Dear Mark: A Few Questions About Protein Powder Marketing Claims

Protein PowderI get a lot of protein powder-related questions. Some are requests to try or advertise a new product. Others are queries regarding all the different marketing claims. Is whey protein concentrate really better, more “immune-boosting,” and more complete than whey protein isolate? Who wins in a head to head deathmatch – isolate or concentrate? Should you be worrying about the grass-fededness (yep, that’s a word) of your whey protein? And is beef protein isolate better than everything else? It certainly appears to be the most paleo of the bunch, being made from, well, beef.

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, we’re going to sift through the marketing fluff and get to the meat of the matter. Let’s go:

Is whey concentrate better than whey isolate?

First, let me explain the difference between whey isolate and whey concentrate. Whey is a byproduct of cheese-making. Some brands of whey protein are derived from milk, but the vast majority comes from cheese. This is fine, even though “byproduct” sounds bad. When you make cheese, you get whey. That’s been the case for thousands of years of cheese-making. The arguments for concentrate being superior usually go something like this:

Since concentrate contains trace amounts of lactose and milk fat, it’s more of a whole food and therefore superior to whey isolate.”

Sure, I prefer whole foods, too, but when using whey, I’m trying to obtain a very specific nutrient – protein.

Since concentrate contains more than just protein, it contributes more health benefits and immune boosting effects, whereas isolate provides no health benefits and fails to boost your immunity. Isolate is just for dumb jocks who would actually be better served by a quality concentrate, whereas concentrate has the unique ability to increase endogenous production of glutathione, the master antioxidant.”

The vast majority of studies examining whey protein’s beneficial effects on general health, immune functioning, and recovery from training use whey protein isolate, not whey protein concentrate. Let’s take a look at a few:

Among patients with fatty liver, whey protein isolate supplementation improves liver blood work and reduced fatty deposition. It also increases glutathione production and endogenous antioxidant status, and these increases correlate with the improvements in liver health.

A combination of whey protein isolate and resistance training boost glutathione levels, HDL, and total antioxidant capacity in young men.

In both young and older men, whey isolate after resistance training increases muscle protein synthesis (but the older guys need more protein to get the same effect).

That’s isolate, mind you. Regular old whey protein isolate. Studies show that whey concentrate boosts glutathione, too, but not because of anything unique to concentrate. It’s the cysteine, an amino acid found in both whey concentrate and whey isolate. You could take N-acetyl-cysteine supplements and get similar effects.

Since concentrate contains a small amount of fat, it therefore contains conjugated linolelic acid (CLA), a dairy fatty acid with some beneficial health effects.”

This is technically true, but the amount of CLA in full-fat dairy from pasture-raised animals is relatively small.

Fully pasture-fed cows produce dairy fat with just 22 mg of CLA per gram of fat (PDF). That’s enough to produce some of the health benefits of consuming full fat dairy, but that’s because full fat dairy has enough fat grams to make it worth it. There’s comparatively very little dairy fat left over in concentrate. A glass of whole, pasture-raised milk has around 8 grams of dairy fat. A serving of your typical whey concentrate has less than one gram of dairy fat – not much room for CLA. The CLA content of a whey concentrate derived from the first colostrum of a time-traveling wild auroch who eats only ancestral grasses, sedges, and rushes unbesmirched by GMO-fed bees, pesticides, and heavy metals would still be negligible compared to actual full-fat dairy. I find it unlikely that any whey concentrate would have enough CLA to make an impact. They could if they added supplementary CLA, I suppose, but even supplementary CLA is fraught with problems.

Whey isolate is the superior product overall. It’s far higher in protein than concentrate, ranging from 90% protein and up, with concentrate being anywhere between 29% and 89% protein. Since they’re asking about a product called “protein powder,” I’d say that people are generally interested in higher protein contents. It’d be nice if there were studies directly comparing whey isolate to whey concentrate, but, to my knowledge, those don’t exist. The fact that whey protein isolate remains the gold standard for studying the effects of whey protein on human health, however, is incredibly telling.

There’s nothing wrong with concentrate, necessarily. It’s way lower in protein and it’s got varying amounts of lactose – which can unfortunately pose an issue for lactose-intolerant people – and fat. It’s also liable to retain impurities and more likely to trigger allergic reactions (mostly because of the lactose content). That’s about it.

What about grass-fed whey?

Why do we eat grass-fed meat and milk? Grass-feeding can affect the fatty acidantioxidant, and micronutrient content of meat and dairy in a favorable way, but not the amino acid profile. Whey protein is about the protein – the amino acid profile. And the amino acid profile of grass-fed whey protein is identical to that of grain-fed whey protein. You could make an argument based on ethics if you want, but if we’re talking strictly nutritional content, the two are indistinguishable.

I suppose if you were going with a high-fat whey concentrate, you might want grass-fed, but once again the amount of fat in most whey concentrates of which I’m aware is so low as to make the fatty acid profile irrelevant. At that point, you might as well just get your hands on some quality grass-fed raw milk and supplement that with a scoop of whey isolate.

Isn’t beef protein isolate superior to whey protein?

