Back in the mid-nineties, the long-running CBS program 60 Minutes conducted an interview with fired tobacco company scientist Jeffrey Wigand. During the interview, Wigand insisted that cigarettes were “nothing but a delivery system for nicotine,” and that his former company, Brown and Williamson, deliberately manipulated the levels of nicotine in their cigarettes to make them more addictive.
When Brown and Williamson caught wind of the interview, they threatened to sue CBS. CBS killed the interview before it aired because the lawsuit threatened a potential buyout of the network that would have made a number of high-placed executives very rich.
The entire story was later made into an Academy Award nominated film called The Insider with Russell Crowe playing Jeffrey Wigand.
Unfortunately, the cigarette industry isn’t the only one playing fast and loose with the truth.
The following interview was conducted with someone I met a long time ago while working with EAS. This particular individual – who doesn’t want his name revealed – works for one of the major manufacturers of bulk protein. In other words, his company makes protein powders for supplement companies who, in turn, sell them to you.
However, unlike the cigarette industry’s insider, our insider isn’t spilling the beans on any corruption inside his company or the protein manufacturing business in general. Instead, he’s spilling the beans on the companies that buy his products.
You’ll see what I mean when you read the interview.
Testosterone: During one of our previous conversations, you mentioned that of all the areas of sports supplementation, protein powders are the one area that’s devolved; gone backward instead of gone forward. What did you mean by that?
Protein Insider: You bet they’ve devolved. Case in point, do you remember when MET-Rx first came out – when the product came in two containers? That was extremely high quality stuff. They used some very exotic proteins in that product. If memory serves, they used some of the same proteins that famed French protein scientist Yves Boirie used in his research, and it was extremely expensive.
However, over the years, because of competition between companies, pressure from consumers to push the price downward and increases in the price of proteins, the exotic proteins were replaced with less expensive materials. As a result, today’s protein powders, for the most part, pale in comparison to the stuff that was out a little over ten years ago. It’s comparable to computer companies re-releasing the early Pentium-I computers and not telling anyone, simply because it’s too expensive to make Pentium III’s and IV’s and whatever.
Testosterone: What do you mean by “exotic” proteins?
Protein Insider: Well, like micellar casein, very high quality whey isolates, and even some very interesting whey concentrates. I know people involved with MET-Rx – people who have no reason to lie – that insist that the proteins the company uses today are not the same, very, very, high-quality proteins that they used in the beginning.
Testosterone: Why did proteins get so expensive?
Protein Insider: They became more expensive because the cost of milk proteins simply went up. You have the baby food industry – which is way bigger than the sports supplement industry – and then you have the ice cream and dairy food manufacturers, companies that make soup, and various other industries that use milk protein isolates. And, as the market continues to grow, the demand for proteins goes up. As such, you have big shortages… or, in some cases, perceived shortages. Think of the oil industry and the price of gasoline. It’s all supply and demand.
It runs in cycles, too. Maybe you’ve noticed that occasionally there’s a big swing toward a type of protein. For instance, a few years back, there was a big push toward soy proteins. The reason for this was that it was the height of the milk protein shortage, so marketers rewrote the rules. “Soy is good,” they said. “Let’s start leaking out good info on soy!”
Testosterone: What about these high-quality proteins… is there a shortage of them, too?
Protein Insider: Not as much. A lot of companies won’t use them because they’re even more expensive than the poorer quality proteins that are in short supply. Look at it this way, if a company chose to sell the highest-quality whey-protein isolate available in, say, a two-pound container, they’d have to sell it for at least $65.
The trouble is, the public thinks that quality proteins should go for, I don’t know, 20 to 30 bucks, and the only way supplement manufacturers can meet their expectations is by buying dirt cheap proteins to put in their products. But the guy who walks out of a GNC caring a couple of buckets of protein doesn’t know that. He’s just feeling good because he got some protein at a rock-bottom price.
Testosterone: Well then, how does a company like… well, I won’t mention the name. Let me just say, how does the leading seller of whey protein do it? Obviously, their product doesn’t cost $65.
