How to choose the right proteins?

columnsHIGHLIGHTED 29.03.2013 11:29h Author:

Whey protein

Unlike in professional sports, where it's always been a normal and essential component, the supplementation of amateurs was until recently viewed as something bad, health-damaging and unnecessary. Those who took any dietary supplements, especially protein-based ones, were the subject of discussions and arguments, which is why they often concealed the use of such products from others.

Nowadays, the situation has changed significantly, nutritional supplements are common occurrence and we can seldom see recreational athletes in gyms not using any of these products, which are increasingly present on the market. Although I personally advocate and maintain that anyone who in any way exposes his or her body to physical strain and stress needs to complement their diet with certain supplements, I have to say that, unfortunately, most of them contain some ingredients that I would not recommend or use them myself. Now this is a topic that requires a more detailed consideration, and this column is dedicated to everyone who needs help in choosing supplements in an adequate and correct manner and getting the idea of how to discriminate between quality products and those that should best be avoided.

There are different myths and legends about sports supplementation and the set of rules associated with it. Sadly, most people who take up sports at amateur level lack information and base their knowledge of what, when and why take dietary supplements on talking to some friend, who, typically, "knows all about it". It is this kind of expert that has caused quite a chaos when it comes to the information circling around in gyms and fitness centers. Very often, manufacturers and distributers of certain supplements send a wrong message themselves in an effort to boost sales, consciously and irresponsibly showering their customers with incorrect and unprofessional claims through aggressive marketing.

What dealers of cheap and poor quality products typically want to convince their prospective customers of is that all proteins are the same and there is no difference among them worth mentioning. However, the truth is somewhat different.

Proteins can come in different chemical forms, with different purities, absorption rates and origins. Thus, proteins of soy, eggs or milk can be found on the market, but the one that has been the most "in" over the recent years is whey protein. Due to its exceptional absorption rate, amino acid quantity and purity percentage, whey protein has become an indispensable dietary supplement for any fitness buff. What makes one whey protein different from another is the method and procedure by which it is produced and which affect its purity.

Consequently, there are whey protein concentrates, which are the slowest, have a low quantity of amino acids, and their production and the procedure by which they are obtained are the cheapest. As a result, such proteins have the lowest prices on the market. These are followed by isolates, which are obtained by the procedure of being isolated from whey and yield a much faster and better effect; their production is more expensive, but their results and impacts are much more effective. By far the best, fastest and purest whey proteins are hydrolyzed proteins, obtained by microfiltration at low temperatures. They retain a very high rate of amino acids, especially essential ones, which the building and growth of muscles are actually based on. Such proteins are naturally the most expensive and are currently offered on the market by a very small number of brands.

The main criterion to determine protein quality is that it must dissolve in water or milk very quickly, which means that it should stick or clot in a shaker as little as possible. Another very important thing is that a protein should not foam after being shaken because this would mean it has a high rate of sugar, which is, of course, undesirable. One of the major misconceptions is that people determine the quality of proteins according to taste. Moreover, certain brands that make poor quality products pay great attention to perfecting the taste so as to cover up the shortcomings of the ingredients themselves and add to the subjective perception of those who taste their products. This is usually just a matter of adjusting and increasing the quantity of sweeteners and cocoa powder.

Let's get back now to what should be avoided and that part of supplementation dealing with harmful and non-recommended ingredients.

Certainly the number one on that list is sweeteners, which are contained in most products available on the market. As the most toxic in this group, aspartame stands out; even a short Google search of it leads to a series of medically indisputable proofs of the health hazards, cancer risk and even blindness it causes. Following these insights and a strong anti-campaign initiated against this toxin, the American food control agency FDA approved a just as toxic and harmful sweetener called acesulfame. Encouraged by this, many companies have launched heavy "aspartame-free" campaigns, all the while using acesulfame in their products and thus deceiving millions of their customers. If you just pay a little bit more attention to the declarations of products you use, you will find one of the said sweeteners in most of them. Other than sweeteners, it would be advisable to avoid lactose and soy.

Of course you can find brands in our market that take every precaution not to put any of the above mentioned ingredients in their products, but those are really rare.

If we now, after learning all this, get back to those who claim that "all proteins are the same" and it doesn't matter which one you buy, and that if you buy a little bit more expensive and better product you're wasting your money, we can see what fallacy we are dealing with.

Avoid protein concentrates, choose isolates of hydrolyzates, avoid aspartame or acesulfame at all cost, and look for the ISO 9001 certificate on the packaging as this is the proof of quality. And finally – read product declarations and supplement facts because that's where the catch is.