Worth The Money?


A friend of mine asked me about the difference in protein powder brands, noting that some of them are quite expensive whereas other seem more reasonable. The bottom line was that he wanted to know if the more expensive brands were worth the extra money or a hoax with a high price tag. I gave him my immediate opinion and then promised a more informed answer  after I  had a chance to look into it a little more. I laughed and told him that either  my research would back up my opinion or blow it out of the water. Well, I’ve done the research and am now reporting back to him, and all of you, on  what I found. Let’s get started!

Protein Structure

First,  I want to quickly recap the molecular structure of protein. As I’ve said before, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are essential in almost every single metabolic process in your body. Protein has four elements  on the ingredients list, unlike carbs and fats which only have three. Hydrogen, oxygen and carbon are in all three macronutrients, but with protein, nitrogen gets added to  the list as well.

When looking at  the picture below, notice that there are a variety of  circles in different sizes and colors, each with a letter on it.


To understand the concept of amino acids,  think about them like the letters  of the alphabet. You can combine  the letters  in  millions  of  varying  sequences and achieve a different end result, or word,  each time. Amino acids are the same way,  they can be put  together in different and varying  sequences to form a huge variety of proteins, each different from the others.   Pretty cool, huh?

Types of Protein Powders

It can be very overwhelming indeed to walk into a store wanting simply to find a protein powder, pay for it  and then be on your way. The panic sets in when you get smacked in the face with two and a  half aisles of nothing but colorful labels adorning tubs and bags of all shapes and sizes boasting several different types of protein. Whey, casein, albumin (egg) and soy are the  four most prevalent, but there are many more which include  rice, pea, hemp and fish powder. I’ve not personally tried anything but  whey, soy and casein so as to the  taste the other products have I’m not much help. I can tell you that the three I’ve tried are not bad and that, as with most supplements, some brands definitely do taste better than others. So what’s the difference between them all?

A super basic breakdown: Casein and whey proteins are both found in milk (but  are each digested differently by the body), soy protein is derived from soybeans, albumin protein is taken directly from egg whites and has the highest biological value (BV), meaning it is absorbed best by the body. Each different type of protein, because of it’s molecular  structure and the process it goes through to be packaged is absorbed at different efficiency rates and speeds  by the body.

Expensive Brands vs. House Brands

When walking through the two and a half aisles of options, you may have noticed that, as  my friend  pointed out, some of the brands are extremely pricey, others are semi-pricey and the remaining few are a little more reasonably priced. What makes the expensive brands so darn  expensive? Is it because they  are a higher quality  protein? No,  that’s not it at all. The higher price is usually just to help cover the costs of branding, packaging and marketing that particular product.

Although there are  a few of them that  have additives, such as additional vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes  and/or branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s), the amount that the company has added to the protein powder really doesn’t explain how much the price  was inflated to do so. All in all, not a good value.

I’ve found too, that buying protein powder in a store vs. online, usually ends up more expensive. In my opinion, it is worth the extra day or two you have to allow for shipping to save money in the long run. Another thing to think about it is this: If you’re looking for a protein powder, chances are high that you’re working out and are either in the process of beginning or maintaining a healthy  lifestyle. Protein powder is not a phase  you’re going to “grow out of” or “get over” in a couple of weeks, so buy it in bulk. Buying it “in bulk” (I buy mine in 5lb. bags from a supplement website I like) makes it quite a bit cheaper in the long run too!

In conclusion, while it is not true that all protein powders are created equal, it is true that you don’t have to pay a mint to get a good protein supplement and the benefits that come from using one. I wouldn’t recommend using the cheapest protein you can find, but it is definitely not necessary to use the expensive versions either. Keep in mind it is more important what the ingredients list and the nutrition label say than the price tag.

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