How To Choose The Right Whey Protein Supplement

Woman Drinking Protein Shake

I know that for many people, choosing a whey protein supplement can be an intimidating and confusing ordeal. Usually people rely on a recommendation from a friend or from someone they believe to be an authority in the matter. This can have many negative consequences if you (the consumer) aren’t educated with the knowledge to exercise good judgement on your own behalf. I’m sure your friends have your best interests in mind, but if they aren’t in tune with right knowledge they may unknowingly lead you down the wrong path. Surely your neighbourhood supplement dealer will tell you the truth – right?

Although there are many supplement dealers and producers with good business scruples, there are many that do not. With outragous marketing strategies and rediculous product claims it’s hard to know whats real anymore or who to even trust. Before I shed some light on this subject I’d like to reference my last post where I tried to get across the importance of protein to our bodies and why consuming whey protein isolate (WPI)  is probably your best choice.  For those who still feel that they are already getting enough protein from “food” sources, here’s a few more points to consider:

When compared to commercially prepared meats and solid tissue proteins WPI:

    • is easier to digest and much lower in fat
    • is less time consuming and more convenient to prepare; when consumed in a shake (liquid form) it offers faster and more thorough absorption.
    • provides a higher biological value  (110-159) than any other protein.
    • poses no risk of contamination (E. coli, salmonella, parasites, various pathogens, antibiotic residues, prions, pesticides, dioxin, DDT).
    • is extracted without heat (no damage); cooking degrades and denatures protein
    • has an alkaline pH; cooked animal flesh acidifies the blood (i.e. canned fish, hamburger, wieners, hard boiled egg, medium well steak).
    • outperforms cooked animal protein or soy’s immune enhancing and gut healing benefits associated with specific whey peptides


The Best Whey

The main advantage of whey relates to its purity, high biological value (BV) and how its peptides are formed and isolated by extraction without the need for heat or acid-treatment. This preserves the integrity and biochemical properties of the protein fractions. WPI by definition contains no less than 90% protein. If it contains <90% protein, it is classified as a whey protein “concentrate” (WPC). Concentrates provide less than 90% protein but not less than 35% protein, so disparity between various concentrates can be enormous. In addition, the percentage of protein present in any given whey protein does not depend on any particular method of filtration or extraction, nor does it guarantee quality, peptide range or the bioavailability of the peptides (just because the peptides are listed on the label doesn’t mean they are biologically “active”).

whey wars

Competition in the health food industry for shelf space can be fierce, so instead of advancing the value and quality of their own products, some competitors attack the value and quality of other name brand whey proteins. First, they may challenge the price of the competition. when evaluating these claims as a consumer, always ensure the comparison is on a gram to gram basis. For example Brand X is 4 kg and Brand X2  is only 3.5 kg. The containers may appear identical but obviously Brand X contains more product volume.

Another common form of comparison relates to percentage of protein per serving. To determine the percentage of protein per serving in any whey protein, divide the serving size in grams into the number of grams of protein provided by each serving (divide the larger number into the smaller and multiply by 100).

Example Whey Protein Label


whey protein labelIn this example, divide 29.4 into 23 and multiply by 100 to determine the percentage of actual protein per serving (23 ÷ 29.4 = 0.7823 x 100 = 78.23 or 78). This particular whey protein is approximately 78% protein. In its purest form, it may have started out as a whey protein isolate (90% protein), but due to added flavors, sweeteners and/or thickening agents the final protein percentage of the whole powder mix will generally be less than whatever protein was added to the mix.

The cleanest source of whey you can buy is unflavored and unsweetened and has no thickening agents added (but trust me, most people don’t like it). The end product in this example provides only 78% protein; however, compared to eating a piece of organic turkey breast on the basis of weight gram to gram, it is still considerably higher.

 The War Rages On . . .

Competitors may attack the amino acid content, including the percentage of BCAAs, or the amount of glutamine, alanine and cysteine listed per 100gm. Some may claim their product has a superior Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER) or a higher Biological Value (BV). The only way to verify this is through actual research on animals or humans using their product, in its exact form. If they cannot demonstrate evidence of this, then any references they provide are almost always based on borrowed studies, using whey protein- peptide micro-fractions, which may or may not be similar to their own.

Another cause for debate is important to mention. Several products on the market include a mix of different proteins from different sources in addition to whey, such as casein, egg, soy, wheat, hemp or buckwheat. They claim the mixture provides a better amino acid profile and therefore is superior to whey in an isolated form. I disagree. Most, if not all of these alternative source proteins are denatured through methods of extraction, which employ heat, pressure or acidic chemicals.

They are also cheaper to buy because they cost less to manufacture and because they have lost market share value due to popularity of WPI. Thus a mix consisting of inferior proteins damaged by heat and chemicals (including low-quality whey protein concentrates high in lactose) but sold at the same price as a WPI can yield tremendous profit to the manufacturer. Or they may sell the same quantity for less which motivates the consumer to buy based on getting what they think is an equal or even superior product for less cash.

 Suppliers guilty of this infraction often use complex terminology and fancy terms in their marketing strategy which they themselves invent to persuade unsuspecting consumers that their special mixture of various proteins (proprietary percentage of course) based on synergy, or amino acid variance or speed of release into blood is superior to whey protein alone. Which would you prefer, a bar of pure gold or an alloy of gold consisting of gold and several other cheaper metals?

The Choice Is Yours

Now that your are a little more knowledgeable in what to look for ( and out for) in a protein supplement get out there and try it for yourself. I’m sure you’ll feel stronger and more energized. I’m not suggesting whey protein is a magic bullet to solve all your energy problems, rather I believe it to be a missing link in the diet of many people. Getting your protein intake in check is just the first step (nutritionally) in getting the most out of your body and your  life.

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Craig Simms
Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 11 years and has amassed over 15,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
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