Just as a short introduction, my name is Emily Henderson and I am a current member at CrossFit ICE. I hope to be posting on this blog with some topics that interest me and that I believe would be relevant to the CrossFit community. My background is in biology and chemistry, with four years of collegiate rowing thrown into the mix. So the topics of these posts will range anywhere from exercise science to supplements to even a book review. Some of you have already done me the honor of listening to my ramblings about creatine monohydrate or the muscle fiber types (posts coming soon) and I hope the rest of you will enjoy the writings as well.

I wanted to address a question that I hear being asked pretty often. CrossFit STL and ICE stock three different protein powders. What’s the difference?

In this post, I’ll go over the ingredient profile of each (and what exactly each ingredient is), the macronutrient profile, and finally if and/or when you would want to take the protein powder. Personally, I have a dairy allergy so Progenex is a no-go, but you can also take this information and apply it to your protein supplement of choice.

Progenex seems to have found a niche in the CrossFit community, and STL/ICE stocks three protein powders made by that company: Recovery, More Muslce, and Cocoon.
Let’s start with Recovery. The ingredients are: Hydrolyzed Whey Protein Isolate, Fructose, Natural Flavors, Sucralose.

Remember Little Miss Muffet who ate her curds and whey? Milk has two main proteins, casein and whey, that can be separated through a really neat chemical process where the liquid will become two separate parts; the casein will coagulate into solid curds, and what’s remaining from the milk is the whey. The whey can be dried, filtered, and processed into protein powder.

Whey protein is a popular protein supplement due to its relatively low cost and highly studied benefits. Much like chicken breast or a steak, whey protein is an excellent source of essential amino acids, which can be thought of as the building blocks of muscle tissue.

In the supplement industry, you will typically see whey protein classified into one of two groups: whey protein concentrate or whey protein isolate. This just refers to the level of processing and purity of the whey protein. The most basic processing will remove most of the sugar and fat from the whey and is what is referred to as concentrate, but further filtration will remove nearly all of the remaining sugar and fat (such as lactose) and is called the isolate form. You will notice that Progenex uses an isolate that is hydrolyzed. Putting whey through hydrolysis is actually one step further in the processing of the protein, where the protein is essentially pre-digested in order to break the protein down into smaller parts, called peptide chains. Less digestion for your body to perform means that the whey protein can be more quickly absorbed and used towards rebuilding muscle tissue.

Moving on to the next ingredients, Progenex uses fructose as its source of carbohydrate. Although I refer to Recovery as a “protein powder”, this product is actually more of a protein and carbohydrate blend. Side note: research has shown that a combination of protein and carbohydrate post-workout is more effective in promoting cell repair than carbodyrate or protein alone. Fructose is a sugar commonly found in fruit and is a very quickly digesting source of carbohydrate which is why it’s commonly used in post-workout drinks, but also why it tends to be avoided (think high-fructose corn syrup in sodas). I can imagine there have been questions about why Progenex uses fructose instead of other powdered sources of carbohydrate such as dextrose or waxy-maize, and my speculation is that fructose was chosen for its taste. Hydrolyzed whey protein is extremely bitter on its own, so that’s where the fructose, natural flavors (most likely cocoa powder for the chocolate taste), and sucralose (the noncaloric sweetener found in Splenda) come into play. Fructose is very sweet, about two times sweeter than table sugar, and sucralose is up to 1000 times sweeter than sugar. So judging by the taste of Recovery, I’d say they do a decent job of balancing out the bitter whey protein.

Lastly, I’ll touch on the optimal time to use Recovery. From the two paragraphs above, it’s easy to see that the hydrolyzed whey protein and the fructose are very rapidly digested ingredients, making post-workout the best time to drink Recovery. The idea is that the faster your body can assimilate the carbs and protein, the faster you will replenish your energy reserves and the more quickly you will begin to rebuild muscle tissue. Likewise, during exercise your body diverts a lot of blood away from the stomach and toward the working muscles instead, so digestion of solid food takes some time to come back to full-throttle, which is why liquids are easier to handle. Will you lose all your hard-earned strength if you don’t have a post-workout shake? In my opinion, no. If you do one WOD a day, complete replenishment of your glycogen stores will occur within 24 hours, and as long as you eat enough protein throughout the day, your quads will be recovered by the next time you do a front squat. However, if you’re competing, have an active job, or can’t eat right away, shakes are a great way to jump-start that recovery process.

So the next protein that’s offered is called More Muscle. The ingredients in this are Whey Growth Factor Enriched Hydrolyzed Whey Protein Isolate, Fructose, Natural Cocoa Powder, L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, L-Valine, Natural Flavors, and Sucralose. Since I already went into detail about the whey protein, fructose, and sweeteners, I’ll touch upon what makes Recovery and More Muscle different.
You’ll see that there’s “Whey Growth Factor Enriched” added to the whey protein. This terminology is vague, and I can understand for copyright purposes why they aren’t more specific, so I’m just going to speculate as to what this means. Its an interesting idea though, and a concept pretty unique to Progenex. In short, growth factors work with your hormones to promote cell growth, cell repair, and a functioning metabolism. Normally, the growth factors in milk are destroyed when it is processed, so Progenex must take another step to add them back in. Which growth factors? They don’t say. IGF-1 or IGF-2? These insulin-like growth factors are the most important growth factors involved in building muscle tissue, but there are many more to choose from.

Most notably present in More Muscle is the addition of the Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine. The terms “branched chain” and the “L” in front of the name just refer to the shape and chemical structure of the amino acids. As I stated before, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are about twenty amino acids that chain together to form a protein molecule, and BCAAs are three of the nine amino acids that humans must consume from food because the body is unable to make them. By eating any animal protein, including whey protein, you are actually consuming all three BCAAs. So the whey protein alone in Recovery and More Muscle provides sufficient amino acids, but there have been many studies showing that adding free form BCAAs is beneficial for muscle repair. Leucine in particular is thought to jump-start protein synthesis and has also been shown to be an ergogenic aid (meaning it can increase work capacity and performance), which is why BCAAs were first introduced as an intra-workout supplement.

Another difference between Recovery and More Muscle is the macronutrient ratio, specifically the amount of carbohydrate and protein in each. Recovery has 23 grams of protein and 8 grams of carbohydrate, whereas More Muscle has 30 grams of protein and 10 grams of carbohydrate. Its just a slight difference, so I think its totally acceptable to take More Muscle post-workout instead of Recovery, especially if you are looking to add a bit more protein and carbs to your day. Other than that, More Muscle is probably the better choice to use as a meal replacement if you don’t have time to eat or don’t want solid food.

For people who use both products, it makes sense to follow the protocol of having Recovery post-workout and More Muscle as part of breakfast or an afternoon shake. But if you’re looking to choose one over the other…the answer depends on your goals. Are you just looking for something quick after a WOD, and are perhaps like myself and supplement separately with BCAAs? Recovery is a good way to go. Or are you looking to incorporate a protein supplement into your meals, or are you a bigger guy/gal with higher protein needs? More Muscle could be used to your benefit any time of day.

So let’s say you’ve finished all your meals and you’re still looking to get more protein into your diet? I’ll write about the type of protein in Cocoon next week.