PHOTO: protein powders are processed (by definition) so they are a complicated thing to try to add to a healthy diet.
Choosing Your Protein Powder
For today’s nutritional tip, I wanted to talk about protein powders. We get lots and lots of questions about what is the best protein powder to take. Lucas, why do you hate milk? Why do you hate whey proteins so much? So here’s the first thing about protein powders: they are very tricky and very difficult to deal with, and all of them are problematic. Every single type of protein powder is problematic: it doesn’t matter if it’s hemp, rice, or whey.
So first of all, let’s talk about some protein powders you absolutely don’t ever want to eat. The first one is soy protein powder. Any bodybuilder will tell you, bodybuilders end up cycling proteins, they’ll take different types of proteins because they develop terrible digestive problems and allergies because they’re taking too many isolated proteins. So the one that they’ll tell you is the worst is soy protein. They develop allergies very, very quickly. It could be anything from skin rash and irritation to digestion to estrogenic affects, like decreased testosterone and weight gain around the midsection. Everyone taking protein powder would agree that those are undesirable side effects. So never take any kind of soy protein, any protein powder that has soy in it. Just forget about it. That’s not a good, healthy food.
The other one is casein. In milk protein there’s two different types of primary proteins. You have whey protein and casein. Casein is extremely carcinogenic. It’s also inflammatory. I don’t know why anyone would ever take casein but it is available, and it’s sold as a bodybuilding supplement. It’s one of the best ways to put your body in a fat-gaining state. Stay away from casein.
Now for some plant-based proteins. The main ones are hemp protein, pea protein, and rice protein. None of these proteins are very easy to process, which is the problem. Let’s start with hemp.
Hemp is a very interesting plant. It has a decent amount of protein, it’s also got some interesting fats. It’s also a seed, and like all seeds, they tend to be prone to allergies. It just depends on the person. People tend to develop nut allergies, but it’s not actually the nuts they’re allergic to, it is the molds, the mycotoxins, that grow on nuts and seeds.
It has to do the way they’re picked and stored. Some of it just has to do with nature. Peanuts for example (which are actually a legume) and cashews have a lot of aflatoxin on them, which is a mold. It’s a natural mold but it’s carcinogenic and also toxic for us.
So that’s the biggest problem with hemp. It’s also very expensive, and it also gives you protein farts. And this is a big issue with almost all proteins: you get protein farts. Your body is not accustomed to eating pure isolated amino acids like this. It really does a number on your digestive system.
But all that said, if you’re taking a reasonable amount and you’re using it in a controlled fashion, maybe just using a little bit at a time (I usually recommend 15 grams or less, whereas most people are taking 30 grams or more) it can be ok. So even if you’re taking a lot of protein, and perhaps you’re lifting or you’re doing a lot of resistance training, take a little, but more often, as opposed to a lot rarely.
A big chunk of protein at one time can be very inflammatory as well. A lot of people don’t realize this, but it can also raise your insulin levels. Not as fast as sugar of course, but it still does have a pretty dramatic impact, which you’re not looking for.
The next big one that people are really into is whey protein, specifically whey protein isolate. This is a processed, junky food. Stay away from it. You’ll find it in the general nutrition centers and all these pharmacies, with big muscular guys. The challenge with this is this is a highly processed food. Those proteins have been denatured.
Part of the reason that people need so much protein and everybody’s harping about protein all the time, is because all the protein they eat has been cooked, processed and denatured, and you need to eat a lot more when your protein is crap.
But when your protein is good you don’t need nearly as much. I originally learned this from Dr. Gabriel Cousens at the Tree of Life, and it was one of the more interesting explanations of why people are so obsessed with protein. If you eat all this crappy protein, of course you need a lot. When you eat more raw or at least nearly raw proteins, you need a lot less because it’s more bioavailable and it’s not denatured and your body can use it. So whey protein isolate is a highly processed form of whey protein. Stay away from it.
