In the fitness industry, protein powders are used as supplement to help athletes reach their daily protein ingestion goals. A bodybuilders life does not necessarily revolve around protein powder. Contrary to popular belief, one can get all the macronutrients they need to get jacked and juicy in a regular diet with no supplements.
In terms of whey protein supplementation, Optimum Nutrition is a top option. At about $1 per 24g of protein serving it is economically viable compared to they competition, they have been consistent with high quality standards, and have recently shown their hearts by helping out communities impacted in the pandemic. However be wary of the necessity of using whey at all, similar to cheesemaking, its processing can involve the harvesting of baby cow stomach linings.
The main ingredient is a ‘protein blend’ made of whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate and whey peptides. Whey protein is derived from cows milk, which is mostly water and 3% protein. 20% of that protein is whey protein, which is isolated in this product. The whey is desired because it is a ‘complete protein (contains all the essential amino acids), and has an idea ratio of branch chain amino acids, which are thought to boost muscle recovery.
One of Optimum Nutritions big promises is of their high quality materials. All of their vendors provide a Certificate of Analysis for each raw material to assure quality. They don’t actually say what this Certificate of Analysis actually signifies, but it is promising that the certificate and quality of finished products are tested and verified by independent third parties. The product is National Sanitary Federation International ‘certified for sport’ which means there are no banned substances, the contents actually match the label, and there are no unsafe levels of contaminants. This testing turns out to be very valuable. The Detox Project independently tested glyphosate levels in popular proteins powders. Glyphosate is a residue from certain pesticide that is toxic on the human body, and two of the top five best selling Pea Protein powders had Glyphosate concentration levels of high concern, and the other three were of slight concern. Optimum Nutritions Gold Standard 100% Why Double Chocolate flavor was tested to find no detectable trace of pesticides of glyphosphate, this is an important note when considering switching to a plant based alternative.
A common misconception is that whey is a waste product in the cheese making industry. Sadly, whey purchasing whey protein is not saving it the product from being landfilled. It is actually a by-product and extracting whey is a very expensive and intensive process. It takes 200-250L of milk to create 1kg of whey powder, compared to 13L of milk to create 1kg of cheese. While whey is the standard for protein I urge the reader to look into other plant based alternatives, but still be wary.
To get from cow milk to whey protein, the milk is pasteurized, then separated using enzymes. In this process a substance called rennet is used to coagulate the milk. Typically, the important part of rennet is called chymosim, a protease that breaks down other proteins. The issue is that chymosim is extracted from the stomach lining of baby calves, as they use it to break down proteins in their mothers milk. There are other ways of sourcing enzymes that don’t murder baby cows, but chymosim is very prevalent in the cheese making industry for its consistency of flavor on a large scale. There is no information available for Optimum Nutritions method of coagulation, but if they had a process outside the norm I’d reckon they publicize it as a selling point. Either way, the consumer should be conscious of this process if choosing a whey protein, and in their cheese consumption in general.
Optimum Nutritions production facilities are located in Middlesbrough, UK. All of their facilities are current Good Manufacturing Process registered, enforced through the FDA. These standards affirm Optimum is up to date with rigorous quality control standards. I think it is important to note Optimum Nutritions disclosure to the California Transparency in supply chains act. They confirm complying with any laws on human trafficking and slavery, but are not taking any additional steps to evaluate, verify and educate the various parts of their supply chain for human trafficking and slavery. At Voiz, we value transparency, but I would like to Optimum Nutrition explain why they are lacking in these initiatives and their plan to improve in the future.
Protein powders have been developing since the early 1950’s, Optimum Nutrition was founded in ‘86. Since its founding Optimum has been a leading brand, incredibly popular due to its consistent quality. As an activist, the brand showed its support to those effected by the recent pandemic. Optimum donated more that $1.5 million in product to 75 hospitals, fire stations and food banks in the US. The value of the ’immunity gummies, protein wafers and probiotics’ were praised by those who received. They also partner with Michelob Ultra (odd, I know), to create a virtual live workout program with celebrities, matching donations for relief to fitness studies. This is a great example of a larger company using their size and power to help those in a crisis.
In terms of sustainability, Optimum claims to use packaging that aims to “have an impact on the environment that is as low as possible.” Objectively this is false. While the large tubs used in packaging are recyclable, why not go one step further and sell reusable tubs and have users fill back up at convenient distribution centers. They make a few other claims that can’t be verified without evidence. I love the idea of challenging packaging suppliers to reduce material usage and “deal with companies that purchase from sustainable sources.” These are great values to have, and show that Optimum Nutrition is facing in the right direction. However, without any report laying out action steps that have taken to follow through, we can’t confirm this is more than just talk.
Detox Report Glyphosate <https://detoxproject.org/reports/>
Optimum Nutrition Quality Page <https://www.optimumnutrition.com/en-us/our-quality>
Whey Protein Manufacture Process <https://www.biprousa.com/blogs/how-whey-protein-is-made#:~:text=Milk%20is%20collected%20from%20local,spray%20dried%20into%20a%20powder.>
Calf Rennet Cheese <https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/food-matters/do-gmo-opponents-have-a-problem-with-cheese/>
Optimum CA Supply Chain Act disclosure <https://www.optimumnutrition.com/en-us/ca-supply-chains-act>
Protein Powder history <https://www.tigerfitness.com/blogs/supplements/the-complete-history-of-protein-powder>
Pandemic Support <https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/optimum-nutrition-steps-up-support-for-community-during-pandemic-301067495.html>
Optimum Nutrition UK Recyling <https://www.optimumnutrition.com/en-gb/recycle>