July 7, 2003
Powders, Meal Replacements . . . What's Best?
People are beginning
to understand the virtues of what I've termed Supportive Nutrition
which asks them to put nutrient complete meals into their
mouths every 3 - 3 ½ hours. Gone are the days when I faced
the "you're crazy" accusation on a daily basis. The word is
spreading. Supportive nutrition "works." Now there are some
Once the concept of
frequent eating becomes ingrained, the question of "how" arises.
"Yes, I understand I should eat every three hours . . . but
how?!?!?" For most people, the answer is, "you probably can't,"
which is why the idea of the meal replacement becomes so valuable.
Of course, with each realization comes yet a new question,
and once it's clear there's a place for meal replacements
in the life of anyone seeking positive physical change, the
question of "which is better, bars or powders" is inevitable.
We'll address that and put it to rest right now.
Can those delicious
sports bars replace meals? Sure, but they're far from
optimal. Labelers use tricks, deception, and labeling loopholes
to promote bars as "sugar free" or "low carb," but the reality
is, without some sugar a bar is not a bar. There's also a
bit of a trade-off. As you lessen the sugar content, you have
to increase fat content to maintain consistency and mouth
feel. Some use words such as corn syrup solids or high fructose
corn syrup which plainly translates into "sugar." Scan the
labels on the low carb bars, and you'll find malitol, glycerine,
or glycerol. These are sugar alcohols that can impact blood
sugar and stimulate an insulin response that is antagonistic
to fat release. If the goal, at any level, involves leanness
or fat reduction, bars will not be ideal. They can act as
a substitute for a meal when they are in fact the best substitute
available, but there is a hierarchy of supportive nutrition
and today's line of sports bars is not at the top. The rule
of thumb is as follows. A supportive meal (food) is better
than a powder. A supportive meal replacement powder is better
than a bar.
Because powders are
not concerned with maintaining a solid consistency, they can
be produced without fat or sugar. Before I get into what to
look for in a powder, let's first understand why a meal is
best. Aside from the fact that many protein foods are high
in vital minerals and essential fats, and many of the supportive
carbohydrate foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals,
antioxidants, anti-carcinogens, and other wonderful micronutrients,
the fiber in fiber-rich foods aids in efficiently moving food
through the digestive tract. In addition, there is a scientific
concept nutrition experts refer to as TEF, the Thermic Effect
of Food. Meals actually require your body to perform work
in the act of digestion, thus when more activity is required,
the thermic or calorie-burning effect is enhanced. In plain
English, that means meals burn more calories.
If we could all spend
our days cooking, preparing, and eating, six meals per day
would be a simple task, but few of us have that option. In
the event that a supportive meal is not accessible or convenient,
a meal replacement powder can be an ideal substitute. Here's
where a new challenge emerges. How do we know which one to
I've developed my
own, not from any desire to be in the supplement business,
but out of frustration. As I came to understand more about
the supplement industry, and as I explored some of the "behind
the scenes" goings-on among the biggest players in the field,
I decided it best to create a product I can stand behind without
any apprehension. I went through quite an education in developing
my EAT! formula. My intention was never to develop a mass
market product, but rather to come up with a reliable formula
I felt 100% comfortable recommending to my personal clients.
When you begin exploring
the labels of all of the "hottest new" meal replacement formulas,
and move beyond the CP3's, the andro-stacks, and all of the
other trendy nonsensical throw-ins making the formulas more
saleable, explore the primary ingredients. Typically, ingredients
are listed in descending order of abundance, meaning whatever
a product contains the most of is listed first. It would be
nice if this "rule" were really observed, but as in the case
of most label laws, there are ways around it.
Be wary of ingredient
labels that give a trademarked name to a "proprietary blend"
of ingredients. This allows the manufacturer to group the
ingredients together within parenthesis and make it appear
that this blend is in fact superior. In reality this allows
them to take an ingredient within the blend that might be
included only in token amounts and list it first on the label,
creating the illusion that this is the most abundant ingredient
within the package. In this way, products can be built around
inexpensive and inferior proteins and the "blend" can put
"whey protein" first on the label. As a hypothetical example,
if I were to trademark a scientific sounding blend that was
90% cattle carcass, 8% ash, 1% soy protein, ½ of 1% whey protein,
and ½ of 1% casein, I could get away with listing whey protein
first on the ingredient list.
(whey protein, casein, soy protein, hydrolyzed gelatin,
Another area in which
product sellers have little actual regulation is in the carbohydrate
source they use. Most meal replacement powders use maltodextrin.
Here's a good question. What is maltodextrin? Being that maltose
and dextrose are both sugars, perhaps it should be suspect?
Allow me to clear up the mystery.
Maltodextrin is a
mild sweetening agent, a nutritional additive with four calories
per gram, and a texture building agent made from natural corn
starch. The corn starch is cooked and then in a process using
enzymes or acidic compounds, broken down into chains of sugar
(glucose polymers). The more expensive grades of maltodextrin
act much like a starchy carbohydrate, but the less expensive
grades are not very different than ingesting plain old ordinary
simple sugar. Maltodextrin grades can be measured by their
Dextrose Equivalent (DE). The great opportunity for supplement
sellers to save money lies in the fact that regardless of
the grade used, the label reads the same. "Maltodextrin."
Period. No mention of grade. No mention of DE.