Protein Insider: The industry scuttlebutt is that they use the cheapest whey they can find, with just a little bit of the good stuff in it.
Testosterone: So you’re suggesting whey protein hijinks?
Protein Insider: I’m not suggesting it, I’m stating it! They’re flat out lying through their teeth. The FDA has preached and preached and preached to these people and they’re still lying through their teeth.
It’s routine for companies to claim a product made largely or totally of whey hydrolysates while the product is really only 10 percent whey hydrolysates and the rest is whey concentrate. First of all, whey hydrolysates taste nasty as hell, so you’d be able to tell immediately if a “plain whey” product were totally or largely whey hydrolysates.
As a matter of fact, the top seller in the whey protein market is probably one of the cheaper proteins to make. It doesn’t mean it’s terrible quality and that it won’t “work,” it’s just that they’re playing games.
Another company that’s up in Colorado with you guys is also playing games. Their meal replacement doesn’t have 100% isolates in it, even though the label says it does. Instead, it contains a significant amount of much cheaper concentrates.
Testosterone: What makes a protein cheaper than another protein?
Protein Insider: Well, the more processing, or the more careful the processing, the more expensive it is. Therefore, if you believe that things like glycomacropeptides and certain factors in whey that have immunological value, these things are still intact in the higher quality isolates and concentrates.
Furthermore, the more expensive proteins don’t cause the digestive problems you see in cheaper proteins. And, certainly, the higher quality proteins are digested and assimilated better. Your company is one of the few that’s using the best isolates available.
Testosterone: So are there exotic proteins out there right now that aren’t being used?
Protein Insider: Absolutely. And they’re simply not being used because of the cost. For instance, there are real, true, colostrums available out there, and people are looking at isolated microfractions of various proteins, which cost about a hundred dollars a pound. They mostly come from New Zealand and Ireland.
Testosterone: What’s the deal with the ready-to-drink protein drinks? High quality or low? Are they any better than Slimfast?
Protein Insider: They’re slightly better than Slimfast.
Testosterone: Why are they bad?
Protein Insider: You have to literally cook them. The FDA requires that you pasteurize ready-to-drink products, and you end up just destroying these glycomacropeptides – they’re gone. What you end up drinking is just a basic, bare minimum protein supplement, a very expensive one at that.
Because these products use so much water, and consequently weigh a lot, the shipping costs end up being considerable. That’s primarily why they cost so much. You’re paying dearly to have someone shake your shake for you. And, unfortunately, the technology that exists today has not improved since they first started doing RTDs [ready to drinks] and so you get a basic protein supplement, nothing exotic, nothing interesting, and usually rotten tasting.
Testosterone: You’ve also mentioned in previous conversations that the protein bar market has, shall we say, it’s own share of problems, too.
Protein Insider: Sure. The bars are, for the most part, more deceptive than the protein powders or RTD’s.
Testosterone: What specifically is the current problem with the bar market?
Protein Insider: First of all, Atkins and Balance came out with this position that low-carb bars are possible. They play fakery with the glycerin – they say it’s not a carbohydrate when in reality it is, and everybody latched on to that. Glycerin is sweet and it contains calories, so why aren’t they considering it a carbohydrate? According to the FDA, it is a carbohydrate. So what if it’s metabolized slightly differently? Eat enough of it and you’ll get fat.
Anyhow, everyone, including the big guys, are watching Balance and until Balance drops the “low-carb” claims from their labels, it doesn’t seem like anybody else is going to be in compliance with the FDA regulations. It’s mind-boggling to have what is about a 3 or 4 billion-dollar a year industry lying en masse about carbohydrates.
Listen, there’s no such thing as a bar that doesn’t contain at least 30 to 40% carbohydrates. I don’t care what they say, if you can chew it, it’s got 30 to 40 percent carbohydrates. It’s not possible not to. If you think your bar of choice is low in carbs, you’re deluding yourself.
Testosterone: If you hadn’t told me this a long time ago, I’d be choking and turning blue right now. Anyhow, onward. Traditionally, what’s been the problem in getting large amounts of protein in a bar?