Most proprietors of beef protein isolate would have you believe that they are turning muscle meat into protein powder. That filets, porterhouses, and other prime lean cuts are being broken down into a fine mixable powder. That the raw primal energy of the bull is being delivered to your pectoral muscle fibers via blender. While it’s a nice story and I’d be all for using such a product, it simply isn’t financially feasible to turn what we think of when we hear the word “beef” – muscle meat – into protein powder. The reality is that beef protein isolate comes from hooves, skin, and all the other throwaway bits that usually get diverted into the kibble. It’s gelatin, not that there’s anything wrong with that; I’ve sung its praises before. But you’d be better off just saving your money, buying some properly-labeled gelatin (or making some beef stock), and using whey isolate for your protein shakes instead.

Check out the nutrition label from Carnivor, a popular beef protein isolate product. You’ll notice that they’ve added branch chain amino acids as a supplement to the gelatin masquerading as beef protein isolate. If beef protein isolate really were derived from muscle meat, there’d be no reason to add separate BCAAs, as muscle meat is especially rich in them. Gelatin, however, contains none, and so they must make up for that. The result is a protein powder that’s probably quite effective at supporting hypertrophy, but not because it contains beef protein isolate.

Last, I’ll add that some beef protein sellers claim that their beef protein isolate is “minimally processed.” I’m not sure how one could ever make that claim. There’s a ton of processing involved in converting spare animal parts into a spray-dried gelatin powder.

Those are three of the most common protein supplement marketing claims people write in about, but I know there are more. Feel free to write in with any other protein powder-related questions you might have.

Thanks for reading!

TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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139 thoughts on “Dear Mark: A Few Questions About Protein Powder Marketing Claims”

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  1. I think it’s worth noting that a lot of the popular brands of protein powders contain a laundry list of chemical sweeteners and additives. My particular favorite is Swanson’s Vitamins Grass-Fed Whey Concentrate powder, because:

    1. I don’t mind concentrate. I don’t suffer from lactose allergies, and the cost difference offsets some of the protein % difference.

    2. The vanilla flavor only has natural vanilla flavoring, no sweeteners. The chocolate just adds some xylitol, which I don’t mind in small amounts (though I’d prefer stevia). The flavor of the vanilla is very mild, not overly sweet or chemical.

    3. It uses sunflower lecithin rather than soy lecithin.

    4. While the grass-fed profile might not make a difference in this product, I’m happy to support grass-fed dairy farms especially if I can do so without incurring a significant cost difference.

    1. The additives in common brands of whey protein or disgusting. I’ve read somewhere that some even contain trace levels of arsenic?!?

      Swanson’s sounds like a good brand. Another would be MRM. No, it’s not grass-fed, but it’s got minimal additives.

      Isolate is definitely superior for those with issues with dairy.

      Ever use egg yolks in your shakes? Here’s my recipe for a paleo-style protein shake.

      1. I would be interested in your recipe, but the web site uses a text color that is not visable. You might want to check it out.

        1. I just checked the page, and it all appears fine to me. I looked at it in different web browsers, as well as on a mobile web browser. Could your browser be blocking JavaScript?

    2. In the U.S. (where Swanson is based) artificial sweeteners are sometimes allowed to be labeled as “natural flavors” depending on the product.

      So… Your “natural vanilla flavor” might in fact contain some artificial chemically-based sweeteners in it.

      I suspect this is probably not the case since their chocolate flavor uses xylitol as you say, but it’s good to be aware!

    3. I’m a rather large fan of Jay Robb….it doesn’t specifically say that it is Grass Fed…it says Pasture Fed. Spoke with Jay Robb and he said that it’s the same thing. I was using Emerald Essentials Grass Fed Concentrate and had horrible stomach pain from it. I think that Swanson and also Blue Bonnet are other good options that are reasonably priced. But Jay Robb sits really well digestively with me.

    1. Hey Mark,

      I question I keep meaning to ask you and Robb Wolf. Why whey over egg white? The latter would seem superior in every way except cost?


  2. What about oxidized cholesterol and whey protein? I’d prefer to use whey protein but if you spray any kind of milk and make it into a powder it creates oxidized cholesterol. I usually use hemp, rice, and pea proteins when I need to.

    1. Meagan, sounds like another reason to use Whey Protein Isolate rather than concentrate, it’s much lower in cholesterol and therefore will have a lot less to oxidize!

  3. I don’t know about the guys out there, but I’d rather get my protein the old-fashioned way, from meat, eggs, and other whole foods. I tried the Atkins protein powder years ago. I don’t know if it was made from whey but it invariably upset my stomach. Also, it seems like an overkill since most of us primal/paleo people already get plenty of protein from our food.

    1. Yes I don’t know whey people eat this whey. It would all be so much easier if whey all just eat meat and veggies instead.

    2. i totally agree. part of the pull of primal for me is the whole food aspect of it. the idea of protein shakes is frankly disgusting.

      1. I’ve never had a protein shake, I mix it in with some cold oatmeal when I have breakfast after my morning run. I’m at the office when I have breakfast so cooking some eggs isn’t really an option.

        I don’t see how anyone could find it disgusting, it’s just some powder that you mix in with your food, no shaking required. Readily-available, non-perishable sources of protein are quite limited.

        I guess I could make my own beef jerky from grass-fed cows but there’s a lot of work involved with that. Whey protein is the perfect solution, it helps me maintain my awesomeness at a reasonable price and without having to center my life around food.

        1. steve.
          interestingly, i do in fact make my own beef jerky from grass fed cows. 🙂 it’s actually very little work. takes about 8 minutes to make and slather the meat in marinade. then it sits in the fridge for 24 hours, then you pop it on a dehydrator [takes about 5 minutes] for 8-10 hours.
          so even though it takes 2 days to make, your actual input is 15 minutes including clean up.

