By now you may have seen “beef protein powder” advertising that it is a suitable alternative to milk and whey based proteins. The important question however, is: what is beef protein powder? Beef is quite a broad term.

We all like to romanticize with the idea that beef protein is filet mignon grinded into powder, but it is simply not. The price of beef is exuberant, making this impossible. A quick search on the internet shows that the top 5 selling beef protein products contain the following ingredients: Hydrolyzed beef protein isolateHydrolyzed gelatin. Now these sound fancy, but what exactly are they? Hydrolyzed Beef Protein Isolate is also known as Collagen. Collagen is not a complete protein source, and is high in glycine, proline, arginine, and hydroxyproline. All these labels are just fancy words for what beef protein really is: collagen, gelatin, and left over scraps.

Below is an amino acid breakdown of an unnamed whey protein product vs. an unnamed beef protein product vs. gelatin (turn sideways on mobile):

Amino Acids Whey protein isolate (g/100g) Beef protein isolate (g/100g)  

 

Gelatin1
(g/100g)
(*=Essential)  
Alanine 4.0 8.8 8.9
Arginine 1.43 7.3 7.8
Aspartic Acid 8.78 6.2 6.0
Cysteine 1.83 0.5 0.0
Glutamic Acid 13.57 11.3 10.0
Glycine 1.43 20.1 21.4
Histidine 1.3 1.2 0.8
Isoleucine (BCAA)* 4.7 1.7 1.5
Leucine (BCAA)* 8.09 3.9 3.3
Lysine* 6.87 5.1 3.5
Methionine* 1.74 1.2 0.7
Phenylalanine* 2.3 2.3 2.4
Proline 4.26 11.1 12.4
Serine 3.52 3.4 3.6
Threonine* 5.35 2.1 2.1
Tryptophan* 1.43 0.3 g 0.0
Tyrosine 2.35 0.9 0.5
Valine (BCAA)* 4.48 2.8 2.2

 

The first thing you should notice is the glaring similarities between beef protein isolate and gelatin. They are nearly identical, so for the purposes of comparisons between whey and the other two, we will simply compare whey vs. beef protein isolate. Remember, we are not comparing whey protein isolate to a steak dinner here! This is a comparison of “beef protein powders” to whey protein powders.

Notice that there are some massive differences. The whey product has much more of the essential amino acids and BCAAs (34.96 grams in whey vs. 19.4 grams in beef protein isolate per 100 g). The amount of essential amino acids and BCAAs are what we really want to consider when we look at different sources of protein as athletes when it comes to determining what is best for our lifestyles. These are the amino acids that aid in recovery, muscle protein synthesis, etc.

Another massive difference is the amount of glycine in beef protein (beef protein isolate contains 20.1 grams of glycine, more than 14 times the amount of glycine in whey protein). Glycine is a filler amino acid added into products to cheapen the cost of the product. Glycine comes up on lab tests that test for protein content based on nitrogen content as protein, which allows companies to pad the amount of protein in their product by stuffing them with glycine.

If that doesn’t have you sold, this should. This is a comparison of the various protein sources we have been discussing using the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). The PDCAAS is a method utilized by government agencies that measures the quality of protein based on the amino acid requirements of humans and their ability to digest these protein sources (2). A value of 1.00 is the highest possible PDCAAS score.

Source PDCAAS 3, 4
Milk protein (used in Select Protein) 1.00
Whey protein (used in Select Protein) 1.00
Beef protein (from actual beef, as in a steak or ground beef) 0.92
Gelatin 0.00
Collagen 0.00
 

As previously discussed, most of beef protein powders contain mainly collagen and gelatin, thus they have a PDCAAS of zero. As a consumer, you have to put the trust in the company you are purchasing from in hopes that your beef protein powder is actually beef, and not collagen, gelatin, and scraps. Because as far as these companies are concerned, they can both be labeled as “beef” since they originate from a cow. Collagen and gelatin-loaded products are not beneficial for athletes and are not a significant source of protein. In fact, next time you are in a store, pick up a bag of pork rinds (gelatin and collagen) or some of your favorite gelatin-brand fruity snack, and you will see that the large companies who follow compliance will have a note on their labels stating the protein is “Not a significant source of protein”.

References:

  1. EASTOE, J. E. (1955). The amino acid composition of mammalian collagen and gelatin. The Biochemical journal, 61(4), 589-600.
  2. Recent developments in protein quality evaluation
  3. Schaafsma, G. (2000). The protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score. The Journal of nutrition, 130(7), 1865S-7S.
  4. http://cancersupplementcenter.com/PDCAAS-Paper-01-28-08.pdf