Protein Insider: Well, up until very recently, when you put real honest-to-goodness milk protein in a bar as your only protein source, it turned out like shoe leather, literally. You couldn’t eat it.
Testosterone: What’s changed?
Protein Insider: Well, there is a new technology that just came out – it took two years to figure this out – to blend everything together and do it in such a way using other novel ingredients to get those high quality proteins in there and get that consistency, texture, moisture, mouth feel, and taste that we all look for.
Testosterone: And this technology doesn’t rely on using Jell-O, or gelatin, as a protein source?
Protein Insider: No, no, zero gelatin and very small amounts of glycerin. What companies often did, and still do, is consider gelatin as part of the protein they claim on the label, and as you probably know, the biological value of gelatin is zero, and so, for example, one of the major protein bars had 40% of its protein coming from gelatin. If they claimed 30 grams of protein, all they really had in there that was worth anything was 18 grams. The other 12 grams aren’t worth anything from a bodybuilding standpoint.
Testosterone: And these guys aren’t in jail?
Protein Insider: Ha! And you would never know you were being shorted on protein. If you’re eating adequate calories, it’s not going to dawn on you that you’re shortchanging yourself of protein. What’s that feel like if you’re eating enough calories and not enough protein? Your brain isn’t going to tell you that. So if you’re eating two bars a day and you’re being short-changed 24 total grams of protein, you’re not going to know it, but it might affect your physique or athletic goals over the long term. You’d literally be short one protein meal a day.
So with the protein bar business, no one – prior to you guys – has come up to us and said, “Make me the best bar you can make, and spare no expense.” Usually, they say, “I need a bar that costs this much money,” and they don’t pay that much attention to all the intangibles that would make a good bar. There’s no attention paid to the quality of the proteins, or telling the people the truth. In fact, it’s like, “Make anything you want and quick as you can, and we’ll take care of any shortcomings through spin and hype in the advertising.” And that’s no exaggeration.
Testosterone: What about the time-release proteins that are starting to come out?
Protein Insider: Well, I’m not the world’s greatest protein scientist, and protein catabolism/anabolism isn’t my main area, but initially, a lot of lay people, or bodybuilding-type self-professed scientists, thought that providing a steady state of amino acids through an IV drip all day long would be great! You’d have the ultimate protein synthesis going on, and catabolism wouldn’t exist, and you’d slowly evolve into this super hero thing.
But in reality, your body’s real smart, and it down-regulates – it beats you to the punch – and a steady stream of amino acids doesn’t work after a few hours. Instead, it looks like pulse feeding – giving the body a shot of protein and amino acids every few hours is really the best way to go. Hell, I really shouldn’t even say that because I’m shooting myself in the foot. A lot of companies want us to develop these time-released proteins for them, and we stand to make some money. So, it’s kinda’ dumb of me to say that they don’t work. But, what the hell.
Anyhow, it’s probably better to go to bed after a protein meal, and have some sort of period of “protein deficiency” at night, so your protein response is super heightened when you break that fast. That’s why it’s important not to skip breakfast.
Testosterone: What’s next for the protein industry?
Protein Insider: The bottom line is what does the public want? It’s just like the movies. If they’re into spaghetti Westerns like they were in the late 60’s, that’s what we’re gonna’ make!
Testosterone: What should you make?
Protein Insider: What I wish would happen is that the protein-foods segment of the market would expand at a greater rate. Protein is hot right now; it’s actually becoming exciting to the general masses right now. You have doctors advocating that women significantly increase protein intake to combat aging and to improve body composition, and the elderly in general are starting to realize the value of a higher-protein diet. As such, it seems like the protein-foods segment of the market should kick into high gear. Who knows? Maybe we’ll figure out how to make protein potato chips that look and taste like the real thing.
Testosterone: That’d be okay by me!
Pretty interesting stuff, huh? Looking back on what the insider said, I’m not sure that what some supplement companies are doing is as much criminal as it is sloppy. Are these companies flat-out lying or are they just being a little loose with their label claims?
Maybe there’s no difference.