Whey vs. Soy -- You've Been Tricked

Source: Elite Fitness: Online Bodybuilding Magazine

If you remember many years ago, weight gainers were the big thing and protein powders were out! Then, in like a storm came the "low calorie" weight gainers (yeah right!) and the criticism of the high calorie diet. Right after this came the inundation of whey protein. Here's the trend: promote something, then dispel it, promote it again, then dispel it. This way, the supplement companies always have something "new" to bring to the market. I predict that soon, there will be a resurgence in the high calorie diet. I'm sure it will be slightly modified, but a high calorie diet nonetheless.

Most supplement companies do not really care what the truth about supplements really is -- they will promote what is "hot". Translation: what has the lowest production costs, and the greatest money-making potential. Back to protein powders -- is whey really the king protein? And are you getting what you pay for? The answer is that you've been misled again.

In this issue of Elite Fitness News, we'll take a close look at whey protein and how it compares to other proteins -- soy protein in particular. We'll look at how in many ways it is not the superior protein that the bodybuilding magazines would lead you to believe. We'll look at the following:

  1. BV vs PDCAAS BV (Biological Value) vs PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score).
  2. A brief history of Soy-Protein Isolate.
  3. Soy Protein Isolate put to the Test
  4. Glutamine: Which protein has the most.
  5. Protein Concentrate vs. Protein Isolate
  6. Soy Protein Isolate for body-builders
  7. Soy Protein Isolate for Dieters
  8. The Health Benefits of Soy Isolate

I guarantee that after reading this newsletter, you'll never look at proteins the same way again. I also guarantee that the information in this letter will save you money and help you get closer to finding the ultimate protein source for building a hard lean muscular physique.

If you read any of the bodybuilding magazines for the last few years now, it is hard not to notice the concerted effort that the publishers have made to push whey protein as bodybuilding's superior protein source. You've seen the claims and the hype, "biological value of 168--over 50% better that egg protein," "ion-exchanged," "richest source of glutamine," and the list goes on and on. What many bodybuilders do not realize, is that this hype is just that - hype. Much of what you have heard about whey's superiority as a protein source is just plain untrue. Let's take a closer look.

Most people do not realize whey protein's humble origins. Originally, whey was a by-product of cheese production. Cheese is mostly fat and casein. In the cheese making process, whey was a left over by-product, and it was simply poured down the drain. Now, that was some time ago - back then, the manufacturers thought, wouldn't it be nice if we could find a way to sell the waste and make some money out of it. And the stuff was cheap as could be. Maybe they thought, "we'll sell it to bodybuilders! They'll eat (believe) anything." And the rest is history.

History has repeated itself for the other sources of protein as well, when eggs were cheap, they were the preferred protein, now that they are not quite the bargain they once were, they are no longer in vogue. Later on, dairy subsidies made milk casein pricing more attractive, so it then became the star. Then along came whey, and you know the rest of the story.

1. BV (Biological Value) vs PDCAAS Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score).

Several studies have been done to assess any differences in weight gain between individuals supplementing with whey protein, soy protein, or egg protein. SURPRISE, SURPRISE! There were NO differences whatsoever (statistically speaking) between the effectiveness of the proteins. Remember, all three of these proteins are designed to stimulate growth-- albeit in chicks, calves, etc. So, is one really better than another? Not according to the weight gained in the studies. Proponents of whey say that it has an ultra high BV (biological value), exceeding by far every other protein. One manufacturer even claims that their protein has a BV of 168-- over 50% better that egg protein!

Scoring Protein by BV is the first area where the bodybuilding public is being deceived and manipulated. Elite Fitness has researched this topic rather thoroughly and has talked to experts in the field who work for the actual companies which manufacture and process the raw, bulk products. I have questioned several experts as to the quality of the various proteins and have found a few interesting facts. First and foremost, BV and PER (protein efficiency ratio) are OUTDATED. The newest and most accurate measurement of a protein's quality for a HUMAN is the PDCAAS--Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score. A mouthful I know, and yet it is the industry standard.