        2. Steve it is easy to make eggs at work. You can find microwave omelette makers and it takes one minute to cook two eggs. I do it most days at work. I bet it is as quick and easy as oatmeal.

        3. Yeah but microwaving changes the molecular structre of food causing carcinogenic debris to form in your food. Its 2013 baybay dump the cancer cooker!

    3. I don’t think the idea is to give a way for anyone to live off of protein shakes. I would agree that most people I see drink them don’t need them and are using them incorrectly.

      However, some of us are heavy exercisers and/or athletes and need these types of things post-workout. It may not be “perfectly primal” but the first thing I do when I get back to my car after a hard workout is mix up a Primal Fuel shake and drink it down.

      Eating something like a steak and veggies at that moment would surely induce vomitting, but I do need a protein and carb source within 5-15 minutes of finishing to help my body recover from a demanding workout; protein for the muscle protein-synthesis Mark mentions above and carbs/sugar to replace depleted glycogen stores. A protein shake is a perfect way to do this and doesn’t require me to eat food that sounds unappetizing for at least an hour.

      I found this article extremely helpful as I just ran out of Primal Fuel today and need to go grab something to use until my next order comes in.

      1. Actually, though, Erin, you don’t need to eat protein right after training. It is enough if you eat it during the day, the body saves the protein much longer than that, so it will be used for your muscles anyway.

      2. I back Erin up on this. If you’re an athlete, especially if you’re in you’re late forties like me, you have to be more diligent in eating as nutritionally dense as possible. I simply don’t have the same caloric requirements as I did in my twenties. So protein powders are an efficient way to boost an already very clean whole foods diet without adding more “food”. In other words, my nutritional needs sometimes out run my appetite so I just need a quick shot of super concentrated nutrition to fill the gap.

    4. Yes, like Erin says, when you do a lot of weightlifting and add a lot of muscle, it becomes hard, and expensive, to get all the protein you need from meat and other foodstuffs.

      You need 1.7 gram protein per kilo weight when you do weightlifting. If you weigh 80 kilo that is 136 gram. Per day. If you eat meat where 20 percent is protein, that means you need to eat 680 gram meat per day. (i.e., if you weigh 176.4 pound, you need to eat 1.5 pound meat per day.)

      And then your weight increases from more muscles, and you need more meat. The cost adds up. So protein powder becomes a necessity.

    5. Agreed. Protein powders are usually used because it’s hard to get home and cook up some meat within that overhyped thirty minute “anabolic window” that you’re supposed to be eating in after a workout but this assumes two things:

      1) That you believe this anabolic window is critical after a workout to begin with. Increasing evidence shows this not to be the case.

      2) That you are incapable of preparing a meal ahead of time or maybe carrying some sliced and pre-cooked meat in a bag that you can eat after your workout to get your protein. Even if you believe the hype of the “anabolic window,” there are still options for getting your protein from real, natural, whole food sources without having to rush home to cook a meal.

  4. Do you get any benefits by mixing different proteins supplements? For example mixing a teaspoon of each, instead of a single 40g scoop of one product…

    Tera Whey Goat protein
    Jay Robb Whey Protein,
    Nutiva Hemp Protein & Fiber,
    Biochem Sports Whey Protein
    Essential 7 Dutch

  5. I go with whey isolate, I’m lactose intolerant and it doesn’t cost very much more than the concentrate.

    The brand I use is superior to the brand you use, but I won’t tell you which brand I use because I have been sworn to secrecy.

  6. How about excitotoxicity to brain cells from all of the free glutamate in concentrated & isolated whey protein?

    1. i’m wondering about MSG as well. i’m very sensitive to it and my cheat sheet says that whey protein, whey protein isolate/concentrate often contain MSG.

      1. all powdered protein will have msg. msg is created naturally during the processing of whole food into protein powder.

      2. It’s not so much that it “contains” MSG but whey protein is very high in free glutamate which acts just like MSG on glutamate receptors. Glutamate receptors are located all over the body and over excitation is NOT a good thing!

    2. Whey concentrate and why isolate are on my ‘headache trigger cheat sheet’, because of the free glutamates.

  7. while glad to see the applause for isolate, i’m sold on how it’s been affecting my body/ibs. i swapped over to a whey isolate at the reccomendation of a gnc salesperson/body builder and have been pleasantly surprised to find myself much better able to tolerate and digest the isolate. It could be the brand difference, I’m not basing this on any scientific evidence, but it’s been totally worth it for me.

  8. True Nutrition has any kind of protein powders one could ask for, from veg sources to whey to egg white, etc. You can get many of them without soy or any other lecithins if you want, customize with carb, enzyme, vitamin additives (although I find a sweet potato and some kale handle that part pretty well). I don’t want to sound like a shill for them, but if you’re into protein powders for any reason it’s a decent source for those of us not interested in weird emusifiers and soy junk.

    Also, I find egg white protein turns to cement and I REALLY don’t like it stealing the thunder of my 3 daily eggs! Whey all the…um….whey…..sorry…again.

  9. Our favorite is Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Natural 100% Whey. I like the Natural Vanilla flavor, it has a little bit of Stevia in it, no artificial sweeteners. This is highly rated by consumer reports as one of the cleanest whey products and has an excellent flavor ideal for making smoothies with berries and coconut milk. Buy on Amazon in 5 lb quantities at approx $53. We researched and tried different products and this is the best we’ve found at a very reasonable price.

