, specifically proteins from whey, actually possess unique biological activity. Most importantly, this activity can be preserved as the protein passes through the digestive tract and into the bloodstream. Unfortunately these proteins are very fragile, and as discussed above loose their biological activity through the normal processes employed in milk production. When these proteins loose their biological activity, they are referred to as denatured proteins.
However non-denatured “live” whey proteins have a wide range of immune-enhancing properties and also have the ability to act as an antioxidant, antihypertensive, antitumor, antiviral and antibacterial substance. A number of clinical trials have found whey protein may potentially reduce cancer rates, combat HIV, improve immunity, reduce stress and lower cortisol, increase brain serotonin levels, improve liver function in those suffering from certain forms of hepatitis, reduce blood pressure, and improve performance, to name a few of its potential medical- and sports-related applications.
One of whey protein's major effects is its apparent ability to raise glutathione (GSH). The importance of GSH for the proper function of the immune system cannot be overstated. GSH is arguably the most important water-soluble antioxidant found in the body.
Never replace real food with any whey protein product regardless of how good it is! Nothing is better than organic, year-round free range, grass fed animal foods or ocean caught fish for providing your daily requirements of quality protein and the nutrients that come with it!
However “live” non-denatured whey protein from a quality source such as Wellwisdom, has the highest biological value of any complete protein, it is not only excellent for speeding up the recovery process after training but also has the potential to help in the treatment disease. There are many whey products available; therefore it is highly advisable to have in writing from the manufacturer, the treatment of the cows, the entire processing the milk undergoes and if it is a by-product of cheese manufacturing. Before buying a whey protein product make sure that:
1. The whey protein comes from year-round pasture grass fed cows that are disease-free, pesticide-free, chemical-free, hormone treatment-free and GMO-free.
2. The milk used to make the whey has not been pasteurized or processed at high temperatures that destroy all the goodness in the milk.
3. The processing of the whey protein is done at cold temperatures and in a way that doesn’t damage the fragile protein fragments
4. The whey protein is not a by-product of a cheese making process that damages the proteins
5. Carefully read the ingredients on the whey protein powder and make sure it only contains whey protein, with no unnatural additives such as synthetic colors, flavors, thickeners or artificial sweeteners.
6. You buy a whey protein product in a smaller tub so that it gets used quickly stopping the protein from being damaged when in contact with the air.
7. Never buy protein bars or ready made shakes they have all been highly processed and not something you should consume. Plan ahead and prepare food ahead of time so you have a snack or meal if need be. If you are going to use a sport or nutrition bar then the best one on the market is the organic food bar!
Unfortunately if you follow the above guidelines then 99.9% of the protein products on the market should not be used. Furthermore I would never buy a popular “brand name” protein product from the USA because the milk standards in the USA are whey below those of the EU.
Only use a whey protein powder after training, it is the only time you need it. At all other times real food is what your body wants for health and fitness. Never use a whey protein product as a meal replacement and be careful if you have a known allergy or intolerance to dairy products. You now have the knowledge to not only buy a quality whey protein powder, but also when and how to use it as a supplement to real food to get the most out of your training. Good luck!
1. The Untold Story Of Milk By Ron Schmid, ND NewTrends Publishing Inc. Washington, DC. 2003
2. “The Ecologist report” - “How bogus hygiene regulations are killing real food”) from an article titled “Factory Farming and Human Health” by Tim O’Brien
3. Crewe, J. R. “Raw Milk Cures Many Diseases,” Certified Milk Magazine, January, 1929, 3-6.
4. Raw Milk - History, Health Benefits and Distortions by Ron Schmid, N.D. www.drrons.com See: ww.drrons.com/raw_milk_veritas.html
5. Clinical Ecology 1985; 3:50-4
6. Proof! Healthy choices, healthy lifestyles November, 2004 Vol. 9, No. 4
7. Paul Chek Protien article www.chekinstitute.com
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