Getting back to food
for a moment, while I do, for the most part, advocate meals
that are pretty equally balanced in terms of a mix of proteins
and carbs, when you do opt for that meal replacement shake
you might want to choose one that is significantly higher
in protein than in carbs. Protein is the most thermic of the
nutrients, thus what you miss out on by sacrificing the digestive
caloric burn of a meal for a powder mixed with water, you
can re-gain by shifting to a bit of a shift in nutrient percentages.
If we are analyzing
the majority of the sports nutrition powders that are in fact
high in protein, we'd have to put on our boots and wade deep
into the mysteries and wonders of whey. When I ask in seminar
what the best type of protein is, there's always agreement.
WHEY! Then I ask a simple question. What's whey? Few people
have a clue. Little Miss Muffet comes to mind. Whey is the
left-over stuff from the manufacture of cheese, and both the
dairy industry and the protein sellers have done an A-1 marketing
job in leading people to believe it is in fact miraculous.
It's protein. Good protein, but in the real world, certainly
not miraculous. As a matter of fact, if whey protein is consumed
by itself, due to its rapid gastric emptying properties it
leaves the stomach extremely quickly causing a quick release
of amino acids into the bloodstream. A spike in serum amino
acid levels causes the liver to spike enzyme production in
order to metabolize many of the amino acids that could have
been used for cell growth or repair. To offset the rapid gastric
emptying properties of whey, in my EAT!
formula I opted to mix whey protein with egg protein.
The two highly bioavailable proteins complement each other
to move slowly and efficiently through the digestive tract
for optimal protein absorption.
Why the concern for
protein usage? Well, if muscle's a concern, and it should
be, we must not only take in, but must take in and use enough
of the amino acids to preserve muscle tissue, and if desired,
to add some. Some amino acids will be metabolized to meet
energy demand so we want to ensure we get as much of the protein
we ingest into the bloodstream as possible at a gradual enough
pace to ensure optimal usage. I know many mainstream nutritionists
have downplayed the value of protein for those seeking lean
bodies, but the research seems to back up the theory that
muscle activating athletes have greater protein needs as a
result of their enhanced activity.
Is this confusing?
Of course it is, and in that lies the challenge! Over hyped
marketing, deceptive labeling, and manufacturing shortcuts
have made supplement selection a project fit for a detective.
My intention is not to put down any of the products on the
market. There are some very good ones, although to be sold
commercially there is always a concern for saving dollars
in the process of manufacture. You see, manufacturers sell
to wholesalers. Wholesalers tack on their profits and then
they sell to distributors. Distributors jack up the prices
and they sell to retailers. Retailers add in their profit
and sell to the consumer. In order to be profitable, commercial
sellers of these products are almost forced to cut corners.
formula stands up against anything on the market, and
although I don't manufacture it in massive volume, I also
don't have any of the distribution costs. It goes right from
my warehouse to the consumer. That allows me to use the highest
quality proteins, the highest grades of maltodextrin, and
to add in some valuable compounds such as added L-glutamine,
phosphatidylserine, and L-tyrosine. It allows me to test each
batch to make sure the ingredients meet label claims. Best
of all, it allows me the confidence to sell my EAT Pro! Formula
with a guarantee of satisfaction. Are there other products
I use? Sure. For variety I often use Labrada's Lean Body formula,
some of AST's products, and some powders produced by Pinnacle.
As a reliable meal replacement, however, the staple remains
EAT! It works for me and for hundreds of my customers and
Oh, and then there's
the issue of taste. It tastes great! This started out to be
a short explanation of how to select a meal replacement formula,
but you know me, once I get going, I get going, and since
I'm come this far, I might as well make this article complete
by clearing up some of the protein jargon that confuses and
intrigues those who read the "hot new formula" ads.
(BV) - BV is probably the most relied upon way to judge
a protein's value in terms of its cellular activity potential.
It answers the question, how much of the nitrogen (a component
of protein) ingested is actually retained. A BV of 100 would
indicate that all of the protein consumed has been utilized.
Eggs have a perfect BV score. The ads for protein products
sometimes quote BV's greater than 100, but that is based on
an exaggeration of the science or a twisted variation of the
formula. Because you can't possibly retain more of something
than you've ingested, 100 would be the highest possible biological
- this refers to a protein that has gone through a process
where an enzyme acts to break the amino acid chains into smaller
chains which make for greater immediately availability.
- a protein hydrolysate is a complete protein which, through
the act of being hyodrolyzed, is included in a formula, not
in its complete form but in assemblages of dipeptides and
tripeptides, amino acid chains that are ready to be transported
through the wall of the digestive tract and into the bloodstream.
BCAAs - the
Branched Chain Amino Acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine,
are important amino acid structures metabolized in muscle.
They can be converted into glucose and burned as fuel and
when ingested can play a role in preventing muscle loss if
the body opts to turn to protein as a fuel source.
- in order to build muscle you want to be in a state referred
to as a positive nitrogen balance which simply means you are
storing and retaining more nitrogen than you are excreting.
Microfiltration - microfiltration is a process of removing
fat from raw whey in formulating a high quality whey protein
Big words aside, here's
the bottom line. You need protein. In order to preserve or
build muscle you quite likely need far more than the standard
RDA's. You also need energy substrates which would be complex
carbs and essential fats, both of which are protein sparing.
You can get all of these nutrients from food, but in the real
world, supportive nutrition isn't always easy. If you understand
your options, you can make the best possible choices and be
certain your body remains nutritionally primed for excellence.
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