Don’t Get Your Hopes too high on “Boosted Protein Powders”

What this article is all about: many ingredients are added to protein supplements to “boost” them. We look at whether they make any difference.

In my previous article, we examined whether the “Hardcore”-type proteins are better than regular protein supplements.

In this article we take a closer look at some of the boosters that are added to “hardcore” proteins. 

Why are “boosters” added to proteins?

The protein supplement market is very competitive. Brands are always looking to compete on price and unique selling points (USPs).

One of the ways for brands to develop USPs is to simply “boost” their proteins with added ingredients.

The latter are often said to improve performance, boost testosterone and Growth Hormone (GH) in order to promote greater muscle gains. These are things that those aspiring to build muscle would love to hear!

The common added “boosters” are:

  • Creatine
  • ZMA
  • Tribulus terrestris
  • D-Aspartic Acid
  • Glycine and Taurine
  • L-Arginine and L-Ornithine
  • Yes, even added carbohydrates

 

CREATINES

Taking Creatine is definitely a good thing for health and exercise performance.

Creatine works really well with a strength training program and a high protein diet. That is why protein powder and creatine are two of the supplements we recommend in any “base stack” for strength and muscle gains. 

However, adding creatine to a protein powder is suspicious because Creatine is often used as a Amino Spiking agent.

How does this “Amino Spiking agent” business work?

Creatine provides Nitrogen, just like complete protein and often the total Nitrogen content from Creatine + Complete protein is used to calculate the Total Protein content of the powder. 

What this means is that in your 20g/ serving protein shake you may only be getting 15g of protein from a complete protein and 5g of “protein” from the creatine.

It is a good thing if a brand tells you that, say, in each 20g serving, the whole 20g protein is from complete protein (e.g. whey) to which a certain amount of Creatine has been added.

Still, adding creatine to a protein shake can be problematic for some people. For more details please see my article.

Also, please be cautious of brands using several creatine forms in the product (e.g. Creatine HCL, Creatine Ethyl ester, Creatine Nitrate, etc.) in an attempt to look impressive. These is no better than the Monohydrate form of Creatine from a cost-effectiveness perspective, as discussed in this article.

For more info on the best creatine form please see this article.

ZMA (ZINC SOURCE)

Zinc is an important mineral that supports testosterone production and protein synthesis.

Taking zinc will ensure that your body’s zinc levels are adequate. One of the many causes of low testosterone is inadequate zinc levels. In this case, taking zinc will help correct the low testosterone level. 

However, taking more zinc does not equal to greater testosterone if your zinc and testosterone levels are already normal.

Testosterone level is tightly regulated in the body. Therefore, there is currently no natural nutritional supplement that can raise testosterone above normal levels, like taking actual testosterone would.  

Also, ZMA is a good form of zinc but not as great as it was once promoted as. Other forms of Zinc e.g. Zinc Citrate and Zinc Gluconate are also ok.

Besides, the hardcore protein products containing Zinc may be under-dosing the Zinc (please read my article on zinc and testosterone)

TRIBULUS TERRESTRIS

Supplementation with the herb Tribulus terrestris is promoted to enhance testosterone level. However, Tribulus hasn’t been found to boost testosterone in humans.

Tribulus can boost libido in men suffering from low libido, not young people. This is probably due to the Nitric Oxide-enhancing effect, which promotes blood flow to the penis. However, multi-gram dosages are required, not the 100mg/ serving that are in shakes. 

Even if it was effective, the level of use of the herbal in protein shakes is far too little to produce any effect.

Using adequate amounts of herbals would make a shake taste quite awful. Trust me, earlier in my career I have tried adding herbals to protein shakes (in effective doses, of course). I threw up many times, even through my nose! 

That’s why I am skeptical about herbal-boosted shakes because the doses of these herbals are generally minuscule.

Also, brands play a lot on flavouring and therefore using proper dosages would most certainly make the shake not taste like the cookies, smarties, cheesecake or ice cream that are on the packaging.

Tribulus may be a libido enhancer but not a testosterone booster in humans

TAURINE AND GLYCINE

Both amino acids have good effects on the body’s relaxing system. We supply both amino acids in pure form. 

I like to add Taurine to my strong coffee to negate the jitters that I often get. That is why Taurine is added to caffeinated energy drinks. Bodybuilders using Clenbuterol often buy pure Taurine from me to counter clen-induced taurine depletion and cramps.

I like to take Glycine at bedtime at about 3g.

But, sorry dear, in protein shakes their purpose is to spike the protein content, a bit like creatine does.  

ADDED CARBS

That’s a really funny one because often added carbs are often labelled as “volumising complexes”.

Carbs can serve a “volumising” role but the level of use is not high enough to elicit such a response.

We are talking about 5-10g carbs per serving of the hardcore protein, roughly 2 teaspoons of sugar’s worth of carbs. Nothing to write home about.

The added carb here is to work as a filler rather than any volumising role. 

OTHER HORMONE BOOSTERS

  • D-Aspartic Acid (DAA): DAA has done its time. It can potentially even lower testosterone. It was more hype than help.
  • Arginine/ Ornithine: these have forever been promoted as GH boosters. When taken in gram dosages (far more than what’s in the hardcore proteins) they may boost growth hormone levels but the increase is too short-lived to provide any effect. Long-term increases are what build muscle, not mini spikes.

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About the author

Veeraj Goyaram, MSc Med (Exercise/ Nutr. Science)

My name is Veeraj Goyaram. I am a full time supplements guy and make my living in the world of nutritional supplements.

I am a nutritional product scientist by profession, meaning I create innovative nutritional supplements in the lab (food technology side) based on what I know about the human body and nutrients that affect it.

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