Protein Powder, Weight Gain Powders, and Protein Shakes

Protein powder is the one type of supplement that I feel is useful but there is a lot of hype and misinformation on the subject.  I actually consider protein powders to be a “food” rather than a “supplement”. If you don’t remember anything else at all, please remember this Despite what the advertisements promise, protein supplements do not have any magical muscle-building properties!  All these powders do is provide your muscles with protein to rebuild and they are in no way superior to a well balanced meal!  I personally have never seen any research which has shown that any of these powders rebuild muscles any better than natural sources like chicken, fish, or beans/rice.  These products do serve a convenient meal replacement when you don’t have time to eat a full meal.

A lot of people get all confused when it comes to protein powder, weight gain powder and protein shakes. If you don’t understand the difference you buy the wrong product so let me break it down for you:

  • protein powder - ingredients: 100% protein (whey, egg, soy, rice, hemp, etc)
  • weight gain powder - ingredients: protein powder, sugar, and lots of useless garbage
  • protein shakes - ingredients: protein powder, a liquid (milk, juice, or water), flavors ( fruit, chocolate or peanut butter), sweetener (honey, sugar, or artificial sweetener) and typically lots of supplements.

Protein Powders

You have many choices when it comes to protein powder, animal source or plant source.  For you vegans out there, you can use soy powders.  There is a continual debate about whether plant sources like soy can provide the essential amino acids, you will need to do your own research and decide.  For animal sources, you can get egg or dairy based powders.  I have never seen any research showing that egg or dairy is superior so the choice is yours to make based on taste and cost.  If you choose dairy based powders, I would recommend that you get dairy whey.  Read the labels carefully, personally I like avoiding any products with artificial sweeteners or flavorings.

How to tell a good protein powder

To find a good protein powder, you need to read the label carefully. Start with the nutritional label, virtually ALL the calories should come from protein and not fat or carbohydrates. Do this quick check, take the number grams protein in a serving and multiply by 4, that is how many calories should be in a serving. For example, a scoop has 25g protein, 25×4=100 calories. If a scoop has more than 105 or 110 calories then something is wrong, there is either too much fat or too much carbohydrates.

A high quality protein powder will have either a “USP Verified” label on it or a “USDA Certified Organic” label. Many protein powders have been found to have toxic impurities in them so you need to be very careful if they are not organic or USP Verified, I would recommend on sticking with the ones that Consumer Reports magazine found to be relatively free of toxic heavy metals, see Consumers Reports Protein Powder Rankings.

Read the label and the list of ingredients of the protein powder and be very wary of any product that:

  • makes any claims about strength or muscle gains
  • has any ingredient that is trademarked
  • has any ingredient that is a made-up name like “Metamyacin”
  • has artificial ingredients
  • has ingredients you have never heard of
  • does not say “made in USA”
  • has more than 4 ingredients
Here are your three basic choices for protein powder. The cheap, the OK, and the excellent/expensive.
Costco Protein Powder
Costco, Walmart, and all the big box stores carry very economical protein powder, about $30 for 5lbs.  Problem is that they are all loaded with artificial flavors and sweeteners.  They often have strong artificial smells and odd aftertastes. Make sure to check the Consumers Reports article to make sure the one you are buying is free of toxic impurities. Some of the cheap protein powders were free of heavy metals.
Optimum Nutrition 100% Natural WheyThis used to be my personal favorite and when Consumers Reports tested it in July of 2010 it was free of toxins. I used this product for almost a decade and only recently stopped because I am not fond of stevia.  At $50 for 5lbs it is definitely not the cheapest protein but I think its a good product from a fairly reputable company.  Optimum nutrition makes several other protein powders that have artificial stuff in them, make sure “100% natural” is in the name.   If you order it from amazon thru this link: Optimum Nutrition 100% Natural Protein Powder you will help support scoobysworkshop as I get a small sales commission.
 Whey to Health Protein PowderIf you can afford it, the organic isolated whey proteins are the best. These cost 3-10x as much as the above protein powders from the big box stores. All the certified orgainic isolated whey powders are excellent. Source Naturals, “Whey to Health” is the one I have used and its probably the best money can buy (or tied with the best). Again, if you order thru the above amazon link I will get a small sales commission and you will help support


Weight Gain Powders (Aka Fat Gain Powders)

For 99% of you, these are a waste of money and will make you fat! Weight gain powders are protein and carbohydrate, usually sugar, and a bunch of vitamins and fancy sounding stuff that is supposed to magically build muscle – don’t believe it. For most people the only weight you will gain is FAT.  Marketing people here are preying upon the ignorance of people here to make a bundle of money:

weight gain is not the same as muscle gain!

Yes, their product will make you gain weight but so will a bucket of sugar and sugar is a lot cheaper.  For the few people that have no appetite at all or are dangerously low in body mass, these products can be a life saver but for the rest of us they are not appropriate. Many people mislabel themselves as “hard-gainers” when in fact they are normal. When working out hard and having flawless nutrition, it is reasonable to expect you will gain 5lbs of muscle in a year – maybe 10lbs/year if your are one of the genetically gifted few. Don’t believe the ads claiming that mass gain powders help hard-gainers to add muscle, they don’t, they just help add fat!

Protein Shakes

Remember, a protein shake is a product that contains protein powder, a liquid (milk, juice, or water), flavors ( fruit, chocolate or peanut butter), sweetener (honey, sugar, or artificial sweetener) and typically lots of supplements.  The ones you buy are typically very unhealthy and are extremely expensive so I would recommend making your own healthy protein shake for a fraction of the cost.