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The Equalizer

Bruce Kneller
In the last two decades, Bruce Kneller has written columns for half a dozen muscle magazines in the United States and Canada. He has worked as chief formulator or executive vice president of manufacturing for several large, multinational sports-nutrition companies and as consulting formulator for over a dozen more. He has lectured at the International Society of Sports Nutrition’s Annual Conventions (and will again in 2013 in Colorado Springs) and at Supply Side West. Currently, Bruce is heavily involved with R&D and formulation for his own companies: Hong Kong Life Sciences Company LTD, based in Wanchai Bay, Hong Kong and Giant Sports Products LLC, based in Brick, New Jersey. He has over 60 awarded patent claims with the USPTO, the CPO, and the WIPO related to sports nutrition. He divides most of his time between Monmouth County, New Jersey and Changsha, Hunan Province, where he maintains residences.
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Are protein blends better than whey?

Q. Bruce you seem to be of the opinion that blended proteins or even milk proteins/caseinates are better for most people than straight whey proteins. I was always under the impression that whey protein was the best protein you could buy. What gives?

A. This question/comment or some reasonable facsimile of such is something I answer almost on a daily basis. I’ll answer it again here because I don’t think most people understand what they’re asking and/or are merely parroting ad slogans they heard or read somewhere for a particular protein product (and many supplement companies are a bit mendacious when they say something is “the best”). First, ask yourself this: “Best at doing what?” In my opinion, a pure whey protein is a fast-digesting and rapidly absorbing protein. Most folks in the game would be hard pressed to argue that point with me. Is that “best” for you? Is it always “best” for you? If you’re looking to bulk up a hair faster or want a post-exercise drink with protein in it, a relatively small amount of a straight whey (concentrate or isolate, whatever you like) is going to provide a slight advantage to the average person over a milk protein or caseinate. Unless you’re an uber-high end athlete, I doubt you’ll physically notice any real differences to justify paying more for pure whey. I’d also limit the amount of straight whey to under 25 grams at a time because any more than that is likely to raise blood plasma protein levels to the point where the liver starts converting protein to glucose via gluconeogenesis. The normal range for plasma protein is on/between 6.0 g/dL to 8.3 g/dL. So if you keep loading up on fast-digesting and absorbing proteins once you start creeping up to a level of around 8.0 g/dL, your body is going to say, “We’ve got a bit too much protein in the blood—let’s convert it to sugar and use it as an energy source or better still, store it as fat for a rainy day.” I know all the low-carb/no-carb people—of which I’m one of to a degree—will debate me about this all day long. They’re also fond of pointing out that there’s no such thing as an “essential carbohydrate”—and there certainly isn’t because your liver will gladly metabolize proteins into enough glucose to support brain function all day long. Your liver will merrily manufacture glucose for you to exist on as long as you’re alive! Glucose is the sole and only fuel your brain can run on, which is why people tend to feel dizzy as they’re teetering on the threshold of low plasma glucose levels as they transition into full ketosis in Atkin’s/BodyOpus/Cycloketogenic diets. Anyhow, I’d rather have a more balanced and time-released protein, which is what you get in a milk protein and/or caseinate as this will lead to less conversion to glucose, less waste products/ammonia (see next question) and waste of the protein, and a feeling of satiation that lasts longer, mitigating the tendency to overeat. Also, these are likely to provide more stable and constant levels of plasma protein than a straight whey. Milk proteins/caseinates are also usually a lot less money than a straight whey product. So … blends for the win, in my opinion! They’re the best of both worlds. As milk protein is by definition “a blend” anyhow (20 percent whey and 80 percent caseinates), I’d give the gold star to milk proteins. Unless you’re an Olympic-caliber athlete, if you’re purchasing a 90 percent whey protein isolate for any other reason than that you just happen to absolutely love the taste of the brand, you’re paying far too much and the ROI is not there (and I think you’re bonkers!). A blend or caseinate or milk protein will provide virtually the same effects at a much more cost effective level with some added benefits.