What's Really In Your Protein Shake?

What's Really In Your Protein Shake?


24 May 2015


I have a confession to make - I'm a little anal about food labels. Ever since I watched the documentary “Food, Inc.” I can’t stop reading them to see what’s actually in my food. It’s important though as what we eat has a huge effect on our health in both the short and long term. So when I went shopping for a new brand of protein powder I asked myself “What’s actually inside protein powder… aside from protein?”

protein shake1 After rummaging through a few different brands, I noticed that the majority were loaded with suspicious ingredients. While the manufacturers iterated the benefits of their products, I couldn’t help but wonder if our attempts to support muscle growth through mainstream protein powders had a downside. Rather than just thinking about it, I decided to decipher the ingredients of a protein that many of my friends had recommended - Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard 100% Whey.

The ingredients

1. Whey Isolate, Concentrate and Peptides

Whey protein is a complete protein that is derived when producing cheese. It helps in muscle growth while being fast and easy to digest - hence the reason so many people religiously consume a whey protein shake before or after their workout. Whey isolate tends to contain up to 96% protein, while whey concentrate tends to have up to 80% protein with more fat and lactose. This doesn’t exactly mean that whey concentrate is worse though as it contains higher levels of growth factors.

2. Soy Lecithin

Soy lecithin is derived from soybeans and is used as an emulsifier to keep ingredients together. While it is generally safe to consume, problems may arise for those who have soy allergies and chemical sensitivities. The reason is that soybean crops have been widely known to be either genetically modified and/or contain pesticides and solvents.

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3. Flavours

“Flavours” sounds pretty nondescript, huh? Flavours normally fall into one of two categories - natural or artificial. According to David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, “the largest difference is that natural flavours are coming from natural sources. The original ingredient is found in nature, purified and then extracted and added back into the food.” While the amount of flavouring that is added into protein powder is unlikely to be enough to have adverse effects, it is of some concern when you know that these flavours could be made up of up to 100 unidentified ingredients and have the potential to make unhealthy food taste healthy.

4. Acesulfame Potassium

Acesulfame potassium is a calorie-free sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Studies are limited and have been restricted to animals, however it was found to stimulate insulin secretion increasing the chances of hypoglycemia. Another issue is that it contains a carcinogen known as methylene chloride which can cause nausea, headaches, mood problems, liver and kidney impairment, eyesight problems and possibly cancer in the long term.

Allergen information

5. Milk

protein shake2I’m going to assume that “milk” refers to processed milk rather than organic raw milk. Feel free to check out this article on why milk is bad for our health.

As you can see, while Gold Standard 100% Whey contains a lot of great things that aid in muscle repair such as whey protein concentrate and isolate, it also contains some ingredients which have questionable short and long term side effects. In addition, there needs to be more research on ingredients such as acesulfame potassium to get a better understanding of how our bodies actually react to them. Ultimately, it’s up to you as the consumer to know what’s in the things that you buy as everything you eat from protein powder to the sausages from the supermarket contain hidden ingredients which all add up. The choice is yours so remember to read the labels!

Note: Ingredients may vary from country to country.


-Dr. H.J. Roberts, Aspartame (NutraSweet) Is It Safe?, Charles Press


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