    1. This is the stuff I get too. I get the double chocolate, also contains very few additives similar to the vanilla. My last order, they included a trial packet of the strawberry flavor-delicious, but contained a few more added ingredients. I got mine for $45 on ebay-best price I could find anywhere for any kind of decent whey and this is supposedly one of the best brands out there.

  10. I’m curious about the potential in some individuals to have an undesirable insulin response to whey protein. As for me, I had a difficult time leaning out until I recently stopped using whey and liquid meal replacement altogether. Up until then, I would happily drink a low-ish calorie protein shake nearly every day. But then I decided to take Robb Wolf’s advice and ditch the liquid meal. That did the trick, for the most part.

    1. Being a T1 diabetic who uses whey after intense workouts, I am precisely familiar with the insulin response to whey protein…and its not much, at least not for me. Like mark said, there isn’t much besides protein in these powders so the insulin response would be slow as protein is slowly and inefficiently converted into blood sugar(as opposed to simple carbs, which convert 100%to blood sugar almost instantly). I don’t use it as a meal replacement but find it to aide in the recovery process with minimal effects on my blood sugar.
      Maybe other people respond differently.

  11. I use Mark’s Choc Primal Fuel mix, and it is BY FAR the best tasting of all the whey products I’ve tried, but because it’s so expensive, I mix it with Now Foods whey and make it last longer. Haven’t even tried the vanilla, the choc’s so good.

    1. The vanilla is excellent with frozen peaches and another 2 T of coconut milk.

  12. OK, so let me get this straight. People are clamouring for “greek yoghurt” because it’s what’s getting loads of marketing attention right now. By my calculation, “greek yoghurt” is supposed to be yoghurt with the whey strained out of it. So if we eat dairy, we buy the strained yoghurt and some whey protein isolate/concentrate and add it to the smoothie to boost the protein etc,etc.

    Marketing – 1
    Common Sense -0

    Ya, I know lots of people don’t dairy but generally the Pollan guy seems to have it pretty much dead on with “Eat food, not too much….”

    1. I thought real greek yogurt didn’t have the whey strained out? Maybe I’m wrong, but the kind I buy (Fage) has 18 g of protein in a single serving, which is pretty similar to a serving of a protein shake. The more mainstream brands don’t have nearly as much protein though, and lots more sugar. It’s all about reading the labels.

      1. Milk has whey and casein in it; Greek yogurt strains out the whey leaving the casein. Not really a concern for most people here, as whey is best used for bulking muscles whereas casein takes longer to digest and will keep you fuller for longer.

    2. “the Pollan guy seems to have it pretty much dead on with “Eat food, not too much….”

      How much is Pollan squatting these days?

  13. Mark didn’t mention his own protein shake, so I will. OMG, the Vanilla Coconut is so freaking delicious! If I’ve gotta be out the door fast, I shake up a quick one for the road, and if I’ve just got the super munchies, I’ll shake up a half-portion just as a snack. It’s really filling and seems to last me a long time. I loved the sample I got so much that I ordered the big bag. I’ve never been a meal-replacement kind of gal, but this stuff is great.

    BTW, Mark didn’t pay me to advertise or anything. But if he wanted to send me a sample of the chocolate, I wouldn’t say no!

  14. I recently stopped taking protein power all together and replaced my post workout shake with 16-20 ounces of grass-fed whole milk. Even though I was using one the “cleanest” protein brands on the market, there were still artificial sweeteners and who knows how many GMO ingredients.

    So far I don’t seem to miss the protein shakes. Anyone else had success with just using milk with heavy lifting? (I lift with the 5×5 program 4 times per week with a day of sprints in the middle)

    1. I have Mark’s protein poweder (which is DELICIOUS, btw) but I also go for a serving of Greek Yogurt post-workout or when I’m really craving some protein. Read the labels and make sure it’s high protein low carb (Fage is a good brand, I like the whole fat one), and mix in some agave or fruit. Delish, filling, and muscle building!

  15. Anyone else try Muscle Egg?? It’s flavored egg whites, and they’re delicious. I’m completely hooked!

    1. I am lactose intolerant so I use cultured coconut milk/coconut keifer in my green smoothy with whey protein

    2. Heck no. I mix my protein powder with coconut milk and greek yoghurt and cod liver oil and a pad of raw butter, along with fruit, cinnamon and some water… This is after a workout though. It does the trick.

  16. I have a bit of the opposite problem from most people in the Paleo/Primal community: i’m TOO skinny. I came down with some mystery illness last March, and was in and out of doctor’s offices taking tests and having procedures for a year. Ultimately, “nothing” is wrong with me (at least not on paper), but I still have digestive problems, low energy, and mild depression, as well as a lot of other symptoms. Long story short, because of the digestive issues, I wasn’t eating much or was on a liquid/semi-solid diet for 3 1-month stretches and lost a significant amount of weight which I’ve yet to gain back. I’ve tried going strict Paleo (no dairy or starchy veggies; I’ve even cut out chocolate *sad face*), but with very little improvement. I’ve narrowed the potentials down to SIBO and an adrenal/thyroid problem, but I’m concerned with being so underweight. So (after a very long intro, sorry for my rambling), I’m wondering if I should supplement my regular diet with protein shakes? I definitely need the calories and fat, but don’t want the added sugar and junk that most powders have. Does anyone think it would help? Please let me know, and if you have any recommendations for someone with a sensitive stomach, I’d be very appreciative. Thank you!

