Judging the Best Whey Protein Powder – The Ultimate Insiders Guide
I’ll start this by assuming that you are an athlete that performs different kinds of sports, including regular fitness workouts. I am 100% sure that your goal is to achieve lean muscle mass, but this task is a bit harder than you’d think.
Comparison Table - Ultimate Insiders Guide
Anyway, just to make it easier for you, I put together a comparison table that holds the most important stuff that you should pay attention to when looking for a whey protein powder.
You will notice that the table has multiple columns:
- Protein Type – most of the chosen proteins are 100% isolates (WPI) and are not mixed with other inferior types of protein. They are manufactured with the most effective processes: MF/UF, CFM or enzyme hydrolyzation. Added substances listed. Keep reading the article to learn more about why it’s important, or just skip as I’ve already chosen the best.
- Macronutrients - You should look for the highest protein percentage. On the opposite side, check out also carbs and fats percentage and make sure that the values listed there are as low as possible.
- Price – The lowest Amazon.com price for new product.
- Rating – And if you want more, just check out the column that indicates the user’s average rating for that product.
It’s a complete table that holds a lot of precious information and I truly advise you to use it, it will save you a lot of time, effort and money wasted on bad products. Go ahead and choose the best protein powder for you!
Top 10 Whey Protein Powders: Comparison Table
|AllMax Nutrition IsoFlex||- WPI, hydrolyzed whey|
- CFM at cold temperatures
- Added L-Arginine, Taurine, L-Glutamine, ALA
|Nature's Best Isopure Whey Isolate||- 100% WPI|
- Ion Exchange and MF
|VPX SRO Zero Carb||- 100% WPI|
- CFM SpiroFuse Reverse Osmosis
|Now Foods Whey Protein Isolate||- 100%WPI|
|4 Dimension Nutrition Isolate Matrix||- Whey isolate, milk isolate and hydrolyzed whey|
- Added BCAA, L-Glutamine, creatine, glycine, lipids complex
|Bioplex Pure WPI||- 100% WPI|
|Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Isolate||- 100% WPI|
- Added L-Glutamine, Taurine, L-Arginine, L-Alanine, L-Lisyne, BCAA
|Met-RX Ultramyosyn Whey Isolate||- 100% WPI|
- Added L-Glutamine, L-Arginine, Taurine, BCAA, L-Alanine, L-Lisyne
|Pro Supps TC-F Isolate||- 100% WPI|
- MF/UF at cold temperatures
|Ultimate Nutrition ISO Sensation 93||- 100% WPI|
- CFM at cold temperatures, duble filtration
- Added glutamine complex (glutapure, glutamine peptides, glutamine, n-acetyl l-glutamine, ALA, digestive enzymes
You will be surprised to see that most of the “heavy names” in the supplement industry are not included in this table, and the explication is a simple one: instead of spending their money on high quality raw materials and state of the art technologies, they rather spend them on marketing, nice packages and sponsor famous athletes (for image purposes).
I really have nothing against big manufacturers, I even consume some of their products but, as far as protein powders are concerned, they don’t stand out, and the main reasons they don’t show up in this table is because they refuse to reveal the manufacturing process or any other data that could convince be they have a great product.
I am way past the point where I choose a product only based on that manufacturers’ marketing strategy. Instead, I do heavy research to try to find out the truth about that product. And, because I care about what I consume, I refuse to ingest any products that present “secret stuff” which are, by definition, dubious.
Keep reading to learn why I’ve chosen these powders and how to choose a good protein powder.
First you need to know some basics about the muscle growth: the permanent muscle growth comes from protein and from resting at least 8 – 9 hours/day. Of course, working out is crucial as well, but working out only stimulates the growth, it doesn’t support it. The first stage of muscle growth comes from consuming protein, and let me briefly explain you how it works.
Why Do We Need Protein?
The protein is made of amino acids, which are also called “the building blocks of protein”. Each workout damages some muscular fibers and, the harder the workout is, the more muscular fibers it damages. Muscle growth comes from fixing those damaged muscular fibers and this is exactly what amino acids are doing, this is their exact role in your body.