According to the PDCAAS scale, whey is not necessarily the best protein. In fact, soy and whey are both considered a ONE (top score) on the scale. Does this mean that both of these proteins are equal? Not at all--I will discuss the pros and cons of each protein later in the article. What it does mean is that either will supply the BASIC BUILDING BLOCKS for muscle tissue growth and recuperation as well as the next one.

2. A brief history of Soy-Protein Isolate.

The first thing that I do when a consultation client asks me about Soy Isolate Deluxe protein is to ask them to forget whatever they have heard about soy protein. Soy has received a bad reputation in recent years because it is a protein source that comes entirely from soybeans. Since soy is derived from a plant source, it has been viewed as an inferior and incomplete protein. It also doesn't help that its two greatest consumers in the U.S. today are vegetarians and people with milk allergies such as lactose intolerance; not exactly the type of people you expect to see squatting 500-lbs reps at your local gym.

Soy protein powders first came on the market as a food supplement around 20 years ago in the form of soy protein concentrate. At that time, soy protein concentrate was about 70% protein by weight. This protein was loaded with carbohydrates, sodium, and had a poor amino acid profile that made it inefficient for use as a quality muscle building supplement.

The production and development of soy protein changed dramatically over the following decade with the introduction of isolation. Isolation is a method of extracting the soy protein from the beans and concentrating it to make it far more useful to the body than the old soy concentrate. This new product is called soy protein isolate and contained over 90% protein.

3. Soy Protein Isolate put to the Test

This new soy-protein isolate looked fantastic on paper. Imagine a food supplement that contains over 90% protein by weight with near zero amounts of carbohydrates and fats. In addition, soy-protein isolate could be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of other protein sources. This is due to the U.S. producing more than $15 billion worth of soybeans each year for use as foodstuffs for animals and humans. The biggest question however was how efficiently would your body use this soy-isolate as a protein source?

In 1989, soy protein was put to the test to see how it stacked up against other proteins on a scale of protein quality. The most advanced protein-quality measurement scale is the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). The highest PDCAAS score possible is 1.0. Any protein with a score of 1.0 is considered complete for use by the human body. Soy was tested along with egg white, casein (derivative of milk protein), beef, and a variety of beans to determine their PDCAAS rating. Soy-protein isolate, along with egg white, whey, and casein proteins, came back with a perfect 1.0 score. Interestingly enough, beef scored only a .92 while kidney beans came in highest among the beans with a .68 rating.

But what about hydrolization (breaking the proteins into smaller fractions like "di and tri peptides") couldn't this make whey into the superior product that it is supposed to be? What we found was that the hydrolyzed whey promotes less nitrogen retention than a similar non-hydrolyzed whey (a bad thing for a bodybuilder because a positive nitrogen balance is a must for anabolic muscle gain.) As a note: the hydrolyzed product that we studied was the BEST in the industry with a 27% hydrolization, no bitter taste, and at a cost from the manufacturer of greater than $8.00 per pound! Rest assured, NO manufacturer is selling a whey product where the raw materials for the protein cost anywhere close to $8 per pound.

Consider the above and you will quickly realize that supplement companies (who don't actually manufacture the whey but buy the raw product from an actual manufacturer) are telling "some fibs" about whey protein. BV of 168--ABSOLUTELY LUDICROUS! Real whey manufacturers sometimes still use BV to grade protein, and they always rate whey protein as a 94 BV! When you see a 168 BV claim listed on the label of several manufacturers' whey protein, just turn your head, know you're being scammed, and absolutely don't buy!

Now let's consider the other claims and statements about the di-and tri- peptides, about glutamine, and about the BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids).