    1. Oh, just some stats if it helps: 31yo 5ft female, 98 lbs; potentially lactose intolerant with possible SIBO and adrenal fatigue… thanks!

      1. Megan — Have you checked into the GAPS diet — It is designed to heal your gut. Starts out with lots of meat/bone broth and well cooked (boiled in broth) meats. The diet lasts from 6 months to two years, depending on how you respond as you go. It is a major commitment to your health, but may very well be worth it for you.

        As to protein shakes — I’m using them to up my protein. I use 1/4 to 1/2 cup coconut milk (Native Forest), about 1/2 cup of egg whites (I buy organic if possible — in one pint containers), a bit of stevia to taste, and 1 to 2 scoops of Whey protein isolate — UNFLAVORED! I personally loathe the added flavors and fake vanilla. I use real vanilla extract (you can make your own with vodka and vanilla beans if you like) and toss in a few strawberries or blueberries if I have them around. You can also add a dash of almond extract (maybe 1/8 tsp — not much) instead of fruit. This way you know exactly what is in your shake. I also add coconut oil or heavy cream or 1/4 -1/2 ripe avocado for fat. All are yummy.

        You may also have trouble absorbing protein (I do) and I take a protein digest pill with my meals — one with betaine and enough acid to get your stomach working.

        1. Oh yes — for shakes I use a Vita Mix, but any blender will do. I also add a few ice cubes to keep it cold.

        2. Hi dkd!
          I have heard about the GAPS diet and have seriously considered going on it- in fact, I’m currently working my way down to it to lessen the impact on my psyche of eating only broth and boiled meats, also to hopefully keep die-off to a minimum. The down side is that I have a full-time job and no way would I be able to take enough time off to move through the full GAPS Intro. I may have to skip it altogether, considering we only have a microwave in the break room and I’m not “supposed” to re-heat the soups and broth with a microwave.
          I currently take Now Foods Super Enzymes, 1 per meal (more than that and I get a nasty burning sensation), which I believe helps with the digestive issues. I’ll check around and see if I can find some unflavored WPI. Thanks for your input, I appreciate it! =)

    2. Hey Megan!

      I can relate…I’ve had digestive issues for a while, and only recently reached a normal weight. If I were you, I would first see if you can nail down the health issues your dealing with. I know tests can be expensive, but there are breath tests for SIBO, and a comprehensive stool test might be helpful as well. I think the Metametrix GI Effects test is supposed to be good. Also, if you definitely think you’re dealing with SIBO, syontix [dot] com has a very informative 8-part series on SIBO that you might want to read, if you haven’t already. Chris Kresser has some good articles on SIBO too.

      As far as foods to put on weight, I personally found it very difficult to gain weight on a low carb Paleo diet, just because the food is so satiating! I think it might be helpful to try and add more carbs. If you can tolerate white rice, I’ve found that to be an easy way to get more calories in, especially if you add butter, egg yolks, cheese and salt. Maybe try adding back dairy and starchy veggies, too. I really think the best way to gain weight is to make your food taste really good, so as long as they don’t worsen your symptoms, eat the foods you like! Speaking of which, I made a chicken nugget recipe from The Domestic Man website yesterday and ate so many. They were delicious. I highly recommend it (:

      I think it’s definitely worth a try to experiment with protein powders, but just be sure you tolerate it okay! Reactions will vary for every person, but if you like protein shakes and they seem to agree with you, it’s an easy way to add calories. The only thing is that, like white rice, it doesn’t come with a natural assortment of micronutrients, so be sure you’re getting enough of those from other sources (like liver!).

      Sorry that was so long! Best of luck packing on the pounds (;

      1. Hi Alyssa!
        I worked with a gastroenterologist and she suggested the SIBO test as well, but the enormous cost ($1K+) was too prohibitive. I’ve been working my diet down to the GAPS Full Diet, and I’m hoping to eventually be able to go all the way to the Intro Diet, but sadly my full-time job might keep me from going that far. I’d LOVE to be able to eat rice and starchy veggies again, but I think doing so would only be feeding the little microscopic bastards that are putting me through this hell. I eat as much and as often as I can within the confines of strict Paleo (just to keep the bad bacteria at bay), but it’s clearly not enough. So the question becomes: put the weight on and still have these problems, or keep it off and maybe I’ll heal? It’s hard to say…
        I used to drink Orgain protein shakes and I tolerated them just fine (even though they’re dairy-based), but then they changed the formula and now they taste HORRIBLE!!! >P That’s why I’m looking for a new one too see if it would help supplement weight gain without giving me additional/continual gut problems. Thank you for your suggestions, I really appreciate it! =)

        1. Wow, I had no idea the test was THAT expensive!! I can definitely understand your concern about the starch feeding the little buggers! I did the SCD for a few years for my gut issues, and it took me a while to feel comfortable eating starch again (: My only thought is that if the SIBO is high up enough in your small intestine, it seems like even the simple sugars allowed on GAPS might feed them. That’s just speculation on my part, but I definitely think that in many circumstances, it’s necessary to kill the bacteria with some natural antimicrobial treatments (like monolaurin, lactoferrin, etc) as opposed to just trying to starve them.

        2. Hi again =)
          I’ve been looking into the raw garlic thing, thinking it might work for me. I’d have to take a couple days off work, but it may be worth it, since it would work a lot faster than the GAPS diet. Or i could use it in combination with GAPS… not sure yet. But I have been exploring natural options in the hopes that something will work for me. Thank you for all your help! =)

        3. Megan — You don’t have to reheat anything on the GAPS diet — if you don’t mind carrying around a thermos or two to keep your food warm. Then you are ready to go all day.

