Based on years of reviewing clinical research and doing real live studies on ourselves and our athletes, we believe that high protein diets are essential to improving muscle recovery and performance, building lean muscle tissue and improving body composition.
Depending on the individual and their specific needs and goals, we generally recommend anywhere between 1-2 grams of protein per pound of weight per day. So for example, a 180 lbs. hard-training athlete could be consuming in the neighbourhood of 225 grams of protein per day on one of our custom coaching programs.
To consume enough protein throughout the day, we commonly have to recommend a protein supplement to help the process.
Even though we are real food first kind of coaches, protein supplements are one of the most common additions to any performance nutrition plan for the simple fact that it’s extremely difficult (and expensive) to eat enough protein throughout the day with just food alone! But if you’ve ever set foot in a supplement store and stood in front of the massive wall of protein supplements, you know very well that it’s almost as ridiculous as the toxic cereal isle at your local grocery store!
So where do you start?! To make things easier, we’ve put together this quick and easy 4-step approach to buying the best protein supplement for you!
1. Choose Your Protein Source Wisely
The first thing to consider is what source of protein you should buy. There are a number of options out there but we are going to look at the top 4 here: Whey, Rice, Pea and Soy (plus an honourable mention for Casein Protein).
Whey Protein is derived from cow’s milk and has been the staple protein source for hard training athletes for decades. The reason why it is so popular is because it has a high Biological Value (BV) score of 100. BV is a measurement used to determine the protein’s usability as well as the amount of essential amino acids in it. A higher score generally means the body will use/absorb a higher amount of the protein per serving.
Whey protein is what we normally recommend first and foremost because of its effectiveness. When buying a whey protein supplement, you are going to want to stick to a supplement that is primarily whey protein isolate versus a whey protein concentrate. Both are good, however we prefer whey protein isolate because it has a BV score of 130 and is a more pure source of amino acids containing less fat and less lactose (a milk sugar that can cause a number of allergy type reactions in the body).
We are firm believers that quality is king and when you’re taking something as often as you will take your protein supplement, you’re going to want the best sources available.
Brown Rice Protein on the other hand has a BV score of 83. Obviously lower than whey protein because it doesn’t contain the full spectrum of essential amino acids that your body needs for maximum recovery. We do however recommend Rice Protein supplements for athletes who are following a strict plant-based diet or who have extreme sensitivities to any milk based products. Be warned though, most Rice Protein supplements do not taste very good! And if they do taste good we would be concerned about what was added to enhance the flavour.
Pea Protein would be next on the list with a BV score of only 65. Significantly lower than whey and rice protein. For this reason, you will commonly see supplements using Pea Protein mixed with other sources such as Rice Protein to help boost the amino acid profile and increase the effectiveness. For its low BV score and limited essential amino acid content we are not huge fans of Pea Protein supplements.
Soy Protein has a BV score of 74 which is better than Pea Protein but not nearly as good as Whey Protein or Rice Protein. The main problem with Soy Protein is that the majority of it on store shelves is from Genetically Modified (GMO) sources of soy which can be very toxic and harmful to your body with long-term use. Furthermore, there is research out there that soy can increase unwanted estrogen in the body with regular use. For these simple reasons we generally steer clear of all Soy Protein supplements.
Casein Protein is another protein supplement that we have to give an honorable mention to because we do prescribe it often. Casein protein has a BV of 77 which isn’t necessarily high, however casein protein is slow digesting which makes it great for taking before bed to produce a sustained release of amino acids into the blood stream while you sleep. Casein would usually be a secondary addition, after whey protein, to a performance nutrition plan.
Stick to protein supplements that emphasize quality first and foremost.
2. Look for as Few Ingredients as Possible
When you pick up the bottle, spin it around and go directly to the “Other Ingredients” section and scan it carefully. The common mistake is that most people will only look at the supplement facts, i.e. how much protein, fat and carbs are in it and completely overlook the other ingredients. Many companies like to cut corners to save on costs by including a number different lower quality protein sources and low cost amino acids to bring up the total protein amount on the label. You want to buy a protein supplement that has as few ingredients as possible! If there is more than 7-8 ingredients it can stay on the shelf. You want as pure as possible!
3. Avoid Excessive Artificial Sweeteners
Some artificial sweeteners have been found to have negative effects at certain dosages. The most common artificial sweeteners that you are going to want to avoid are Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K) and Aspartame. Look for protein supplements that are flavoured with natural flavours and sweeteners like Stevia. Note that some of our Gold Series products contain a small amount of sucralose in combination with stevia to create our amazing flavours. We also created natural series for customers who prefer their supplements 100% artificial sweetener free.
Sucralose and all food additives of any type (natural or artificial) will have some data that shows it not in a good light. But the predominant studies done correctly (not in a petri dish) and also at proper human doses (not at 50x the human dose) show the ingredient to be more safe than then the extreme studies show.
Even nutrients such as beta-carotene, some B vitamins, and other ‘healthy’ nutrients also can have some studies, that can show results that are not pleasing to the eye (but again – those studies are extreme where the dose is like 50-1000x the human dose) – so these so-called ‘extreme studies’ are out of context.
But taking all things into context, sucralose and other sweeteners like stevia are all approved – and the honest answer to why we use sucralose is simply this - more consumers of these items prefer the sweetness – how do you get that without sugar, when the same people do not want the sugar? We offer choices, and as consumers ourselves, we have no problem consuming these products ourselves.
4. Don’t be Fooled by Outlandish Promises!
The protein supplement game has become such a huge business with so many new offerings in the last few years that companies are looking for any possible trick and angle to “sell” you on why you should buy theirs. Don’t be fooled by ridiculous claims promising to make you into a muscle monster overnight. Usually the guy speaking the loudest in the room is the one with the most to hide. Stick to simple protein supplements that emphasize quality first and foremost over results. If you get a high-quality protein supplement, train right and eat right you will get results!
So, there you have it, that’s our quick guide to buying the best protein supplement for you. Do your homework before you go into the supplement store so you know exactly what you want.
Beware: The sales staff commonly work on commission so they will often recommend the product that they get the most kick back for and not the product that is best for you!
If you’re looking to purchase a protein supplement, we recommend you give PVL supplements a shot.
Here is what you can expect from PVL Supplements:
- Certified Banned Substance Free
- Certified Trusted by Sport Informed-Choice.org
- Zero Aspartame, Zero Acesulfame Potassium, Zero Artificial Flavours, Zero Artificial Colours.
- Clean, High-Quality Ingredients and Free of Unnatural Additives