So as many of you know – there are SO many different types of protein powders on the market. You walk into Vitamin Shoppe and you are bombarded by everything from whey, to casein, to hemp, to rice, to soy and even now pea based protein powder. Which one should you choose? Or, more importantly, which one should you not choose?
Now, as if there aren’t enough choices, we are going to add one more to the list to make your head really spin. Meet beef based protein. He is one of the newer kids on the block. Beef based protein powders originally made their debut around 2009 – but have been recently gaining momentum in the supplement market. Unfortunately, there is not a ton of solid research on this type of supplement. But I did recently receive a question regarding beef based protein powders and thought I would share my response with the CF community.
What is beef protein powder?
Most people using beef protein powders have no idea what they’re actually consuming. But I have to agree, it sounds like the answer should be so simple, right? Take lean cuts of meat, dry them out and then turn them into a powder. Similar to a powdered beef jerky. What’s not to love! Seems to make sense to me! Unfortunately, that is not how most beef based protein powders are made.
Have you ever heard of “gelatin”? (No silly, not the one you make JELLO shots with!?! )
Gelatin is essentially the “throw away” parts of the cow – their joints, bones, hooves, ligaments, hide, ears, etc. These are basically the parts you end up with after the butcher is finished processing the cow for the usable meat. It might sound surprising, but gelatin is actually the primary ingredient found in almost all of the popular beef protein powders on the market.
Why not just use REAL beef?
Think about it for a second – it would be super-costly to use actual meat in these supplements. A container with 30 servings would need to cost well over $100.00. It just would not make sense from a consumer standpoint.
So instead, the manufacturer turns the cow’s remains into gelatin. The liquid is then dried into powder form. Then, depending on the formulation, the powder is then fortified with added ingredients such creatine and BCAA’s to make the product more similar to its original beef counterpart.
Gelatin, however, contains no nutritional value, zippo! So the manufacturer must compensate for what is lacking. The result is a protein powder that’s probably quite effective at supporting muscle growth. But not because it contains beef protein; but because it has been chemically fortified. Therefore, there is a high chance your ‘beef protein’ is just glorified gelatin.
How does beef protein powder compare to whey protein?
Before we can answer that question, we need to define what we mean when we say something is a “high quality” protein source. With that being said there are many factors that go into determining the quality of a protein. We are just going to focus on one of those factors – biological value (BV).
Biological value is a measure of how well a protein can be absorbed and utilized by the body.When a protein contains all the essential amino acids in proportion to what the body needs, it has high BV. If one or more of those amino acids are missing, or they’re present but in low numbers, then that protein is said to have a low BV.
Biological value is always expressed relative to a standard source of protein. The standard reference protein used is an egg white. The BV of an egg is only 93.7% but its relative score would be 100. Whey proteins have a higher relative BV. Whey’s BV ranges between 106 – 159 % (1). So, when whey is consumed, more nitrogen is retained making whey the most anabolic protein source available. Therefore, when it comes to protein supplements, whey remains king.
Therefore, it is no surprise that whey protein trumps beef protein powder. Whey is about 25 % more bioavailable than beef, chicken and fish. All three of these protein sources fall around the 75 % bioavailable range (1). Whey is also high in the branch chain amino acids as well as glutamine and is quickly absorbed by cells of the body.
This means ounce for ounce, you will absorb much more protein from whey than beef protein. So you will need to consume more beef protein powder (about 25 % more!) to equal the same amount of whey protein. Furthermore, based on what little research we have, supplemental beef protein powder is absorbed at around the same rate as egg protein – which is fairly slow. Beef protein powder takes around 2-4 hours (if not more!) to peak in the blood system. The same process only takes around 20-30 minutes for whey. Therefore, whey is a much better choice than beef protein pre/peri/post workout when you are trying to drive amino acids directly into the muscle cells and really take advantage of that anabolic window.
What does beef protein taste like?
The million-dollar question – what does beef protein taste like? Having had worked in a protein lab, I have tasted virtually every type of protein powder on the market. Flavor-wise, most of the brands of beef protein powder I have tried were not great. What I find most odd is that most of the meat based protein powders come in fruity flavors like fruit punch, lemonade, and blueberry. Kind of just a weird flavor combination!
Of the brands I tried, most seem to impart a salty, savory mouth feel. I trialed the fruit punch flavor of Carnivore Mass, which—to be honest—smelled like stale bouillon soup cubes. But as long as I didn’t breathe in while drinking, it was ok. It seemed comparable to diluted Hawaiian Punch spiked with Knox Gelatin. No bueno!
The Good Side of Beef Protein Powder
In all fairness, it is important to address the positive aspects of beef protein powder as well. First, it is likely easy to digest due to the fact that most beef protein comes in hydrolyzed form. It is also less allergenic than dairy and egg-based protein powders. I don’t know many athletes who are allergic to meat! Do you?
Secondly, the meat-based protein powders are fortified with BCAAs and most brands with creatine. So you are still getting many of the same nutrients you would in other protein powders. Lastly, the price of beef based protein powders are comparable to whey based protein powders ranging from $0.75 – $1.10 per serving for most brands. So there is no added expense involved in choosing “the beef” if you so desire.
So the take away message from this post is that the overall protein quality of beef protein powder is nowhere near that of what you get from a piece of grass-fed steak. But in case you were wondering there is no harm in consuming fortified gelatin! But my question to you is – why bother?
For around the same price, you can buy pure whey protein isolate. This is the highest quality source of protein out there. Also, it is worth mentioning again that whey protein has the highest absorption rate and the best amino acid profile of any protein source out there. Gelatin is just no comparison!
Keep the questions coming!
(1) International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise, Bill Campbell et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2007 4:8 DOI: 10.1186/1550-2783-4-8
Hugs & High Fives,
Amy Plano, The Crossfit Dietitian