If hydrolization doesn't further increase nitrogen retention, then what is the point of breaking protein into its smaller fractions like di- and tri- peptides? There IS a good reason for hydrolyzing a protein and having short peptides but it has nothing to do with BV/nitrogen retention. Instead, it has everything to do with how FAST and EASY the product is absorbed in the gut. Regular, undigested whey will be broken down into di- and tri-peptides via enzymes in a person's gut and will be absorbed as such. The caveat is that the whole process just takes a little longer. Hydrolyzed products are basically only useful in baby food or hospital situations where a person's digestive system is not functioning optimally or when protein delivery is needed very quickly.

Is there any benefit of a hydrolyzed product for the bodybuilder? To tell you the truth, I would have to say NO -- except possibly for the benefit of having a quickly absorbed protein immediately after a workout to ensure the muscle tissue is flooded with nutrients in a timely manner albeit with a nitrogen penalty. Interestingly, this entire argument about hydrolized protein is academic as it is not currently sold on the market. Here's why. One, the cost of hydrolyzed whey is outrageous and two, its taste is ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE. Trust me, if you're want to induce vomiting, just take a little hydrolyzed whey protein!

4. Glutamine: Which protein has the most.

Isn't the claim true about whey having significantly higher amounts of glutamine and BCAAs? Sorry, but NO! Whey does have the highest amounts of BCAAs of any protein but NOT SIGNIFICANTLY higher amounts. When it comes to the amounts of glutamine, soy beats whey hands down. For every 100 grams of protein, whey has 20.1 grams of BCAAs and 4.9 grams of glutamine. Maybe to your surprise, soy has 18.1 grams of BCAAs and a whopping 10.5 grams of glutamine! Again, we have been lied to and deceived.

5. Protein Concentrate vs. Protein Isolate

Most companies are selling whey protein concentrate (WPC) and saying that their product is whey protein isolate. Ion exchange protein really doesn't mean anything in terms of the quality of the protein powder as a whole! Any high quality, pure protein will be labeled an ISOLATE and this is what you MUST look for. A true ion-exchange process CAN yield a good isolate but it is not the only process available for getting a superior whey protein. An isolate will have very little fat and lactose and will be about 90% protein (the protein fractions are "isolated" from the rest of the material).

On the other hand, a WPC made through protein filtration is vastly inferior to an isolate with about 7% fat and lactose and only 75% protein (The actual protein in WPC is usually pretty good, but who wants to deal with all of the fat and lactose?) Interestingly, WPC costs less than half of what an isolate costs. Unfortunately, both products look and taste about the same so it becomes very hard to know what you have--you basically have to trust the manufacturer (supplement company) of the particular product.

Here's the picture--the industry through various articles in muscle magazines touts the benefits and characteristics of a whey protein ISOLATE and turns around and uses a CONCENTRATE. Tell me, who's the wiser? The supplement companies, that's who, and they're a whole lot richer to boot! Some manufacturers will put 98% WPC in their product and then put in 1% of a hydrolyzed product (remember this tastes horrible!) and 1% of an isolate. Then, they can legally claim all types of stuff on their label-- di and tri peptides, ion-exchange, blah, blah, blah!

What about the other available proteins--egg, casein, and soy? How do these compare? First, let me state that all of the above proteins are decent if processed correctly. Each will provide the body very efficiently with the protein that it "needs". I would definitely stay away from casein and egg white. Casein has been shown to have detrimental effects on a person's cholesterol profile and egg white protein tastes poorly, is expensive, and consists of about 10% carbohydrates.

Before you say it, I know your response--"That's all wonderful, but what is the best protein for me, a bodybuilder/weightlifter?" If you were to use any ONE protein source then I would have to say that it's a toss up between a soy isolate and a whey ISOLATE (you know, the one that no one can buy.) WPC provides a good protein; however the accompanying fat and carbs is something you do not want. If I had a choice, I would pick a soy isolate. A soy isolate is inexpensive, has the highest score on the PCDAAS, is very soluble if instantized, is extremely bland (a good thing), IMPROVES kidney function (unlike any other protein), is anticarcinogenic, is anti-estrogenic, lowers LDL (bad) and raises HDL (good) cholesterol, IMPROVES THYROID FUNCTION, etc, etc--the list goes on and on. But best of all, unlike whey isolate, pure soy isolates exist.