The next one is whey protein concentrate. This is very rare. This represents like 1% to 3% of the market. This is a much, much better product, ideally, from grass-fed, hormone-free animals. It’s expensive and it’s hard to find, but this is a premium product and it’s pretty decent.
Again, isolating protein in a powder is not the easiest thing in the world, so it comes with all kinds of problems. Whey protein can cause allergies, especially if you have milk allergies, but much less than milk. People who are lactose intolerant can often handle whey protein. It tastes pretty good. It’s also pretty easy to mix in with other things. You’re still going to get disaster pants if you take too much, so I’d aim for 15 grams of protein per serving. If you need more than that take it multiple times per day. Whey protein concentrate goes on the okay list.
Another one that would go on the okay list is rice protein. So people say, what the hell? There’s no protein in rice. There actually is protein in rice, just not very much. There’s a fermentation process in order to isolate the protein in rice. It’s not as strong as in whey, it gets up to 70%, 80%.
The challenge I have with the brown rice proteins is the same thing. You can get disaster pants. If you eat too much of it, it really gives you digestive problems. It is hypoallergenic, which means it’s much less likely to cause allergy problems than a whey protein or a hemp protein or even a pea protein, so almost everyone can tolerate it.
If you take it by itself, I find it’s pretty neutral in terms of its flavor. It’s a little bit chalky, but you can mix it with something and it’s not too bad. Compared to a whey protein it’s not nearly as versatile, in terms of where you can use it. I do like that it seems a little bit more sustainable. Most of this whey protein is coming from the dairy industry, which is just something I prefer to stay away from and I think most people would.
Last but not least, let’s talk about pea protein. Pea protein is also pretty interesting and sustainable. However the taste is pretty bad. It’s hard to use and you also get protein farts. It isn’t too hard to find and can be reasonably priced. It has a very low allergen profile, especially compared to soy or egg. Just be sure you buy a high quality brand, otherwise they can contain chemical solvents and fertilizer contaminants.
All that said, whenever you can, I think the best protein is real protein. Protein powder should be used as an emergency. They shouldn’t be used as your breakfast. There’s this four-hour body trend where people want to wake up and take 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking. I’ve never seen any research to back that up. It’s just kind of these urban myths that go around. Another urban myth is 30 minutes after your workout you’ve got to get 30 grams of protein. People get really obsessed with these and there just isn’t the research to back them up.
And so with all of these, I would use them as backup, which is how I always use protein powders. What I mean is if I’m traveling, if I know I’m going to be on a long flight, if I know I’m only going to be able to get steamed vegetables and rice for the next couple of days I might bring some rice protein with me. That’s my preferred source. But if I can, whenever I can, I’ll use nuts and seeds, I’ll use sprouted lentils, I’ll use other forms of plant-based proteins that I like better.
If you’re an animal-based protein person, eggs are a really great source of protein. They do develop allergies, there’s problems with chickens and all these kinds of things, but if you can get duck eggs or if you can get chicken eggs, raw preferred, is a great way to take them because then that protein is even more bioavailable.
Other animal proteins are pretty decent as well, assuming the animal’s in good shape. But just keep in mind the quality of your proteins is more important than the quantity. If you’re finding yourself needing to eat 150-plus grams of protein per day, I think you really need to check yourself because you shouldn’t need that much.
Most people need somewhere between 50 and 100 grams per day, depending on your level of activity and what you’re doing. The only exception would be bodybuilders and people who are doing really extreme, unnatural things. For most of us it’s pretty easy to get your protein adequate intake, as long as you’re eating protein-rich foods and they’re mostly raw or lightly cooked and they’re bioavailable.
So that’s my take on protein powders. My first choice would be brown rice protein. After that would be hemp protein, pea protein would be third and then a whey protein concentrate. All of them are going to be pretty pricey. You’re going to be paying anywhere from $40 to $60 per kilo, 2.2 pounds in general, and so it ends up working out to maybe a buck or two per serving. All things considered, these are premium products. It’s priced pretty fairly, but it is pretty expensive. So I would use these as backups. I would use these as emergency foods. I wouldn’t use this as a staple food.