The ‘Women’s Protein Powder’ Myth

Hello ladies, many of you have concocted a great array of smoothies, shakes and other protein based drinks in your quest for a leaner and healthier body. There is nothing at all wrong with this ambition, however big companies have are taking advantage of you. That’s right, taking advantage of YOU – those words are infuriating to even the most cheerful woman. In their own words, big supplement companies are successfully selling you a ‘unique protein blend’ that is ‘specifically designed for women’. How do they manage such a feat? How do they know women so well that they can take a natural macronutrient and feminise it? The truth is they can’t – but they can sell you the idea. Gimmicky words such as ‘muscle toning protein’, ‘slimming protein for women’, and ‘female shaping protein’ are all dressed up on pretty pink labels to woo a girl and her purse. Sadly, most ladies don’t know any better – nor it seems extreme that they should they have to. Most other products you buy are what they say on the label. The food industry and supplements however are playing by a different set of rules. Rules that allow there to be such a thing as a ‘woman’s protein’. This is not a victory for women or a taking of sides – it’s quite the contrary. Although protein dosage requirements are different for males and females (more on this later), protein is digested by the human body in the same way for both sexes.

It’s not only the protein that is marketed differently to women. Other fat burning and ‘shaping’ ingredients included in ‘women’s protein powders’ are also used to lure the ladies in. To illustrate this in better detail, let’s look at both the product marketing claims and the nutrition table for a very popular ‘Women’s Protein Powder’:

 

Shaping protein

 

The above product’s label claims and purported benefits by the retailers and manufacturer alike include the following:

  • ‘Added Carb Blocking nutrients such as Hydroxy Citric Acid to reduce fat storage and boost your metabolism’ – Studies show that there needs to be at least 1000mg of Hydroxy Citric Acid to have any effect. The amount included in this product is on such a small scale that it doesn’t even rank on the nutrient list.
  • ‘Female specific proteins from whey and soy to help boost your metabolism and tone your body’ – Female specific proteins? – really?! Would hate for some of those ‘male’ proteins to be included in there. The manufacturer must work real miracles in separating the whey and soy protein into male and female elements.
  • ‘High Protein’ – this product is just over 75% protein – it is not high Protein when compared to other powders on the market that are typically 85% protein or higher.
  • ‘Full of Antioxidants, Omega 3, 6 and 9’ – the product’s most potent antioxidant (Green Tea) is listed last on the ingredients list, meaning it is a trace ingredient (more on this below). With just 0.8g of fat per serve, you can guarantee there is not enough of the essential fatty acids Omega 3,6 & 9 to make any difference
  • ‘Added Fat Metabolising Nutrients such as Green Tea extract, L-Carnitine and more’ – these added nutrients are also in trace amounts (keep reading for a full breakdown on these)

 

By law, ingredients on a nutrition label must be in order of quantity in the product. So in the above instance, this means that whey protein concentrate is the most prominent ingredient and that ingredients like Green Tea Extract (the marketed fat burner) are in very scant supply. This practice of including trace ingredients is termed ‘label decoration by industry watchdogs. Although not illegal, they are certainly misleading. One other prime example of this practice is seen with multi-vitamins. Multi-vitamins are usually marketed for the 3 big micronutrients – Potassium, selenium and magnesium. If an effective dose for these 3 nutrients was created in tablet form, one tablet would be bigger than the bottle of 60 multivitamins you buy! The worst thing about Protein powders with trace ingredients is that most of these could actually be fit inside a normal size protein container, yet the manufacturer chooses to skimp on a proper dosage to make more money. A breakdown of the trace ingredients for this product is shown below.

 

The added ‘Fat Metabolising Nutrients’ breakdown:

Ingredients amounts as per 25g serve chart:

  • L-Carnitine = 100mg – you need 3000-4000mg to have any effect on fat transporting. Due to nutrient partitioning and breakdown, you also need to take L-Carnitine on its own to have any effect.
  • Choline = 10mg – research points to 100x this for effectiveness (1000mg)
  • Inositol = 10mg – the same story as Choline. Try 1000mg.
  • Green Tea extract = 250 Micrograms!? Studies on Green Tea Extract dosage for fat burning are measured in hundreds of MILLIGRAMS (1 milligram = 1000 micrograms). Even if you are sensitive to caffeine you will get little out of this amount. By the time the body breaks it all down it will do nothing for you.

It is clear that the above fat burning ingredients are just a token gesture and added to create the marketing hype for the product. Their amounts are so small they won’t affect the body in any way. When you mix these fat burning ingredients in with a food like protein powder, they have to follow the normal digestion track. They are broken down by stomach acids, then by the small and large intestines and finally the liver. By then, at least 90% will be broken down and very little will enter the bloody stream.

After getting through all the label claims and decoration, let’s consider the main ingredient – Protein! It is true that optimal protein intake can enhance muscular recovery and fat burning. Research shows that there is an effective dose response for this to occur, which is typically around 20-30g per meal for females and around 40-60g per meal for males. Considering the above products claim to being ‘High Protein’ at 17.8g per 25g serve, it would be more advantageous physiologically (and financially more viable) to consume a normal ‘male’ protein powder (typically 21-23g of protein per 25g serve). These powders would come in containers twice the size of a ‘women’s protein’ and at a price typically 50% cheaper per gram than the aforementioned product example. For this reason (and for the various reasons already addressed), women should be using the same protein powders as men. Women’s digestive track works the same as men, it’s just women don’t need as much protein per serve.

You may by now be feeling stupid, cheated and ripped off. However, the good thing is you’ll now save a bucket load of money and achieve better results in the future. When buying protein powders (or any other nutritional supplement), be critical and remember that sometimes most supplements are often “NOT” what they appear to be. Look for what the nutrition table and ingredients list says, not what the label marketing or store clerk pushes at you. Be astute with not just the product details but also the price. And if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

 

 

 

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