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Lab-tested protein powders: what to buy

Protein Powder Lab Tests

Lab-tested protein powders: what to buy

Posted on January 31, 2015 at 19:16 PM

For all the bad things about the American diet (whatever that really is), one fact is certain: We don’t suffer from a lack of protein in our diets.

Depending on your age, and level and frequency of exercise, you may need more or less. For men, the ballpark number is 56 grams of protein a day, and 46 grams a day if you’re a woman (add another 25 grams per day if you’re breastfeeding or pregnant). Power and endurance athletes will need more, up to twice as much as the average person.

Moreover, new research in the American Journal of Physiology — Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that older adults (aged 52 to 75) may need to double up on the recommended daily allowance to maintain and build muscle.

If eating whole foods to pack in more protein is not an option, consider a protein powder to fill the void. With the new-fangled shaking devices, the kind with the wire ball, making a shake can be done, well, in a few shakes without small powdered clumps of protein powder to annoy the texture. You could also add it to batters, hot oatmeal and plain yogurt.

Your choices are continually increasing, causing confusion over what to buy. Besides the traditional and popular sources of protein — namely whey, casein and soy — rice, hemp and pea protein are occupying more shelf space at stores.

Not all protein powders, such as rice, are complete sources of protein, however, and they all have different properties for how fast your system can digest them. If you’re looking for a complete protein, one that contains all the essential amino acids, stick with whey, casein, soy, hemp and pea.

Of these choices, soy is considered heart healthy because research clearly shows that soy lowers cholesterol. For digestibility, whey is the race car, followed by casein. Whey is also digested more completely than soy.

For whey fans, various processing methods enable manufacturers to create whey concentrates, isolates and hydrosolates. The higher the price generally means that you’re paying for additional processing to consume a more purified form of whey.

Whey hydrosolates, for example, are rapidly absorbed into the body because they are essentially pre-digested protein. This form of whey is often used after exercise to strengthen and repair muscles.

If you already buy protein powders or are thinking about adding them to your diet, now would be a good time to review what to buy. I turned to ConsumerLab.com to come up with a list of approved quality protein powder products. ConsumerLab, an independent lab that tests supplements of all kinds to see if their label claims are accurate, tested 27 protein powders. In testing these products, ConsumerLab.com asked these questions: Did they contain as much protein as promised? Were carbohydrate and calorie claims legitimate? Was there any extra sugar, cholesterol or any other substances?

Five products failed to pass its tests, including Prolab Advanced Essential Whey Milk Chocolate. It provided only 7.3 grams of protein per serving when its label listed 23 grams. It also provided 16 more grams of carbohydrates than claimed, including nearly a teaspoon of extra sugar. For a complete list of five failed products, see the list at the end of this column.

Space limits my selection of naming all of the products ConsumerLab approved, so I’m going to list the ones that cost the least to get 20 grams (g) of protein for each category tested. Starting with whey, Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Isolate was the least expensive. Cost: 61 cents per 20 g of protein.

In the casein/milk category, only one product was approved: Pure Protein Shake Cookies n’ Creme. The cost was $1.54 per 20 grams of protein. Same thing with soy; only one approved product: Genesoy Soy Protein Shake Chocolate Flavor. Cost: $1.39.

Mixed protein: Twinlab Whey Fuel was the most economical choice, costing 69 cents.

If your favorite protein powder was not listed here and is not on the ConsumerLab list, it doesn’t mean that its label is unreliable; it just means that ConsumerLab didn’t test it (or I didn’t list it).

You can do a simple calculation to at least see if the number of total calories in a serving is correct. Multiply the listed weight of three components — carbohydrate, protein and fats — by the number of calories they contain in a gram. For carbs and protein, that would be 4 calories per gram; fats are 9 calories per gram.

For example, if a product label listed 25 grams of protein, you’d multiply 25 x 4 to get 100 calories. Repeat with the values for carbs and fats, and then add them altogether. This number should be within 10 percent of what the label states for the total number of calories per serving. It won’t match exactly because manufacturers are allowed to round numbers, for example.

If your calculation is off by more than 10 percent, it is likely that the manufacturer is hiding something. In that case, I’d pick another protein powder. You might consider choosing a single-serve packet to see if you like the taste before splurging on a container.

Five Protein Powders that Failed

Besides Prolab Advanced Essential Whey Milk Chocolate, these other four products failed to pass ConsumerLab’s tests:

  1. Dymatize Nutrition Elite Casein Smooth Vanilla
  2. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Egg Rich Chocolate
  3. Nature’s Plus Spiru-Tein Vanilla
  4. Shakeology Greenberry

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