Protein Supplementation For Athletes: What To Use, What To Avoid, and The Risks of Plant-Based Protein

Protein Supplements

One of the most crucial things we can do as athletes to support healthy aging, performance, and recovery is to prioritize protein, but not all protein sources are created equal. Plant-based protein powders continue to grow in popularity, despite being widely validated as an inferior protein source to animal-based proteins. There are also some emerging concerns about some real dangers of consuming plant-based proteins and alternative “plant-based” meat products laden with seed oils and chemicals. Persistent marketing, creative ways of expressing misinformation, and plain old gullibility has resulted in too many people mistakenly believing that plant-based protein is the way to go.

The main concern is the offensive processing required to generate a protein powder from a plant-based source that is relatively low in protein. This is the same dynamic present with seed oils extracted from plants not naturally high in oil (soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, and canola from rapeseed plants.) While whey protein is also “processed” (more on that later), it’s a natural by-product of making cheese. With plant protein, the methods used to extract protein from the most common plant protein sources, soybeans and peas, involve high heat processing and chemicals that create some unique problems. Thanks to eight decades of research on the serious health effects of soy, pea protein is now the most popular form of plant-based protein today. Like soy, peas are a legume and therefore contain many anti-nutrients. And pea protein is not just the go-to ingredient in plant-based protein powders, it’s frequently found in many other things, like plant-based milk, yogurts, and cheeses—foods that many people who follow an ancestral diet still consume. While the risks of pea protein have not been researched as long as the effects of soy, the popularity of pea protein has been raising concern among pediatricians because of the increase in allergic reactions they’ve seen. Rising cases of food sensitivity to peas is not an inconsequential occurrence—it can actually result in the affected children experiencing a whole range of severe to chronic health issues.

Many of these issues stem from the fact that isolating proteins from their whole food form creates compounds that aren’t naturally present in that food—compounds that trigger inflammation and/or immune system reactions. The anti-nutrients present in legumes is one thing, but then you have to consider everything else that happens as a result of this processing—one example of this is lysinoalanine, a protein compound generated from the methods used to extract soy protein isolates. Lysinoalanine has been proven to cause kidney and pancreatic damage in rats, but the full extent of its harmful effects has not been researched deeply enough in people, at least yet. Plus, plant oils and protein isolates often contain chemicals like hexane (the chemical solvent commonly used in industrial processing of plant oils and protein isolates), which is a known neurotoxin. Plant proteins even contain herbicide residue like glyphosate, which the Detox Project revealed is a common contaminant in various pea protein-based products.

By contrast, whey (the liquid that separates from milk during cheese production), is a complete, high-quality protein source—one that contains all of the essential amino acids. It’s also a very digestible, easily absorbed protein, one that research has shown promotes muscle growth, can reduce inflammation, and even treat Type-2 diabetes and lower blood pressure. It’s also highly satiating and can promote weight loss.

As with all animal products, you want your source to be grass-fed. Then, you have to navigate through the three types of whey: concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate (also known as hydrolyzed whey). Concentrate is the cheapest form of whey and the most commonly used, and it’s both less potent and less pure. Whey concentrate is around 70-85 percent pure, with the remainder being milk sugar (lactose, which most people are intolerant to) and milk fat. Whey hydrolysate is highly purified, even more than isolate. It’s typically used in formulas for infants because it can be the easiest to digest for sensitive folks. However, whey hydrolysate involves heat processing to predigest these proteins. This reduces nutrient potency as well as the immune-supporting co-factors that remain present in whey isolate. It also just tastes horrible—the kind of flavor that needs excessive sweetening to make it palatable—and companies usually add artificial flavoring to cover it up.

And then there’s whey isolate, widely regarded as the best source of whey protein. Whey isolate has a purity level of 90-95%, with the remainder being ash, minerals, and moisture. It’s even fine for almost all lactose-intolerant folks. Let’s step back from the shelves for a moment and reflect on the array of options so we can avoid the crap and focus on the best. If you insist on a plant-based protein powder, realize that you are taking a highly unnatural product that really does warrant a hard pass.

There are other popular animal-based proteins besides whey, and they are pretty good, but grass-fed whey is the best. It has the highest levels of all the essential amino acids, the highest purity, the highest rate of absorption, and also the fastest rate of absorption(10 grams per hour—a huge boost to post-workout recovery!). One standout benefit to whey is that it’s incredibly high in Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s), which are wonderful for muscle repair and preservation. Another amino acid in whey, leucine, actually stimulates protein synthesis and sends signals to the body to increase its storage of amino acids. Whey also contains glutathione, the antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals and can help with muscle degeneration and delay other signs of aging.

Yes, you will notice a higher price tag for grass-fed whey isolate versus the much more common whey concentrate, or the products that contain both concentrate and isolate. Beware of the term “proprietary blend” on labels, which means the manufacturer doesn’t have to disclose specifics and will cut a product with inferior ingredients to increase profits. Scrutinize labels carefully and strive to get the best.

Realize that an inexpensive protein powder comes from often unknown sourcing (commodity ingredients are poorly regulated, often dated), and is typically processed with heat and high temperatures—again to save money. High-temperature processing completely degrades the micronutrients and immune-boosting co-factors while seriously reducing bioavailability. In contrast, the B.rad Grassfed Whey Protein Isolate + Creatine Superfuel has been micro-filtered and cold-processed, resulting in a bioavailability score of 104. Our whey is sourced 100% from small family farms in Wisconsin. Hence, we can legitimately make the claim that this is the freshest, most pure, and most potent whey protein in the world.

Click here to learn more about Superfuel, which provides everything you need to satisfy your daily protein requirements, boost your immunity, and optimize recovery. You can order directly on Amazon at the current introductory discount. You’ll notice a fantastic early response from customers like you–check out our many impressive five-star reviews for details.




Brad Kearns
Brad Kearns
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