Meal Replacement Powders
They are available at gyms, health food stores, and mainstream supermarkets alike, but do bodybuilders truly know what's in their favorite meal replacement powder (MRP)? Consuming sufficient amounts of protein and adequate other micro and macronutrients is difficult to do, given today's fast paced world.
The nutrient demands of bodybuilders are no surprise; compounded with the grueling workouts we put ourselves through, it is imperative to follow a well-thought out nutrition program for optimal recovery and performance.
Continually packing on muscle can be difficult given the lack of convenient quality foods available. That's where MRP's come in, but with so many to choose from it is difficult to even begin knowing where to look. However, there are a few key points that anyone who incorporates a MRP in their diet needs to know.
The majority of MRP's on the market are all protein-based products with the contents ranging anywhere from approximately 38 grams per serving to 50+ grams per serving (not including the 'lite' versions some manufacturers produce). Although this seems like a significant difference in protein content, don't let the manufacturers fool you; each serving size varies as well.
The products with the protein content towards the higher end have as much as 18 grams of additional powder in each packet (which obviously increases the protein content).
Gram for gram however, these same MRP's, which seem to differ significantly in their protein content, are actually within 7/100's of a gram of protein of one another (i.e., if they all had the same total number of grams per packet, the protein content would vary AT MOST by five grams).
Although the total protein content doesn't vary much, it is still important to consider the types of proteins each product is comprised of. However, it is also important to know that names such as CytoPlex, LeanPro, MesoPro, Metamyosyn, etc... are actually not proteins in and of themselves but instead describe the unique proprietary blend of various proteins to each of their respective companies.
Typically, each of these fancy blends are composed of a mixture of protein sources such as; whey protein isolate, whey protein hydrolysate, whey protein concentrate (or other derivatives of whey protein), calcium caseinate, egg protein, milk protein isolate, and/or soy protein.
Just as with all foods, supplements must follow the rule that the first ingredient on the label list is the one that is most abundant in the product. This is exactly why MRP manufactures compile all of their product's protein into one creative name, and place it in parenthesis as the first ingredient on the label.
If any of the proteins were listed individually, they would be lower on the ingredient list and therefore not as appealing to the consumer.
Considering we are all buying these products for a high quality protein source, we want to see protein listed first. Am I saying that the first ingredient listed outside the parenthesis is most likely the most abundant ingredient in the product? Unfortunately, yes. This is often maltodextrin. "Why," you ask "if maltodextrin is the most abundant ingredient, is the protein content the highest in the product?" Again, when you combine all the proteins in the entire package, they add up to be the most plentiful and therefore why the company groups them together and labels them with a creative name.
The proteins that have proven to be highest in quality are whey protein isolate, whey protein hydrolysate, whey protein concentrate, egg protein, casein, and finally soy. Although whey has proven beneficial for several reasons, other sources, such as casein have shown other benefits in the lab too.
For example, whereas a product containing a whey base would be more rapidly absorbed and therefore ideal for post workout, a product containing casein would be more applicable before bed as it takes longer to digest.
Whey protein is more expensive to manufacture than other proteins, which is why it is typically not the sole ingredient in the product; if it is, you will typically be paying a higher price. You can be assured you are getting a high quality protein based product if one of the aforementioned proteins is the first ingredient on the label and is not grouped with other proteins in parenthesis.
Although these MRP's are centered on protein, they also contain some carbohydrates, fat, and a "melting pot" of vitamins and minerals. Most often, the majority of carbohydrates contained in these products come from maltodextrin, fructose (fruit sugar), high fructose corn syrup, a combination of these or another similar ingredient.
Most of these products also contain some type of sugar substitute to give it the flavor we have all grown accustomed to. The most common sweetener used is aspartame, although more and more, sucralose has been 'showing up on the scene.'
Typically the carbohydrate content in these products ranges from the high teens to the mid 20's in grams. This is a very insignificant amount of carbohydrates. Unless you have a specific medical condition (diabetes, reactive hypoglycemia, etc.), are an endurance athlete who needs significantly more than that, or are following a ketogenic diet which limits carbohydrates dramatically, this minute amount of carbohydrates will not make or break your physique.
Some Americans are unfortunately 'fat phobic' as we have seen the boom of fat-free products on the market, but most educated bodybuilders understand the importance of this macronutrient if they want to pack on size. There are also "diet gurus" recommending that the American diet should be based primarily on fat. MRP's typically are very low in this essential nutrient.
Some of the more recent companies are actually adding healthful fats [essential fatty acids (EFA's)] to their products (which can also be accomplished with a tablespoon of flax oil) as more and more research shows they are necessary in the diet. Fat is essential for several reasons; in a MRP it will slow absorption, most likely promoting better assimilation of the nutrients.
The majority of products on the market have anywhere from 0-4 grams of fat per serving. One disappointing thing about most MRP's is that they often also contain 'partially hydrogenated' or 'hydrogenated oils.' These oils have been shown through numerous studies to be harmful to the body; some studies even show them to be worse than saturated fats!
For this reason, there is not one benefit of adding these to MRP's (better flavor is no reason because the best tasting MRP's on the market do not contain these). Only a few companies have realized that including hydrogenated oils will have no benefit in terms of enhancing ones physique and may actually be detrimental to overall health and therefore, have left it out of their MRP.
Finally, there are also an assortment of vitamins and minerals in these products. The label often reads like the side of a multivitamin container with all the vitamins and minerals in the product ranging from anywhere from 25% to well in excess of 100 % of the RDA.
Obviously each product differs in vitamin content and percentages (based on a 2,000 calorie diet), but all in all, they contain essentially the same blend of vitamins and minerals with slight variations from product to product.
When deciding on what supplements you believe belong in your arsenal, MRP's should not be forgotten. Not only do they provide the much needed protein for recovery, are convenient when there is no time for solid food, pack a whole slew of low-fat quality nutrients, but they taste pretty good too.
Most importantly, you can work out for hours a day hoping to pack on slabs of muscle but if that muscle is not fed with adequate calories, you won't have much luck building those biceps.
Is slamming down the highest quality MRP after every workout going to make Ronnie Coleman nervous at the next Olympia - probably not, but it will provide a quick quality source of calories when your bodybuilding lifestyle keeps you on the move.
Remember to read the labels and pick the product that is right for you, taste, price, and most important quality.