July 7, 2003

Bars, Powders, Meal Replacements . . . What's Best?

People are beginning to understand the virtues of what I've termed Supportive Nutrition which asks them to put nutrient complete meals into their mouths every 3 - 3 hours. Gone are the days when I faced the "you're crazy" accusation on a daily basis. The word is spreading. Supportive nutrition "works." Now there are some new challenges.

Once the concept of frequent eating becomes ingrained, the question of "how" arises. "Yes, I understand I should eat every three hours . . . but how?!?!?" For most people, the answer is, "you probably can't," which is why the idea of the meal replacement becomes so valuable. Of course, with each realization comes yet a new question, and once it's clear there's a place for meal replacements in the life of anyone seeking positive physical change, the question of "which is better, bars or powders" is inevitable. We'll address that and put it to rest right now.


Sports Bars

Can those delicious sports bars replace meals? Sure, but they're far from optimal. Labelers use tricks, deception, and labeling loopholes to promote bars as "sugar free" or "low carb," but the reality is, without some sugar a bar is not a bar. There's also a bit of a trade-off. As you lessen the sugar content, you have to increase fat content to maintain consistency and mouth feel. Some use words such as corn syrup solids or high fructose corn syrup which plainly translates into "sugar." Scan the labels on the low carb bars, and you'll find malitol, glycerine, or glycerol. These are sugar alcohols that can impact blood sugar and stimulate an insulin response that is antagonistic to fat release. If the goal, at any level, involves leanness or fat reduction, bars will not be ideal. They can act as a substitute for a meal when they are in fact the best substitute available, but there is a hierarchy of supportive nutrition and today's line of sports bars is not at the top. The rule of thumb is as follows. A supportive meal (food) is better than a powder. A supportive meal replacement powder is better than a bar.

Because powders are not concerned with maintaining a solid consistency, they can be produced without fat or sugar. Before I get into what to look for in a powder, let's first understand why a meal is best. Aside from the fact that many protein foods are high in vital minerals and essential fats, and many of the supportive carbohydrate foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, anti-carcinogens, and other wonderful micronutrients, the fiber in fiber-rich foods aids in efficiently moving food through the digestive tract. In addition, there is a scientific concept nutrition experts refer to as TEF, the Thermic Effect of Food. Meals actually require your body to perform work in the act of digestion, thus when more activity is required, the thermic or calorie-burning effect is enhanced. In plain English, that means meals burn more calories.

If we could all spend our days cooking, preparing, and eating, six meals per day would be a simple task, but few of us have that option. In the event that a supportive meal is not accessible or convenient, a meal replacement powder can be an ideal substitute. Here's where a new challenge emerges. How do we know which one to choose?

I've developed my own, not from any desire to be in the supplement business, but out of frustration. As I came to understand more about the supplement industry, and as I explored some of the "behind the scenes" goings-on among the biggest players in the field, I decided it best to create a product I can stand behind without any apprehension. I went through quite an education in developing my EAT! formula. My intention was never to develop a mass market product, but rather to come up with a reliable formula I felt 100% comfortable recommending to my personal clients.

When you begin exploring the labels of all of the "hottest new" meal replacement formulas, and move beyond the CP3's, the andro-stacks, and all of the other trendy nonsensical throw-ins making the formulas more saleable, explore the primary ingredients. Typically, ingredients are listed in descending order of abundance, meaning whatever a product contains the most of is listed first. It would be nice if this "rule" were really observed, but as in the case of most label laws, there are ways around it.

Be wary of ingredient labels that give a trademarked name to a "proprietary blend" of ingredients. This allows the manufacturer to group the ingredients together within parenthesis and make it appear that this blend is in fact superior. In reality this allows them to take an ingredient within the blend that might be included only in token amounts and list it first on the label, creating the illusion that this is the most abundant ingredient within the package. In this way, products can be built around inexpensive and inferior proteins and the "blend" can put "whey protein" first on the label. As a hypothetical example, if I were to trademark a scientific sounding blend that was 90% cattle carcass, 8% ash, 1% soy protein, of 1% whey protein, and of 1% casein, I could get away with listing whey protein first on the ingredient list.

Myometahypoduropro TM (whey protein, casein, soy protein, hydrolyzed gelatin, cattle carcass)


Another area in which product sellers have little actual regulation is in the carbohydrate source they use. Most meal replacement powders use maltodextrin. Here's a good question. What is maltodextrin? Being that maltose and dextrose are both sugars, perhaps it should be suspect? Allow me to clear up the mystery.

Maltodextrin is a mild sweetening agent, a nutritional additive with four calories per gram, and a texture building agent made from natural corn starch. The corn starch is cooked and then in a process using enzymes or acidic compounds, broken down into chains of sugar (glucose polymers). The more expensive grades of maltodextrin act much like a starchy carbohydrate, but the less expensive grades are not very different than ingesting plain old ordinary simple sugar. Maltodextrin grades can be measured by their Dextrose Equivalent (DE). The great opportunity for supplement sellers to save money lies in the fact that regardless of the grade used, the label reads the same. "Maltodextrin." Period. No mention of grade. No mention of DE.

Getting back to food for a moment, while I do, for the most part, advocate meals that are pretty equally balanced in terms of a mix of proteins and carbs, when you do opt for that meal replacement shake you might want to choose one that is significantly higher in protein than in carbs. Protein is the most thermic of the nutrients, thus what you miss out on by sacrificing the digestive caloric burn of a meal for a powder mixed with water, you can re-gain by shifting to a bit of a shift in nutrient percentages.


