‘Whey’ing In: Are Protein Powders Paleo?
This is a story about a guy I know – we’ll call him ‘Magnus’ (he’d like that). He likes to lift heavy things and has been known to grunt and swear while lifting these heavy things. When he opens his (massive) gym bag it’s like taking a trip to GNC (if GNC also sold chalk) – there’s the pre-workout drink mix, the during workout potion, the protein packed post-workout magic muscle builder, a plethora of other random pills/powders and the mandatory ‘shaker bottle’. Let’s just say ‘Magnus’ is VIP at GNC. Now, I’m guessing you all have a picture of ‘Magnus’ in your head right now and maybe he looks a little like the dude on the cover of this month’s Muscle & Fiction Magazine… Well, I hate to break it to you but ‘Magnus’ stands about 5’11” and likely tips the scale at a solid 160 (after lunch). Yeah, downright burly – or something…
Alright, so my guess is you all know at least one ‘Magnus’ and even if you aren’t “that guy or gal” there is a pretty good chance you too own a ‘shaker bottle’ and massive tub of some type of protein powder. Why am I assuming this? One of the MOST common questions I get and see goes something like this, “What’s a good Paleo protein powder?” or “What protein powder do you recommend?” Well folks, here I am, once again ‘raining on your parade’. Now granted in some situations – few and rare – a protein powder and/or liquid meal may have a place; but for the general population that’s Crossfitting, going jogging, lifting weights, etc these magic powders are not all they’re ‘shook’ up to be and in every case REAL FOOD is always the BEST choice!
Now you’re all thinking, but they sell it at my gym and everyone else says it’s good and it works for muscle building, fat loss, leaning out, recovery, energy, weight gain, insert your goal here___________. That right there should be your first clue – one powder/shake that fits everyone’s goals – how does that work? Sure, there are ‘lite’ and ‘mega-growth’ formulas – but when it comes down to the stick – they all ‘shake’ out about the same. One may use a sugar substitute instead of sugar or have a different amino acid breakdown, but in truth you can’t trust what the label says anyway…
Let’s look at the label – sure it says it has 20 grams of protein, all the essential amino acids, is 100% ‘pure’ – blah, blah, blah… Unfortunately, what you think you’re getting and what you’re actually getting can be two very different things. Protein powders fall under the realm of ‘supplements’ in the eyes of the government and therefore are not regulated nor checked for purity or content. A Consumer Reports investigation uncovered concerning amounts of arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium in several well known and darn right popular protein powders – we’re talking ‘exceeding maximum’ pharmacologically deemed ‘safe’ numbers here. And do you really know what else could be in there? There have been several cases and reports of seemingly innocent ‘protein powders’ being contaminated with anabolic steroids or like substances which have resulted in positive ‘doping’ test results.
Have you ever went to the meat counter and asked the butcher to cut you off a big slab of whey or cracked open an egg to be greeted with a white powder? I’m guessing it’s a great big negatory on that one. Believe it or not protein powders are a processed food. Yes, you heard that correctly – these powders are far from a ‘natural phenomenon’. You cannot milk a cow and get a powder, city kids you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. So, where does the powder come from? In the case of whey, it’s often a waste product of cheese making and unless you’re getting the super pricey, meat is a better deal, protein powder from grassfed animals you’re likely getting ‘grain-fed waste’. Let’s also consider the process that makes the whey into a powder (it’s liquid in real life…) – this process be it whey or egg white often utilizes extremely high heat (like higher than cooking). This ‘hot air’ denatures the protein to an extent that may increase its carcinogenic load. And hold on, there’s more!! Some of these powders even come with some bonus MSG!! Remember that rule about food that comes in a package, needs a label and can live on a shelf for an extended period of time? Apply that here.
But I Need A Post Workout Meal?!?!
Relax!! Yes, the post workout meal is important but consider the goal of that meal along with your overall goals. The primary purpose of post pain party fuel is to restore the muscle protein and glycogen that was depleted during the workout and to promote recovery. If getting/staying lean and enhancing health and longevity are also on your list of ‘things to do’ – then liquid food will not the best choice make. Why? Two-words: Insulin Response. Granted after you workout your insulin sensitivity is heightened and it takes less of it to clear the post workout meal glucose from the blood; but this phenomenon should be taken advantage of not hindered by a liquid induced blood sugar surge. Liquids require less processing and digestion, so instead of the slow steady blood sugar rise that happens with a dose of starchy carb and some protein from real food sources; the ‘shaker bottle’ cocktail results in a zero to 60 increase in blood glucose levels. This pedal to the metal rise requires insulin fast and even though sensitivity is heightened the end result is more insulin being produced to clear the sugar bombarded blood. This folks – is NOT what we’re going for! If you find this whole post workout eating thing a whole lot of confusing definitely check out Robb’s post about the ins and outs of the game. But understand that you can’t do better than ‘real food’ regardless of what your friends or the label on a tub of powder say.
So, what’s a ‘Magnus’ to do?? Put the shaker bottle away and stop paying for the college educations of the “I work on commission” GNC salespersons kids and “JUST CHEW IT”! Your body, taste buds and wallet will be MUCH happier in the end.
What are you ‘whey’ting for?