Happy December!
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By now you have all heard me say that protein is really important when trying to lose weight. At least a third (and ideally 40%) of your calories should come from high quality protein. But it can be hard to get that much from your meals alone and chicken every day gets a little boring. So protein supplements can be really helpful. But there are so many options out there it can be confusing at best. So when deciding which one to get, there are five big things to consider.
1. Where Does The Protein Come From?
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There are three main types of protein in most commercial supplements: Whey, soy, and non-soy vegetable and grain sources.
a. By far, the best source is whey and the best whey is called a whey "isolate". Whey is derived from milk but is so ultra-filtered that even people with very bad dairy allergies or lactose intolerance usually do fine with it. Whey protein is very easily digested and may promote more lean muscle growth and reduce appetite more than other types of protein.
b. Another common source is soy. There is still some disagreement on this but it will probably turn out that soy is not very good for us for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that there is a form of plant estrogen in it that some studies show may cause heart disease, gynecologic cancers and even Alzheimer's disease. I would stay away from soy. By the way, that includes soy milk, edamame and tofu as well. "Soy lecithin" is an ingredient you will see way down towards the bottom of the ingredients list in a lot of protein supplements. It is not actually soy. At least not the kind we are talking about above so it's ok. 
c. The last major source is non-soy vegetables and grains. These include peas, brown rice, hemp, etc. I know it is tempting to go with this option. They are often labeled as "organic". It sounds so natural and healthy. The problem is that you just can't get much protein from a pea. Therefore, they are usually really low in protein and a pretty bad value (see "Warrier Blend" in the cost section below for an example of this).
2. What Else Is In Them?
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Many supplements contain a decent amount of high quality protein, but they may also be loaded with sugars and fat, which really just turns them into a slightly healthier milk shake. For instance, the Atkin's protein shakes have 14 grams of fat in them, meaning over 50% of the calories come from fat. They are delicious. But so is bacon. Look for the ones that are high in protein but also low in carbohydrates and fat. All of the proteins listed below are low in carbohydrates and fat.



3. How Much Does It Cost?
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Ok, so now we know that we want a whey based protein (preferably an isolate) that is also low in carbohydrates and fat. And many proteins meet these requirements but they also have to be a good value. There are protein powders out there that may appear to be cheap, but if they don't have much protein in them then they're not a good value. So to figure this out, you want to know how much it costs to get a standardized serving. For purposes of comparing apples to apples, we will define one serving as whatever amount gives you 50 grams of protein. I have an entire spreadsheet on this but here are the highlights.
a. Isopure is the brand I have traditionally recommended that people start with. It costs $1.82 to get 50 grams of protein. But that is only if you get it through Amazon. If you buy it at GNC or The Vitamin Shoppe it will cost a little bit more.
b. GNC's Gold Standard has come way down in price recently so is actually a slightly better value now, at $1.71 per 50 grams of protein but you have to buy a quite large 5 pound container to get it that cheap. Just remember something if you actually walk into a GNC store to buy their protein as opposed to getting it online. Their employees are excellent at upselling useless and sometimes dangerous supplements. So get your protein and run out of the store before you get talked into something dumb.
c. Premier Protein (sold at Costco, Walmart, Target and Amazon) can be purchased as either a powder or a premixed liquid shake. Depending on where you buy it (and the price varies wildly on this) the powder costs as little as $1.72 to get 50 grams of protein and the premixed shakes will cost you $2.22 to get that same 50 grams of protein.
d. Muscle Milk (sold at most grocery stores, convenience stores and even some gas stations) sells a regular version and a "Pro Series". The regular one will cost $3.75 and the Pro Series will cost $3.13 to get 50 grams of protein.
e. The big loser is, not surprisingly, a vegetable based protein powder. The brand I see the most is Warrier Blend. Because Warrier Blend, like all vegetarian proteins, is so low in actual protein, it costs a whopping $3.89 to get 50 grams of protein.
f. The winner by far is a bit harder to get but definitely worth the trouble. There is a British company called MyProtein. You will need to go to MyProtein.com, set up an account with them, navigate a somewhat annoying website and wait for your protein powder to be shipped (usually just 2-3 days though because they have American distribution centers). But if you are willing to purchase an 11 pound bag, their "Impact Isolate" protein costs just $0.79 for 50 grams of protein. It is actually not as dense in protein as some of the others above but it is so inexpensive that it becomes a much better value.
Just remember this when analyzing the labels of the proteins above or any others that you come across. There is no industry standard when it comes to serving size or the amount of protein in what they call a serving. So again, you have to figure out how much you need to get 50 grams of protein. Also, where you buy it and how much of it you are willing to buy at once has a big effect on it's value. If you want me to help you do the math on one you would like to try I'll be happy to.. 
4. Powder Or Premixed?
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This really comes down to personal preference and economics. If you don't mind paying extra for convenience, then get the premixed. Both Premier Protein and Muscle Milk make an acceptably tasting premix but I personally like the taste of the Muscle Milk more. If you want a better value, or want to start your day off with a super healthy protein smoothie by adding some fresh or frozen fruit to it, then get the powder. One important point on this though. If you are going to add frozen fruit you will need a pretty high quality blender. One with about 1500 watts or more. 
5. How Does It Taste?
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Here is the sad truth. If you want to feel and look great, not everything you eat can taste like a Dairy Queen Blizzard. That being said, it has to be good enough to drink. I personally like the taste of the MyProtein.com protein, Isopure and Muscle Milk but everyone has their own preferences. One bit of advice I would heed though. I have tried several different brands of strawberry flavored protein. Every single one of them tastes like vomit. Never, ever get strawberry. Never.
6. So Who Is The Winner?
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It depends. If you want to be frugal, have a blender and have the time to make a protein smoothie every morning, then set up an account with MyProtein.com and try it. There are lots of flavors and I think you will find one you like. If you don't want to do that, then try either the Isopure or GNC Gold Standard powder. If you are not as price sensitive and want ultimate convenience, then get either the Premier Protein shakes or Muscle Milk shakes. But you will have to drink almost two of the Premier shakes or one and a half to two and a half of the Muscle Milk shakes (depending on which version you get) to get your 50 grams of protein. 
For those of you who just can't enough of these newsletters, we have archived many of the old ones. Click on this link to access them:  Newsletter Archives

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David J. Barnes, DO
Medical Director, Weight Loss Rx

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