If we are analyzing the majority of the sports nutrition powders that are in fact high in protein, we'd have to put on our boots and wade deep into the mysteries and wonders of whey. When I ask in seminar what the best type of protein is, there's always agreement. WHEY! Then I ask a simple question. What's whey? Few people have a clue. Little Miss Muffet comes to mind. Whey is the left-over stuff from the manufacture of cheese, and both the dairy industry and the protein sellers have done an A-1 marketing job in leading people to believe it is in fact miraculous. It's protein. Good protein, but in the real world, certainly not miraculous. As a matter of fact, if whey protein is consumed by itself, due to its rapid gastric emptying properties it leaves the stomach extremely quickly causing a quick release of amino acids into the bloodstream. A spike in serum amino acid levels causes the liver to spike enzyme production in order to metabolize many of the amino acids that could have been used for cell growth or repair. To offset the rapid gastric emptying properties of whey, in my EAT! formula I opted to mix whey protein with egg protein. The two highly bioavailable proteins complement each other to move slowly and efficiently through the digestive tract for optimal protein absorption.

Why the concern for protein usage? Well, if muscle's a concern, and it should be, we must not only take in, but must take in and use enough of the amino acids to preserve muscle tissue, and if desired, to add some. Some amino acids will be metabolized to meet energy demand so we want to ensure we get as much of the protein we ingest into the bloodstream as possible at a gradual enough pace to ensure optimal usage. I know many mainstream nutritionists have downplayed the value of protein for those seeking lean bodies, but the research seems to back up the theory that muscle activating athletes have greater protein needs as a result of their enhanced activity.

Is this confusing? Of course it is, and in that lies the challenge! Over hyped marketing, deceptive labeling, and manufacturing shortcuts have made supplement selection a project fit for a detective. My intention is not to put down any of the products on the market. There are some very good ones, although to be sold commercially there is always a concern for saving dollars in the process of manufacture. You see, manufacturers sell to wholesalers. Wholesalers tack on their profits and then they sell to distributors. Distributors jack up the prices and they sell to retailers. Retailers add in their profit and sell to the consumer. In order to be profitable, commercial sellers of these products are almost forced to cut corners.

My EAT! formula stands up against anything on the market, and although I don't manufacture it in massive volume, I also don't have any of the distribution costs. It goes right from my warehouse to the consumer. That allows me to use the highest quality proteins, the highest grades of maltodextrin, and to add in some valuable compounds such as added L-glutamine, phosphatidylserine, and L-tyrosine. It allows me to test each batch to make sure the ingredients meet label claims. Best of all, it allows me the confidence to sell my EAT Pro! Formula with a guarantee of satisfaction. Are there other products I use? Sure. For variety I often use Labrada's Lean Body formula, some of AST's products, and some powders produced by Pinnacle. As a reliable meal replacement, however, the staple remains EAT! It works for me and for hundreds of my customers and clients.

Oh, and then there's the issue of taste. It tastes great! This started out to be a short explanation of how to select a meal replacement formula, but you know me, once I get going, I get going, and since I'm come this far, I might as well make this article complete by clearing up some of the protein jargon that confuses and intrigues those who read the "hot new formula" ads.


Biological Value (BV) - BV is probably the most relied upon way to judge a protein's value in terms of its cellular activity potential. It answers the question, how much of the nitrogen (a component of protein) ingested is actually retained. A BV of 100 would indicate that all of the protein consumed has been utilized. Eggs have a perfect BV score. The ads for protein products sometimes quote BV's greater than 100, but that is based on an exaggeration of the science or a twisted variation of the formula. Because you can't possibly retain more of something than you've ingested, 100 would be the highest possible biological value.

Hydrolyzed - this refers to a protein that has gone through a process where an enzyme acts to break the amino acid chains into smaller chains which make for greater immediately availability.

Hydrolysate - a protein hydrolysate is a complete protein which, through the act of being hyodrolyzed, is included in a formula, not in its complete form but in assemblages of dipeptides and tripeptides, amino acid chains that are ready to be transported through the wall of the digestive tract and into the bloodstream.

BCAAs - the Branched Chain Amino Acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are important amino acid structures metabolized in muscle. They can be converted into glucose and burned as fuel and when ingested can play a role in preventing muscle loss if the body opts to turn to protein as a fuel source.

Nitrogen Balance - in order to build muscle you want to be in a state referred to as a positive nitrogen balance which simply means you are storing and retaining more nitrogen than you are excreting. Microfiltration - microfiltration is a process of removing fat from raw whey in formulating a high quality whey protein concentrate

Big words aside, here's the bottom line. You need protein. In order to preserve or build muscle you quite likely need far more than the standard RDA's. You also need energy substrates which would be complex carbs and essential fats, both of which are protein sparing. You can get all of these nutrients from food, but in the real world, supportive nutrition isn't always easy. If you understand your options, you can make the best possible choices and be certain your body remains nutritionally primed for excellence.


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Update 6/9/03 - The Ab-solute Truth

Update 4/20/03 - The Great Diet Debate & Atkins Revisited
Update 3/22/03 - I Know What I Should Eat, But . . .
Update 3/6/03 - Deceptive Food Labels
Update 2/4/03 - The Relationship Between Sex and Fitness
Update 1/25/03 - Phil's Biggest Mistake - The EAT! Formula Screw Up
Update 1/12/03 - The Talk Show Illusion (Infomercials exposed)
Update 12/14/02 - Penis Enlargers and Breast Enhancing Pills
Update 11/20/02 - How Do I Lose This?
Update 8/27/02 - The Promise and the Real Story Behind the Infomercials
Update 8/01/02 - Clearing up Four Prevalent Myths

Update 6/20/02 - Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
Update 5/11/02 - Miracle GH, What "Works"
Update 3/25/02 - Women on Steroids and More on Core Training

Update 2/15/02 - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Fitness
Update 1/14/02 - Counting Calories
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Update 11/20 - Holiday eating!

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