          I have heard it recommended that you do the full intro to the diet. Results seem to be better.

          Good luck!

    3. Megan,
      I have a sensitive digestive system too. I’ve found 2 protein powders very helpful for me. One is FullSpectrum Rainbow Light (brand) Brown Rice Chocolate Protein Energizer. It’s not gross, tastes amazing (even in plain water) and has tons of spirulina and bromelain (digestive enzyme) that makes it easy to digest. I also use Manitoba Harvest Hemp Pro 70. It has 20g of protein per scoop, no fiber (so I add my own greens/berries/whole raw milk to make a great fattening satiating combo) and has some nice omega profile to gain some weight (I’m a skinny one too). I despise pasteurized milk, but I’ve found raw whole milk from Organic Pastures (grazed) to be very stimulating and filling to my metabolism too. Many who can’t take pasteurized milk can enjoy raw because it still contains live enzymes that help to break down lactose, etc.. Hope that helps!

    4. Megan,
      Have you been tested for Lyme? Igenex lab is the best. Find a Lyme Literate doctor. Good luck. You certainly have some of the typical symptoms and it is waaayyy under diagnosed.

  17. How about whey isolate having damaged proteins?

    I heard that whey isolate has to be cross-flow microfiltered or else it’s not healthy but deterimental to health.

    1. That is a marketing pitch by a company that is hoping you will pay a premium for the same whey that they buy by the truckload as other companies do.

  18. I use protein powder 2 tablespoons at a time (with coconut and almond flour) for making the occasional paleo pancake substitute. So I don’t go through it very fast. The hardest thing is finding ones without soy and I haven’t found any without lecithin. Why is it so hard to get whey powder that is just, y’know, WHEY.

  19. I use whey isolate in our MariGold Bars. No soy of any kind, either.
    Each bar has over 20+ grams of protein from whey isolate, and only 4 grams of sugar. Plus, no artificial anything.

    1. That does it, I am putting in an order for 100 bars! Holy cow where have you been all my life!

  20. Primal fuel is excellent! I alternate between the chocolate & vanilla most mornings. I add a handful of frozen fruit & a few ice cubes and mix it in the vitamixer, it’s like a yummy milkshake and keeps me full for 5 hours.

      1. You’re probably still a sugar-burner – having to eat more often?

      2. The only exercise I currently getting is taking my dogs on a short walk due to my knee killing me. This is probably why I can go 5 hours with Primal Fuel. Believe me, when it wears off you better stay out of my way…

  21. Just wanted to mention that research may only be picking isolate vs. concentrate to rule out any confounding variables that may come from milk fat/ lactose that are found in the concentrate..though yes, they are minimal. Research isn’t perfect and they have yet to research everything so in the meantime probably sticking to the least amount of processing might be best.

  22. I have read too many BCAA’s can raise blood glucose levels via gluconeogenesis. Apparently, muscles are using BCAA for fuel instead of glucose, so glucose remains/builds in blood. Wish I could cite it, but, I am sure Google has some references. I also noticed upon my last lipid profile/CBC, while cholesterol numbers were stellar, my glucose was sitting high for my own liking, around 99. I had been using whey for PWO shakes, etc. Have since cut WHEY DOWN on the whey shakes (hehe), and will be testing again soon. Have been opting for delicious eggs, instead, with occasional whey supplementation. Food for thought.

  23. I do actually grow grass fed cows on my property and use them to the fullest extent possible, I even hand-selected the grass that the cows feed upon, it is a strain that only exists in the lowlands of Tibet, I had to have it genetically-engineered to thrive in the more hot and humid climate where I live.

    I use every bit of the cows, down to the hooves and eyeballs. I do not wash the cuts of grass-fed beef because in my experience a lot of the vitamins and minerals are contained in the crust of dried sweat and dirt that accumulates on the cow, if you rinse the meat you are missing out on the best part.

    I make my own cheese from the milk of the cows that are fed from the grass from Tibet. I collect the whey from the cheese-making process and have a small (tiny) manufacturing plant where I convert it into whey protein powder which I keep for my own use and that of my neighbors and friends. My total production is only 50 pounds per year but it is the purest form of whey protein on the planet, I do not even clean insects from the equipment because the insects add to the wholesomeness of the product.

  24. I am in Australia and I use the 180 nutrition coconut protein powder, the choc flavour I don’t like at all.

    I first came across it in one of Mark’s blogs or the messageboard thread re australian paleo/primal products.

    10 ingredients all natural

  25. I highly recommend Mark’s Primal Fuel as well. It’s really helped me make the transition to Primal eating. I’ve lost about 20 lbs while it’s been part of my diet. The stuff is delicious and really satisfies me.

  26. No whey protein for me. I cannot do dairy, so I cannot stomach this stuff. Instead I go for Pea or Rice Bran or Hemp protein powders if I must have protein powder… However, I rarely use protein powder, instead I go for… actual meat! The best protein “bar” is a grilled chicken breast. I just grill a piece and throw it in tin foil and eat it on the go – That’s it! 🙂

  27. Something which a lot of people don’t think about is when to take a protein supplement to obtain the best benefit. Only after good exercise when the muscle is being “repaired”.