Amino acids are made out of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and (sometimes) sulfur and your muscles need a positive nitrogen balance (aka anabolic state) in order for them to recover and grow. And guess what: you don’t need to be in a anabolic state only during or right after your workout, you need to have a positive nitrogen balance throughout the day and also night. This means you have to consume protein several times a day, even if it comes from food or supplements.
Don’t Let Your Muscles Be Destroyed!
A lot of scientists say that WHEN you consume protein is much more important than HOW MUCH protein you consume. You shouldn’t let more than 2 hours pass without consuming some protein, even if it’s only 10 grams. If your body doesn’t have enough carbs, it will use protein to produce energy. But if the protein misses as well, the body will start to burn your muscles to produce the needed energy. And I’m willing to bet you’re working your ass off to get those muscles, don’t you? So if your body lacks protein, your muscles won’t grow. If your body lacks protein and carbohydrates, you muscles will be burned in order to produce energy.
So why let them be destroyed? An athlete requires more protein than a person who doesn’t exercise, and the protein amount that is required in order to induce muscle growth is above 1g/pound/day. Which means that if you weigh 180 pounds, you should consume at least 180 grams of protein each day, even if you work out or not during that day.
Protein Powders Make Your Life Easier
This amount of protein can be taken from any source you like and the primary source for it should be food. But let’s face it, 180 grams of protein is a lot to take from food in a single day! Think about it: the protein richest foods are chicken / turkey breast (30% protein), cheese (32% protein), lean beef (36%), milk (32%) and eggs (12%). So you’d have to eat 600g of chicken breast or 30 eggs or 600g of cheese, and you’d have to eat all that every single day. Besides, you have to constantly feed your body with proteins and I really doubt that a lot of you guys can afford to stop whatever it is that you’re doing and eat every other hour. Not to mention that a lot of food makes your short intestine and stomach to work harder.
This is very unlikely for most of us, so that’s where protein powders start to be useful. You can have 3 main meals that will assure around 60% of your daily protein needs and take the rest from protein powders. You just have to avoid drinking a protein shake within 2 hours of a meal. Other than that, you’re free to have as many protein shakes you need, as long as you don’t exceed your maximum need for protein. Excess protein will be eliminated by your body as urine and sweat.
Types of Protein Powders – Which One is Best?
Protein powders are made from different sources and the main difference between them comes from the absorption speed and their biological value. The main sources of protein, grouped by their absorption speed, are:
- fast absorbing: whey, soy
- slow absorbing: eggs, milk
The slow absorbing protein powders are to be consumed at nighttime, because the body needs to receive a constant flow of protein throughout the night. Milk casein is the best choice as it supplies protein for about 7 hours.
Everybody’s fighting to get as much protein as possible into their bloodstream as soon as possible after finishing the workout and, to accomplish that, you need a fast absorbing protein powder. The best sources of this kind are whey and soy.
Stay Away from Soy!
Soy is known to contain phytoestrogens, which have the same effects as the feminine hormone estrogen. While the products that contain estrogen are regulated by FDA, there’s absolutely no regulation what-so-ever about Soy. This is the main reason that should keep you away for soy … forever!
If it’s not enough, you should know that soy is a plant which is grown using pesticides and chemicals and more than 90% of the soy containing products are genetically modified. So my advice to you is stay away from soy! If you can’t use whey, you have the option of Hemp Protein, which is way better than soy.
The Advantages of Whey Protein
Whey protein is considered to be the best protein source. It doesn’t really matter how much protein you eat rather than how much protein gets assimilated into your bloodstream. This assimilation percentage is computed using the biological value. Before protein powders were developed, eggs were the best protein source, having a biological value of 100/100. But whey was proven to have 104/100 biological value and it suddenly gained the “best protein source” title. This “best protein source” title came also from the amino acids profile. Whey protein delivers all 20 amino acids that are responsible for muscle growth and, more important, it is very reach in BCAA (branched chain amino acids), which are the most important amino acids for recovery and growth.
However, protein powders manufacturers didn’t just settle for the best. Due to the harsh competition, they started researching and developing and they came up with other whey protein powders that went way above 100 regarding biological value. So now the regular whey is known as WPC (whey protein concentrate) and we also have WPI (whey protein isolate) that has a biological value of 159, and also HWP (hydrolyzed whey protein) that goes even further to 164 biological value.
