I’ve been approached by people trying to sell me protein powders at the gym a couple times.  This is all well and good as long as they realize that a protein powder is almost entirely just like any other protein.  Yes, there are proteins that are digested faster than others, and that may be helpful for post-workout nutrition.  But what’s really the difference between the “Ultra Pump-You-Up Xtreme Freak!” protein powder and a chicken breast?  Well, very little.

Here’s a quick chemistry lesson straight from my college General Nutrition and Sports Nutrition textbooks.


Protein 101:

Proteins are simply long chains of “amino acids”.  You can think of amino acids as the building blocks of your body.  Just like a building is composed of a bunch of cinder blocks, your body is composed of a bunch of amino acids.  There are 20 different amino acids.  Nine of them are essential and therefore need to be eaten because the body cannot make them.  Your body can make the other eleven on its own.

The nice thing about the essential amino acids is that protein foods that come from animals (meat, eggs, dairy) always have all nine of the essential amino acids in them.  Score one for the carnivores.  However, our herbivore (vegetarian) friends don’t really have much of a problem getting all nine of the essential amino acids either as long as they combine foods.  A classic way to do this is to eat rice with beans.  The rice will have the essential amino acids that the beans don’t have and vice versa.

So, getting back to UltraTestosto-rippedFreakHardcoreProteinSuperAnabolic, since the body digests proteins down into amino acids, it doesn’t really matter what the food was.  You can get the essential amino acid Leucine from soy beans, beef, an over-hyped protein powder, or a plethora of other food sources.  Regardless of which source of Leucine you eat, once it squirts out of the stomach into the small intestine, your small intestine will only recognize it as “leucine”.  There is no “leucine from beef” or “leucine from an extraordinarily anabolic powder”.  It is simply “leucine”.  And your body will digest it accordingly.

This post isn’t because I hate protein powder.  I’m a fan of it in certain situations.  What irritates me is when some idiot walks up to me and tells me that some special type of protein is going to make me get ripped.  That statement reeks of ignorance.  There’s no magic protein powder.  So eat your eggs, chicken, beef, soy, rice, beans, or whatever you like for protein.  You’ll get just as much benefit.  The only caveat is that if you’re a vegetarian, be sure to mix your protein sources to get all nine essential amino acids.

Protein powder can be a convenient way to get in some protein when you’re on the go or simply not very hungry, but it’s not going to create any of the outrageous benefits that some supplement peddlers claim.  It’s going to be eaten, broken down into amino acids, and absorbed by the small intestine in exactly the same way any other protein source would.  It’s just another type of food.  Treat it as such.