    I use Nutrilite products because I trust the brand – both liquid and snack bars, isolate is used. Some of the bars I have eaten in the past taste like chalk.

    Whey is better than gelatin ect. (dairy versus beef) because it is easier for our digestive system to deal with.

  28. I do use Whey as part of my self baked paleo-bread, neutral whey of course. Until now i usedconcentrate but i think i will choose isolate next time instead.

  29. Can anyone generally comment on the taste of concentrate v isolate? The WPC I currently use tastes pretty good (once I add a bit of cacao and stevia or xylitol to it), and the same manufacturer makes a very similar product in WPI form. Both are just a simple, clean product without any other additives. I’m wondering if I would enjoy the WPI as much, or whether it would in fact taste a bit different? I don’t want to waste money on a tub of (even more expensive) stuff which I mightn’t like.

  30. How does the Primal guideline of “no processed foods” mesh with using protein powders? Are some processed foods somehow “OK”?

  31. Ralph: Good question, but the answer is very simple – a supplement is not a food in the same way a medicine is not a food. A supplement is there to fulfill a nutritive need not being attained by diet alone, in this case primarily rapid protein absorption post workout. Whey as a meal replacement isn’t ideal, and personally I don’t go down that track, nor do many PBers AFAIK.

    Why not eat a steak or drink a bunch of raw egg whites right away post workout? Convenience and post workout nausea are two big reasons, much the same reason as when you get a headache you’re more likely to just take an aspirin tablet than boil yourself a big cup of willow bark tea. Being primal is an ethos designed to maximize your lifestyle, not the other way around.

    Taking advantage of the conveniences of our era is not oppositional to eating a diet of whole, organic, nutritive food, so long as the two practices are truly supplemental. This is the key distinction.

    Personally, I’ve been using a Whey Isolate/Casein combo powder up until now, primarily to minimize the insulin spike from a pure whey powder loaded with extra carbs and also because I find I recover better with the sustained protein release of casein along with a hotshot of whey.

    I find I’ve been using it less since going primal, only after workouts where I feel I need it rather than every time. Soreness hasn’t been an issue and lean mass gains have been steady… Even when really hammering myself I haven’t come close to going catabolic. Total weight drop of 40 lbs during a 6 month period doing that, and steady gains on all lifts.

  32. I think this post forgot to mention that protein isolates are usually acid/ion exchange processed protein which denatures the amino acid profiles by using acids and chemicals to separate the whey from the fats. Protein isolates are deficient in key amino acids and nutritional cofactors and have less immune supporting components.

    I like evolvedNS’s eWhey. It’s organic whey with probiotics, colostrum and sweetened with coconut sugar, is high in amino acids and the vanilla bean tastes delicious!

  33. There is one difference between grass fed whey and ‘regular’ whey protein powders that I would like to see you discuss – grass fed whey has a much higher lactoferrin content (at least according to the labeling on my bucket)

  34. Mark you made a rare scientific error by implication:

    “It’s also liable to retain impurities and more likely to trigger allergic reactions (mostly because of the lactose content).”

    Nobody is ALLERGIC to lactose or any other simple sugar for that matter. By definition, an allergy is an immune mediated process, and simple sugars are too small (and too essential for life) to generate allergic reactions. The negative reactions some people have to lactose has to due with a loss activity of the enzyme that is responsible for the digestion of lactose. When lactose then passes unabsorbed into large intestine, our colonic bacteria go on a feeding frenzy, producing lots of gas and short chain fatty acids which then lead to the typical symptoms of lactose intolerance.

    Concentrate probably does trigger more allergic reactions than whey isolate by virtue of lower purity and higher contamination with casein. The casein fraction of dairy is much more antigenic (likely to cause allergies) than whey, which is another reason–beside lactose intolerance–that people who don’t respond well to whole dairy, can do fine with whey protein.

    Sorry to get all geeky, but as a gastroenterologist, this distinction matters to me…

  35. I avoid all dairy as I cannot digest any of the dairy proteins (lactose or casein). I would love to see some information on some of the alternative protein powders. Despite eating salads and meat for most meals and eggs for breakfast some days I still struggle to ingest enough protein. Being able to add a protein shake after a heavy workout day could be a good option to have.

  36. My husband used to have a lot of protein shakes when he was growing up (he’s 37 now), when he believed they were good for him. His opinions have changed somewhat now though, and he won’t touch them. Hes very sceptical that most of them even contain what they claim to, so he tries to get all his protein from his diet. Research now also seems to indicate that plant-based protein is far more beneficial for our health than animal protein. Just our opinion 🙂

  37. Great points on isolate vs. concentrate. Like you said, if you are truly viewing this as a “supplement” to protein you would naturally get through a primal diet, concentrate would give you the most bang for the nutritional buck. Others may think of their protein shakes as a complete meal replacement, and may prefer the other ingredients in isolate.

  38. Looking up protein powders, I came across a ludicrous article. ‘Whey Protein protects against a High FAT diet’ I was like whaaat??

    The researchers stated that “whey protein may have therapeutic potential to reduce the incidence of diabetes and fatty liver diseases, especially in at-risk individuals who consume excess energy and fat and lead a sedentary lifestyle. The protective effect of whey protein was consistent with higher basal metabolic rates and mitochondrial oxygen consumption and lower metabolic utilization of dietary lipid.”

    I think they got Standard American Diet confused With a High fat diet, because the two are totally not the same thing. The first causes the problems, the latter fixes those problems. Yeah Protein helps with insulin and fullness and so many other factor but has nothing to do with cancelling out the terrible effects of High fat but more grains, sugars, beans and other icky carbohydrates.

