Happy organic grass-fed cows without antibiotics

If you’re looking for a protein powder, there are a lot of options available. A quick walk through the health section of your local grocery store is enough to make your head spin. If you dare venture online, you’ll be flooded with an exhausting and seemingly never-ending lineup of options. How do you know which one to choose?

Comparing and analyzing the different options can be exhausting. So, here are some things to help you narrow it down. 

Choosing the Right Protein Powder

A lot of people will choose their protein powder based on the price and packaging. When you’re overwhelmed with options, this makes sense. You pick the package that catches your eye, and assess the value of the product based on the price, and catchy marketing language. 

But as you know, there’s a lot more that goes into a product than packaging and price, especially when it comes to protein powders. 

For instance, what’s the quality of the protein powder? Is the quality high enough for your body to actually absorb and utilize it? Low quality powders will often add fillers, use ingredients that can’t be utilized by your body, or load them up with sugars. At a low price, people think they’re getting a good deal. But, these low cost, low quality powders often cost more in the long run, because they’re less effective.

Think of it like a car. You could buy an old pickup for $500. Or you could buy a hybrid for $30,000. The pickup appears to be a better deal. But, what if it guzzles gas at 8 miles per gallon, and breaks down every 5 miles. It’s probably going to cost you more in the long run, because it’s ineffective at doing its job. 

So, rule #1 - pick a protein supplement that does its job. In this case, that means your body should be able to efficiently utilize it without being bogged down by other fillers that it doesn’t need. In particular, whey protein and egg white protein are two excellent options. But we’ll discuss that more later on. 

Okay, what else should you consider when choosing a protein powder? We already established that the ingredients should be of a high enough quality for your body to utilize them. But what about the sourcing of those ingredients?

What’s their impact on the environment? And, if the protein powder is derived from an animal, is it humanely sourced? 

With every product there are several costs. There’s the monetary cost at the point of purchase, but then there’s also costs earlier on in the production. There’s a cost to the animal, and there’s often a cost to the environment. The best protein powders will provide the best results for you, while minimizing the impact on the world around you.

Protein Sources

Protein powders can be split into two different sources: plant and animal sources. There are benefits to both, and ultimately you want to choose a source that aligns with your personal values, and dietary choices. If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, hemp protein or pea protein tend to be popular choices. 

However, there is less research on plant-derived protein powders, and they are often less absorbed due to their higher fiber content. Vegetarians should also pay attention to make sure they’re getting all 9 essential amino acids in their diet. Soy is a complete protein that provide all 9 essential amino acids, but hemp, nuts, and lentils do not. But you can combine different protein sources together to get that complete protein, and that’s exactly what many vegan or vegetarian protein powders do.

Overall, animal sources, such as whey protein have more research on them, and they tend to provide higher amounts of protein by volume. And, for this article we’re going to focus specifically on whey protein and egg white protein, which both have significant research on them to illustrate their benefits.

Let’s start with whey. 

Whey Protein

Milk is primarily composed of two different protein sources. If you were to separate those out, you would end up with a solid and liquid. The solid is casein and accounts for about 80% of the protein in milk. The liquid accounts for the other 20%, which is whey protein. 

You’ve probably noticed this separation if you’ve ever eaten yogurt and noticed a thin layer of liquid sitting on top of the yogurt. It looks like water or condensation. But it’s actually whey. You’ll notice that this doesn’t occur with greek yogurt, because the production of greek yogurt involves separating the whey. Whey is also filtered out and produced as a byproduct of cheese.

To create powder, the liquid whey is sprayed, dried and filtered. You’ll find whey protein in the form of whey concentrate, or whey isolate. The difference in these is the level of filtration. Whey concentrate will contain more fat and milk sugars, including some lactose. Since it’s less filtered, whey concentrate will also contain less protein per gram. Whey protein concentrate can vary in its percent protein makeup, but it usually contains 60-80% protein. . 

If you filter whey protein down further you’ll get a more pure source of protein called whey protein isolate. Whey isolate is about 90-95% protein, and the fat and lactose are largely removed. This makes it the better option if you’re lactose intolerant. 

The Benefits of Whey Protein

Whey protein is one of the most studied supplements in the world, and due to its excellent amino acid profile, it’s the most widely used protein powders for promoting muscle growth.

To start with, whey protein is considered a complete protein, which means it contains all of the 9 essential amino acids: valine, leucine, isoleucine, tryptophan, threonine, phenylalanine, methionine, lysine, and histidine. 

