If you’re someone who is focused on achieving their athletic goals and are also serious about nutrition, you know that whole foods are better than processed foods. You probably also know that if you’re training hard, it can be tough to get enough protein from food alone.
Enter: the protein supplement. A great way to up the high quality protein you get in your diet… that is until you realize that they are highly processed. A far cry from the whole food diet you swear by.
The good news is that there are minimally processed protein powder options out there.The question is, how do you find them?
Let us help. Here are some things to know in your search for a cleaner, less processed protein powder:
1. Know how your protein powder is made
Seems obvious when looking for minimal processing, but different types of protein have different production processes. Knowing what goes into each type of protein will inform your overall choice.
Whey protein- Whey protein comes from milk, which goes through a heating (pasteurization process). Then, cheese making microorganisms are added and it gets cooked and separated into cheese curds and whey. The whey is then filtered, spray dried, and finally flavoured so it tastes a little better in your smoothies.
Plant protein- Plant protein comes from plants (usually a mixture of pea, rice, quinoa, flax, hemp and many others), and is dried and ground into a powder form. They can be processed in different ways, but all are chemically intensive. Usually the process involves using solvents, chemicals or enzymes to dissolve the protein and then a series of processes to extract it. After this, it is spray dried into a powder and then flavouring is added to it.
Egg protein- Egg protein comes from eggs of course, which are filtered and dried into a powder. Egg whites can also be separated from the yolks and then filtered and dried. This has the added benefit of retaining most of the high quality protein, but losing the cholesterol. Egg proteins tend to be the least processed of the three main types. We’ve been upfront about all the steps involved in making our Blonyx Egg White Protein Isolate - Check them out here.
2. Know if your protein has been further processed, and how this changes the product
In your protein search you’ve most likely come across the terms “concentrate” “isolate” or even “hydrolysate”. The difference between these are the processing methods which will be different for every type of protein (whey, plant, egg, etc.).
Concentrate- This basically refers to the removal of protein from its source and concentration of it. It would then be dried to form a consumable powder. This is the more cost effective protein option and usually the most minimally-processed, but can come with downsides.
For example, whey protein concentrate consists of 80% protein by weight with the remaining 20% containing carbohydrates and fats. In egg protein, a concentrate leaves you with a powder that still contains an eggy taste--not the best flavour profile for your smoothies. Concentrates tend to be a little slower absorbing too.
Isolate- Protein isolates contain around 90% protein by weight with further processing removing a lot of the fat and carbohydrates that are found in its concentrate form. The techniques to isolate the protein can be intensive leaving a product that is further away from real food (e.g. with whey protein) - or can be done keeping the product more or less intact. Our Blonyx Egg White Protein Isolate is an example here where a simple filtering is used to take out sulphur to give the powder a less eggy taste profile. The egg whites are left largely intact as a result.
Hydrolysate- This is when enzymes are used to break up proteins into much smaller chunks which can then be absorbed at a very fast rate by the body. It’s yet another processing.
To date mainly whey proteins are found in isolate and hydrolysate form. There are now initial tests on an egg white protein hydrolysate that show it to be as fast absorbing as whey hydrolysates. Information isn’t yet available on how this changes the makeup of the powder.
3. Take note of the other ingredients in a product and understand how processed they are
Most protein powders come with added ingredients such as added sugars, flavouring, additives vitamins, and minerals. It’s important to read the ingredients labels to find out what is in your protein supplement and then do your research into the processing process behind that ingredient.
For example, stevia is a plant-based sweetener often added to protein powders as a low-calorie flavour agent. While it’s extracted from the stevia plant, it’s processed in a lab with ethanol which throws into question it’s “natural” title.
While not fit for someone concerned with weight loss, protein supplements that contain organic cane sugar actually provide a less processed option. It’s worth noting that research shows that taking protein and carbohydrates after training can direct more protein to rebuilding and repairing muscle tissue.
Take a look at the ingredient lists on the protein powders you choose. The fewer the better of course, but also do your research on what they are and how they’re made.
4. Be wary of additives
Additives are used to “fine tune” a protein powder. Taste aside they can also increase shelf life, improve consistency and make them more soluble. In most cases there are additives that are more natural (e.g. from seed and plant extracts), and some that are straight out of a science lab like silica dioxide, which prevents powder clumping.
Make sure you check on your additives. As an example: Carrageenan is an extract from red seaweed that is added to products as a vegan thickening and gelling agent. But recently it’s been found that it is highly inflammatory and toxic to the digestive tract and may be linked to colitis and IBS.
Overall, the most important part of choosing a minimally-processed protein to compliment your whole foods diet is to do your research on how it’s made and what the additional ingredients are. A shorter list is always best, and sources like PubMed and google scholar are free to use and will give you scientific grounding to your insight.
In order to help you achieve your athletic ambition we wanted to create a minimally processed protein powder that is as close to real food as possible. We think we did it… click here to find out more.