So far, you’d probably say .. well, it seems that HWP is the best whey protein powder! And you would be correct … somehow! Next I will show you another factor that you should consider other than assimilation speed or the biological value, and this is the manufacturing process!
Manufacturing Processes is Important!
So far we agreed that the best protein powder is whey protein. So let me tell you about the main manufacturing processes for all whey protein types. Whey protein powders are obtained during the cheese making process. The liquid whey protein that once was thrown away, it is then pasteurized and spray drying. The result is usually a 70 – 80% protein concentrated product, that also has carbohydrates and fats. These percentages vary for different products. Usually, the best the separation process is, the less carbs and fats remain in the protein powder. This is the basic manufacturing process for whey protein concentrate.
Just a short observation about carbs and fats and why some people are looking to get as little of these two as possible: carbs are good, and so are fats. But within a limit. For mesomorphs and especially for endomorphs, each carb that they miss is a real success, because their metabolism rate is very slow and they tend to get fat quite fast. So there are people who are praising the zero carbs protein powders. However, if you are an ectomorph, you shouldn’t really care about a few grams of carbs or fat and this issue shouldn’t affect your buying guide.
Whey protein isolate is obtained by using different techniques, out of which the most important are “Ion Exchange”, “CFM – Cross Flow Microfiltration” and “MF/UF – micro filtration / ultra filtration”. Be aware of the different marketing techniques. Just the fact that a product is advertised as a WPI doesn’t mean it is 100% WPI. Read the nutrition information and you should see there only WPI listed. If you see any other types of protein like whey protein concentrate, or casein, and so on, it means that you are not getting a 100% whey protein isolate and you should stay away from it.
Ion Exchange Manufacturing Process
This process is separating proteins based on their electrical charge. It uses chemicals to filter the protein and the main disadvantage of this technique is that the chemicals that are used (hydrochloric acid, phosphoric acid and sodium hydroxide) are denaturizing some of the protein and, most important, they are denaturizing the subfraction proteins alpha lacto albumin, glycomacropeptides and immunoglobins. It also delivers a high percentage of beta-lactoglobulin, but this one is the most unimportant subfraction and it is also responsible for a bunch of allergies.
These subfractions that are mostly denaturized during this process are the thing that makes whey protein such a great product. Of course, a high protein concentration is crucial, but the substances that really make all that protein feed your muscles are the subfraction proteins. And Ion Exchange process really diminishes their quantity, which is already by nature very small.
The main advantage of Ion Exchange manufacturing process is that it produces the most concentrated WPI, and we are talking about protein concentrations up to even 95%. Another advantage of this manufacturing process is that it strips out almost all the carbs, fat and lactose from protein, which makes it quite good especially for lactose-intolerant people.
This manufacturing process is also known as “Acid treatment” and, as far as I am concerned, I always cared about the best possible quality and the Ion Exchange process doesn’t do it for me. I’d rather have 90% protein instead of 95%, but I really want an unaltered protein.
Micro Filtration and Ultra Filtration (MF/UF)
This manufacturing process uses, under a high pressure, ceramic membranes to filter out all the unwanted stuff like carbs, fat and lactose, and it does this without denaturizing the protein. So all the subfraction protein are kept unaltered, and the protein concentration is around 90%. The next step is using the Ultra Filtration and this assures that a level higher than 90% is reached during the manufacturing process of a whey protein isolate.
Cross Flow Micro Filtration (CFM)
Cross Flow Micro Filtration is probably the best manufacturing process for WPIs. The process is very similar to the MF/UF process described above, but the filtration in a different way: the ingredients are flowing over the membrane instead of going right through it. It is a lot to explain, so just take my word when I say CFM is better then MF + UF. The advantages of CFM process are: obtaining a protein concentration higher than 90%, preserving the subfraction proteins, better amino acids profile, contains more calcium and less sodium.