These amino acids are required to create neurotransmitters and hormones, repair tissue, and build muscle. And, since your body can’t synthesize these amino acids in your body, you need to consume them regularly in your diet.

Whey protein is also a great source of branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) which are especially effective for muscle growth. Studies have shown that leucine, in particular, is especially effective stimulating muscle synthesis at the molecular level.

In addition to the amino acid profile outlined above, whey protein is also high in the amino acid cysteine, which contributes to the development of a powerful antioxidant called glutathione, thus indirectly boosting the level of antioxidants in the body, and helping to reduce oxidative damage.

Why Grass Fed Whey Protein?

So, as you can, whey protein has a lot of benefits if you’re looking to build muscle and improve performance. But, why grass fed? What’s the difference?

From a nutritional point of view, grass-fed whey protein powder contains a healthier fat profile than traditional grain-fed whey. It contains more omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory, and are linked to cognitive benefits and decreased risk of heart disease.

Grass-fed whey is also 3-5 times higher in something called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is another type of fatty acid which has been linked to muscle growth, increased metabolism, and decreased inflammation.

Not only does grass-fed whey protein have a healthier fat profile, but it is also higher in the fat-soluble vitamins A, and E.

Egg White Protein

Eggs need little introduction. They are a legendary protein source, that have been around for millennia. On average, an egg has 6 grams of protein, but 4 of those grams come from the egg white. The egg white is also comprised of 90% water, 10% protein, and no fat. All the fat is contained in the egg yolk.

So, when you separate the egg whites and dry them into a powder, you get an especially concentrated protein source that packs some power.

Like whey protein, egg whites are a complete protein with all 9 essential amino acids, and they contain the branched chain amino acids we discussed before. In fact, egg white protein is second only to whey in providing leucine, the muscle building power player.

Egg white protein powder is a popular choice for people who want a pure protein source with the least calories. Since the fat in the yolk is separated out, the calories are diminished. Egg white protein also doesn’t contain any lactose, so it’s a good option if you’re lactose intolerant.

Although it’s a great protein source, it should be noted that egg white protein powder hasn’t been as thoroughly researched as whey protein powder.

Organic Non-GMO… Why Does it Matter?

From a strictly nutritional perspective, there’s not a lot of research that suggests organic food is higher in nutrition than regular food products. That might be because there’s not a lot of research on the topic in-general.

However, we do know that organic non-GMO farming is better for the environment. In the case of cattle for whey production, conventional cattle farming practices have a major impact on the land. These practices are designed to maximize milk and beef production, at the lowest monetary cost. That means cattle are kept in small spaces, fed low cost grains (soy and corn), and pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones.

These practices leave a scorched earth behind and are a far stretch from the way cattle evolved to eat and live.

Since cattle are raised in crowded lots, consuming foods not fit for their digestive system, they’re also more susceptible to disease. That’s why they’re given so many antibiotics. In fact, livestock account for 50-80% of all antibiotic use.

The problem with this massive usage of antibiotics is that it can contribute to antibiotic resistance. As more and more antibiotics are given, bacteria mutate so that they are resistant to our antibiotics, rendering them useless. This becomes a huge danger if humans are infected by these antibiotic resistant superbugs.

Organic cattle aren’t immune to antibiotic resistance. And, they are still given antibiotics, but they are given far less. It’s estimated that conventional dairy cows receive 300% more antibiotics than organic dairy cows.

Organic farmers also tend to use rotational grazing methods. With this method livestock are allowed to roam on a piece of land, and then as they consume the naturally growing grass in that area they are moved a fresh piece of land. This prevents overgrazing, and helps each area regrow as the cattle provide an all-natural dung fertilizer, then move on to the next piece of land.

The result of this process is improved soil quality, and healthier livestock.

The USDA Organic certification also ensures that certain farming practices are followed. For instance, the certification requires that cattle are treated humanely and given pasture access throughout the entire growing season. It requires dairy farmers to implement measures to conserve and preserve the soil. And, it requires that only non-GMO feed can be used to supplement the diets of their livestock.

The Costs of High-Quality Protein Powder

Yes, organic, non-GMO protein powders are more expensive than your run of the mill protein powder. It takes additional work to go outside the norm to implement these processes, to rotate cattle, to feed them better diets. But these methods also decrease the environmental costs and improve the health of the animals being raised. By paying to support these better practices, we gain immense value, and contribute to a chain that comes back to benefit us.

Our health depends on the health of our soil, the plants that grow there, and the animals that graze in it.