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Protein blend underhand tactics to watch out for

A protein blend can be as effective, if not more effective, than whey protein alone according to recent studies. It is therefore little wonder that more and more people are switching to using a protein blend. With hundreds of different protein blends available on the market today, how do we distinguish between the good and the bad? Unfortunately some companies have resorted to underhand tactics to drive down the costs of their protein blends, while hiding the levels of ingredients used. Examples of this include "proprietary blends" and the use of cheap amino acids which have little or no nutritional benefit. Below we will discuss protein blends and what to look out for when making your next purchase.

What is a protein blend?

From whey protein concentrate to organic hemp protein, there are hundreds of different protein powders available on the market, varying in source, processing and quality. When two of more of these powders are mixed together to form a product or part of a product this is known as a protein blend.

Why are protein blends beneficial?

With each protein source having its own advantages, such as protein content, price, allergen suitability or release rate, it can be beneficial to combine multiple protein sources, so that the finished product provides multiple benefits. For example, if we look at whey protein, which on its own is digested quickly; and milk protein which on its own is digested slowly; by combining the two we have a protein blend which provides a sustained release of protein over a number of hours, ensuring a prolonged release of nutrients to encourage muscle growth and repair.

How do companies hide the inclusion levels in their protein blends?

Various tactics are used by supplement companies to hide the levels of the various protein sources in their protein blends. One common tactic is to declare the protein collectively in the ingredient declaration as a protein blend or proprietary blend.

What are proprietary blends?

While under normal circumstances supplement companies have to declare ingredients in descending order of weight, they get around this by bunching all the protein sources together in brackets at the top of the ingredient declaration.

How do proprietary blends trick the consumer?

This means that they can then put minuscule amounts of expensive protein sources in to the blend (such as whey protein isolate or hydrolysed whey), and make it look like they are at the top of the ingredient list. Here is an example I've mocked up below.

Example

Ingredients Inclusions
Soy Protein Isolate 35%
Whey Protein Concentrate 35%
Flavouring 10%
Colouring 5%
Sweetener 5%
Other fillers 5%
Whey Protein Isolate 1%
Milk Protein Concentrate 1%
Hydrolysed Whey Protein 1%
Micellar Casein 1%
Calcium Caseinate 1%
How the ingredient declaration could look: Protein Blend (Whey Protein Concentrate, Soy Protein Isolate, Hydrolysed Whey Protein, Whey Protein Isolate, Micellar Casein, Milk Protein Concentrate, Calcium Caseinate, Flavouring, Colouring, Sweetener, Other fillers... As you can see, the ingredient declaration can give a pretty distorted view of the levels of the ingredients that are actually present in the blend. And this isn't exactly an extreme example; unfortunately it's pretty close to what, many companies actually do.  

How do GoNutrition offer peace of mind over proprietary blends?

At GoNutrition we refuse to use proprietary blends. Instead we list all of our active ingredients and their inclusion levels in the blend. Here is an example of how it should be done, from our ProBlend 5: "Whey Protein Concentrate 80% (34.4%), Micellar Casein 85% (25.5%), Whey Protein Isolate 90% (16.7%), L Glutamine, Calcium Caseinate (3.3%), Egg White Albumen (3.3%), Cocoa Powder (Triple Chocolate Flavour Only), Flax Seed Powder, Natural Flavouring..." As you can see, the exact percentage of each source is declared, so you know exactly what you are getting and, more importantly, what you are putting in your body.

Are there any other nasty tricks used?

Unfortunately the answer is "yes". Another common trick used by underhand nutrition suppliers is to refrain from disclosing the quality of the ingredients used. For example, a whey protein concentrate can range anywhere from 30-85% in protein, the rest being made up of unwanted fats and carbohydrates which is predominantly lactose - a high GI sugar. Many companies will use low quality protein powders to keep costs down. They do not need to declare the individual protein levels just the overall protein level.

How do GoNutrition differ?

As can be seen from the example above from our ProBlend5™, not only do we declare the level of each individual protein source in the blend, but we also declare the quality level (percentage protein) of the source.

Surely I only need to be concerned with the overall protein level of the formula?

Sadly it is not as simple as that. In fact, there is a final ploy used to artificially increase the protein levels, and this is arguably the worst of all. The addition of low value and low quality amino acid powders to protein blends can actually cause them to give a false positive result on a protein test.

What's wrong with amino acid powders?

Some amino acid powders are good and can help increase protein synthesis, for example the BCAAs (leucine isoleucine and valine). Other amino acids, such as glycine, have little or no benefit when it comes to training and recovery. However they are cheap, and can cause false positive results in laboratory protein tests, so some companies cheat by adding large volumes of them to their protein blends. Their presence causes the protein content to appear higher than it really is in test results.

Why do certain companies do this?

The answer is simple: Profit! By using the above under hand tactics companies can reduce the cost of their protein blend by over 75%. They then can sell the product on at what would seem great value, but still make a great profit. The cost of premium whey protein concentrate 80 has has tripled over the last few years, and with the addition of VAT on protein powders, this has unfortunately driven unscrupulous companies to takat their customers.

What is GoNutrition's stance on this?

While we do add amino acids to some of our protein blends, we only ever add the ones that work, and never as a filler to lower our costs. We will always declare (right below the nutritionals) the levels of any added active ingredients. Here is the example from our Essential Protein: Also includes per 45g serving: Creatine Monohydrate: 5g Taurine: 2.5g Glutamine: 1g

What are the key questions I should ask when looking for a quality protein blend?

  • Is the supplier declaring the levels of each active ingredient used?
  • Is the percentage protein level of each protein source declared?
  • Does the protein blend have a smooth flowing consistency?
  • Does the supplier justify the use of all the ingredients in their description?
  • Is the presence of ingredients backed up by sound scientific evidence?
If the answer to any of the above is "No" then it's time to ask some questions. You should not be afraid to ask the questions directly or via social media. If the company has nothing to hide they will be able to give you the answers. If not, we would certainly avoid, as we wouldn't trust putting their products in our bodies.

Further reading

Reidy PT, Walker DK, Dickinson JM, Gundermann DM, Drummond MJ, Timmerman KL, Fry CS, Borack MS, Cope MB, Mukherjea R, Jennings K, Volpi E, Rasmussen BB. (2013) - Protein Blend Ingestion Following Resistance Exercise Promotes Human Muscle Protein Synthesis. Journal of Nutrition, 2013 jn.112.168021; January 23, 2013.
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