    That is so sad, cus I was trying to find a High Fat protein powder, instead thats what I got. Join me a giant disappointed sigh.

  39. Whey is an excellent proetin to get bigger, but it sometimes make my stomach feel funny. I am currently testing pure egg protein powder. It’s not delicious but so far I’ve had zero stomach problems, is there any other way around this issue?

  40. isn’t there hydrolyzed whey protein as well? shouldn’t that also be included in the comparison?

  41. What about other protein powders? I’ve recently heard of egg white protein powder. While obviously not primal, it’s a low carb high protein that I know my body.can tolerate. Anyone have any experience with this stuff?

    1. I have used egg white powder in the past; it’s a real pain to mix and is not the best tasting thing out there. Maybe there is better powders on the market than what I had. I have also read it’s high in oxidized cholesterol, but no idea if that is a valid statement.

  42. How doest the common practice of using heat-processed affect the whey protein isolate.

  43. I was interested in Mark’s comments about grass-fed whey isolate vs regular whey isolate since we make our MariGold Bars using grass-fed whey.

    While Mark is correct in that whey isolate does not contain fat, so you don’t get the benefits of grass-fed fat, he totally missed another very important point. And that is the GMO exposure, HORMONE exposure, and ANTIBIOTIC exposure of milk used in traditional wheys.

    So, there are absolutely some very good reasons you want to choose grass-fed whey isolate over traditional whey isolate!

    When using non-gmo grass-fed whey isolate, from cows that are also hormone free and antibiotic free (like we do), you get all the muscle building benefits of whey without the negatives of traditional whey.

  44. 100% agree here that closer you can get to ingredients in their natural state the better your body is going to do recognising them as nutrients and not foreign agents. flow on effect of this is better assimilation, utilisation and net gain from the foods you are fuelling yourself with.
    After a huge amount of trial and error personally i have found vege proteins digest easier and i feel better after eating them. just what i have found. being alkaline forming within the body and complete protein sources i have found sprouted brown rice and pea protein to be pretty good options.
    Cheers 🙂

  45. This is pure, imported Whey Protein and has high protein percentage (80%).
    Davisco Whey Protein is used by all the big whey protein companies and known for its quality products in USA, Canada and all over the globe.
    It is UN-FLAVORED and has natural taste (no sweetener or flavors are added).
    For the purchases below 5KG, Rs: 1300 / Kg. (For shipping Additional Rs. 150 will be charged)
    For the purchases above 5KG, Rs: 1250 / Kg(Shipping Free in Noida, delhi)

  46. Hi there, I’ve been reading a lot about whey protein isolate powder and a lot of people are saying they get anxiety and panic attacks when starting to intake isolate whey protein, when starting to take vegetable protein powder that stopped (which I think they only developed anxiety due to all the other crap sometimes protein powder has like taurin).
    I developed Panic attacks but never had one due to whey protein powder intake in fact I think it helped me coping with that disorder.

    what are your toughts on that?


  48. Thanks for the great information on whey! I personally don’t know if the smaller increase in benefits of an isolate justify its much greater cost compared to whey concentrates.

    I personally stick with whey concentrates when I need a boost in my workouts and don’t have time to get my nutrients from solid food.

  49. Does anyone know if there are any other alternatives to whey protein that does not have coconut in it?

  50. Try Ignite Workout Optimizer, Rebuild Recovery Optimizer and then use Iso-Whey Protein Optimizer.

  51. No one is mentioning anything about the most important reason to choose grass-fed whey, which is that we’re supporting businesses that treat their cattle more ethically than companies that use whey from conventionally raised cows. Why would you preach a primal, sustainable lifestyle and then support companies that don’t align with that belief just to potentially build marginally more muscle? That’s pretty weak in my opinion. If you have core values the best way to act on them is to vote with your dollar.

  52. I’m and serious starving after I leave the gym. I was told to try whey isolate because it will crush the hunger and not cause me to gain weight. Is this true?

  53. The concentrate means that only 50% of the protein needs to be Isolate and that the rest is made up of lesser quality and cheaper protein sources.

    The cheapest and lowest quality of which is Kertain protein. Keratin is a protein derives from the slaughterhouse leftovers found in animal hair, nails (hooves), teeth and skin.

    So Isolate is much better!!!!

  54. Natural whey vs, ISO when breastfeeding, but still trying to shed baby weight?

  55. I do consider all of the ideas you have presented for your post.
    They’re really convincing and will certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are too short for beginners.
    May you please extend them a bit from next time?
    Thanks for the post.

  56. I’m a little confused because I googled “whey protein mark’s daily apple” to see what you had to say on the subject, and read more than one article. In the last one I read you said that isolate was negligibly better as far as protein and health boosts go, unless one was very reactive to dairy, and that mostly it’s just a marketing ploy for body builders looking for that extra half gram of protein and that the extra cost wasn’t worth it over concentrate… so does this article mean you learned something new since then?

  57. Great post!! I would like your opinion about whey protein isolates being highly denatured, I believe they use acid processing that can strip away the alkalizing minerals and vitamins contained making it a more acidic compound. Also what is your take on the long term consequences caused by D optical isomer proteins from whey protein isolates? Thank you!

  58. Very surprised to learn the aminogram of whey is identical in grass-fed and grain-fed cattle. Interesting!

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