Look around any team room and you’re bound to find a tub of protein powder sitting on one of your mate’s desk. It has always been unnerving to us at Bravo Actual because much of the time our buddies bought it because of label appeal and did not realize how much money they were throwing away because of the claims made by some products. Labeling a product as being of a certain quality such as organic, grass-fed, or anything of the sort has tremendous marketing appeal. Customers who have already made the decision to purchase a protein powder want to fuel their body with the best product possible and so they figure why not spend an extra $10, $20, or $30 on a product that was seemingly produced with better quality? The reality is that those claims are misleading and present a false perception of what is being offered vs. what is being advertised. It is important to know the truth behind these claims on labels to make better-informed decisions and save money next time you are shopping for a protein supplement.
The grass-fed trend came in and took the supplement industry by storm. It seemingly set a new standard for quality because cows who eat grass as they were naturally made to do produce better milk and that in turn can be processed into a high-quality protein powder. This is 100% true, but that rarely happens in the dairy industry.
The truth is, the majority of cows are fed a grain diet, even the ones whose milk is labeled “grass-fed.” How’s that possible? Semantics, that’s how!
This is because the definition of ”grass-fed” is not clearly defined. Technically if the cow was allowed to eat grass at any point in its existence, it can be blessed as being grass-fed. Even if that same cow only ate grass as a calf and was fed grain the rest of its life, it can still be distinguished as a grass fed cow.
Supplement brands know this and it gives them the leniency to slap the grass-fed title on their protein powder. Not to mention the upcharge that comes along with it that customers willingly dish out for the perception of consuming a healthier product.
If you want to have better confidence that the product being purchased actually comes from legitimate grass-fed cows, look for grass-fed and grass finished on the label. This means that the cow was fed grass all up until it was butchered.
The "organic" buzzword has also garnered a lot of talk. Whether it be organic whey protein powder or plant based protein, the term can be misleading. Of course, we would expect that our organic protein powder is pure and free of contaminants, but that is all just perception.
Let’s take a look at plant based proteins. What really happens prior to the protein powder being bagged, sealed, and placed on the shelf for your consumption, is that the plants from which the protein is derived are grown in a field. Even though they may be treated organically by themselves, that does not prevent the breeze from blowing the pesticides that were sprayed on other plants in the nearby row from contaminating the organic plants.
If a plant is not directly sprayed, or treated like their non-organic counterparts, they can still be labeled organic and processed into an “organic” plant based protein powder.
What about whey protein being labeled as organic? The same rules apply to the grass or the grain that the cow is fed. While its feed may be given the organic bless off, pesticides and other contaminants could have potentially come into contact with it. Much like the plants, the cow is now eating feed that may not actually be completely organic, and its byproducts would not be completely organic either.
Ultimately, the term organic just signals that the attempt was made, but does not necessarily mean that there was no cross contamination at some point prior to packaging.
The addition of BCAA’s (Branch Chain Amino Acids) to protein powder has been one of the worst offenders of what we call “label appeal.” On the surface it would seem that the addition of BCAA’s would make for a more complete protein powder with added recovery attributes… but it doesn’t.
The fact is protein powders are comprised of all the Essential Amino Acids which also include BCAA’s. To add more BCAA’s to protein powders is not only pointless, it ups the cost of the protein powder due to the added ingredients.
This practice has also led to some shady practices in the supplement industry with protein spiking because BCAA’s can be added to the total amount of protein on the nutrition label. By doing this, companies are able add more cost-efficient BCAA’s to the otherwise pricey protein powder and charge equal if not more for a lesser quality product. If a protein powder advertises additional BCAA’s, avoid it!
His and Her Protein
Men and women were designed differently, no questions asked. There is an obvious difference in bone density, muscle mass, and hormone balances. Where we do not differ, is how we process micro-nutrients, but that’s not what the sleazy salesman wants you to believe.
While there are not many protein powders specifically marketed towards men, there are ones that focus heavily on the female population. They want women to believe that this product was designed with them in mind and that it was formulated to work synergistically with their bodies to produce better results.
Ladies, there is no added benefit to taking a protein powder designed for women vs. one that was not. This also works vice versa. Protein powder is protein powder and it works just as well for women as it will for men.
This is just a marketing ploy and in fact, there have been some protein powders by the same brand that were marketed to women that were the same formula as their male-oriented protein powder.
At the end of the day, many brands are just looking for a cash grab. It takes more informed consumers to put an end to this form of shameless marketing.
Protein Powders come in many forms. There are isolates, concentrates, casein, and traditional whey. These all have their qualities, but you may not want the number of certain types in the protein powder you intend to buy.
Some of these proteins are much cheaper to produce than others, but the lesser quality proteins still count towards the total protein count on the supplement facts. This means that consumers could be taking in much more of a lower quality protein that will not produce the most optimal results, but they will still be paying the premium price for the product.
Whey, isolate, and casein are the only forms of protein that are marketed. Protein concentrate is essentially a filler that is used to increase the grams of protein.
The real problem with blends is that they do not divulge how much of each type of protein is in the formula. So long as there is a smidgen of a certain type of protein in the powder, they can claim that it is part of the blend. We at Bravo Actual have never trusted protein blends for this reason and feel that it is a questionable practice at best.
Protein powder can be a great supplement to your nutritional programming, but only if you can be certain of the quality that it is. It is also important to understand that protein powders are produced by businesses that want to make money and some brands will advertise their products to be as appealing as possible. As consumers, knowing some of the practices employed for marketing purposes helps to make us more informed when purchasing a protein powder, and looking twice at the ones that are up-charged because of the claims that are made on the label.