Hydrolyzed Protein – Pros and Cons
WPH was heavily advertized a few years ago but, unfortunately, no complex studies were conducted on humans. Hydrolyzed Protein is basically a WPI that was (partially) predigested in order to achieve a faster absorption rate. In order for our body to absorb the protein, it must be hydrolyzed to the smallest peptides (di peptides, tri peptides or free-form amino acids). Our body is doing this in the stomach and small intestine but what is really amazing is that we can buy a product that has already done that.
Hydrolyzing can occur in 3 ways: acid treatment, heat treatment or enzyme treatment. The first 2 options will denaturize some of the protein and therefore are not recommended. The best manufacturing process for a hydrolyzed protein is the enzyme hydrolysis.
The Hydrolyzed Protein has 2 indicators that will tell us about its quality: the percentage of hydrolysis, which means how much of the protein has been acted upon by the enzymes, and the degree of hydrolysis, which measures the breakdown of protein by the enzymes. Any value less than 100 for the percentage of hydrolysis means that the specific product is only partially hydrolyzed.
Some manufacturers are listing these values on their hydrolyzed proteins, but others don’t, stating that it’s a private information. My guess is that they just want to hide the fact that those 2 percentages are very small.
The main advantages of the hydrolyzed protein are:
- the fastest absorption rate;
- least allergenic protein;
- zero fat, lactose or cholesterol;
- doesn’t cause bloating.
The main disadvantages are:
- the highest price;
- the worst taste.
While it is indeed best to consume a 100% enzyme-hydrolyzed whey, you should know that the better the product is, the bitter the taste is. This is why you won’t find a 100% Hydrolyzed Whey with neutral flavor (unflavored). So the manufacturers will add extra carbs and fillers just to improve the taste, and they have to add a lot of those. There are hydrolyzed whey that have up to 20% carbs! And I ask you: why should you pay more for a bad taste or for added carbs? The result will usually be a low concentrated product that is called hydrolyzed whey protein. Personally, I don’t think it’s such a good deal.
Although the whey protein has a complete amino acids profile, you will always need more branched chain amino acids and glutamine to increase the recovery and the muscle gains. So the best solution is to use a whey protein that has extra BCAAs and Glutamine. You should know thought that the price will increase significantly so you can just buy the BCAAs and Glutamine apart (and I always recommend peptides) and just mix them with your regular protein shake whenever you feel you need them.
Natural and artificial flavors are present in almost all protein powders and they are what makes the powder taste good. But flavors mean added carbs and fats. Check out the same product that comes in different flavors and you will see that each flavor has a different protein concentration, and this is perfectly normal.
I will always choose unflavored because of 3 reasons: I get the highest protein concentration available for that specific protein powder that I chose, I don’t get any artificial flavors (I really hate all the Es) and I can use my protein powder to bake a high protein cake and it won’t affect the taste of it!
Stay Away from Bad Products!
The market is filled with whey protein powders and I’ll tell you a few things to look for when looking for a new protein powder:
- don’t let the packaging fool you; manufacturers pay a great deal of money for eye-catching packages; remember that you will eat the powder inside, not the package;
- always read the entire label; calculate the protein concentration by this formula: “amount of protein per serving times 100 divided by serving size”; this will lay out the protein concentration; look for a high protein concentration, I suggest above 90%;
- make sure the manufacturer is very clear about the type of protein: full isolate, part isolate, part hydrolyzed etc.;
- make sure the manufacturer states the manufacturing process used for obtaining the whey protein;
- make sure the carbohydrates and fats quantities are as close to zero as possible, this means a very good filtration;
- look for added substances (some manufacturers use patented blends, but they always state the ingredients) – look for extra BCAAs, glutamine, taurine, arginine.
The Best Whey Protein Powder for Me
As far as I am concerned, the best protein powder for me is:
- 100% whey protein isolate;
- protein concentration minimum 90%;
- maximum 1g of carbs and 1 g of fat per 25 – 30g serving;
- obtained using the cross – flow microfiltration technology;
- comes as unflavored;
- has extra BCAA and Glutamine;
I will not write here some brands that I favor because this is not a commercial article. Besides, best could also mean “best value”, or “cheapest”, or “highest protein concentration”, depending on the people reading this. But for me, best means the best possible quality and concentration, as long as it’s drinkable.