6. Soy Protein Isolate benefits for Bodybuilders

Animal research suggests some great advantages of using soy protein isolate as a bodybuilding supplement. Research has shown that the isoflavone daidzein found in soy-protein isolate might have a gender specific normalizing effect on sex-hormone production. Lab animals experienced testosterone and growth hormone excretion as well as muscle growth in males, while the female animals experienced a decrease in these hormones and fat loss.

Daidzein is a key isoflavone found in soy that acts as a potent phyto-estrogen. It is structurally a very weak "pseudo-estrogen" (about 1000 times weaker than the body's primary estrogen estradiol). This is good news to the bodybuilder because weak estrogens like daidzein will compete with stronger estrogens like estradiol for available receptor sites to "bind" to. By binding to the receptor sites daidzein then "blocks" the stronger estrogens from binding to and activating receptor sites. With the daidzein isolflavone attached, estrogen receptor sites remain inactive. This inactivity further minimizes the negative effects of estrogen in the body. Many researchers believe this effect is the reason soy protein is linked to a reduction in the risk for many forms of breast, endometrial, and prostate cancer. This mechanism works similarly to the prescription drug Nolvadex (tamoxifen citrate)--an anti-estrogen staple in the bodybuilding community.

Research also indicates that the soy-protein isolates may reduce nitrogen loss and keep you in a positive nitrogen balance to better facilitate muscle growth. The human body can only repair and build muscles when it has a positive nitrogen balance.

Of particular interest to the bodybuilder is Soy Isolates high concentration of the amino acids glutamine and arginine. These two aminos are extremely important to a body builder for their ability to release growth hormone, aid in immune system functions, and for their ability to speed muscle cell recovery.

Glutamine (per 100g)
Soy 10.5g
Milk Protein 8.8g
Whey 4.9g

Many bodybuilders understand the importance of the essential amino acid L- glutamine to their muscle building supplementation. What many bodybuilders don't know is that soy protein isolate has the highest concentration of glutamine among protein sources-over twice that of whey protein! (7) Glutamine has been used for years in hospitals to speed muscle cell recovery and improve maintenance of muscle mass during periods of starvation, infection, and exercise trauma. (8) Glutamine supplementation has been shown to promote muscle glycogen accumulation, which has been linked to an increase in muscle protein synthesis. (10) Glutamine has also shown the ability to increase muscle cell volume through the process of cellular hydration. (11) Glutamine supplementation in as little as 2 grams per day has been shown to increase plasma growth hormone levels. This increase in growth hormone has been shown to help shift the fuel for muscle from glucose to fatty acids. (9) Research has suggested that a bodybuilder should consume between 8 - 15 grams of glutamine each day. Supplementing 3-5 grams of glutamine 3 times per day has been shown to elicit a positive response without stimulating the excretion of glutamine in the urine.

Arginine (per 100g)
Soy 7.6g
Beef 6.3g
Egg 5.8g
Cassein 3.7g
Whey 2.9g

L-Arginine is another important amino acid with respects to body building. Arginine plays several roles in the body such as fighting mental and physical fatigue, but its main job is to assist with growth. This amino acid promotes the release of two highly anabolic hormones, insulin and growth hormone. Arginine promotes gains further by assisting in recovery from post workout muscle trauma through its ability to speed tissue healing. This amino acid aids in the detoxification of the liver by removing ammonium from the body. Arginine has also shown the ability to lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. Arginine is used in the medical treatment of angina, congestive heart failure, male infertility and wound healing. Soy isolate protein contains higher amounts of this important amino acid than any other protein source.

As a hard training bodybuilder, your body needs protein every 2 -2 1/2 hours even if you may not think you need it. The human body does not store protein long term as it does for fat and carbohydrates. Instead, your body holds amino acids in three pools that provide the body's necessary protein for fuel. These pools are constantly in a state of flux and are replenished either from dietary protein or the breakdown of muscle. It is extremely important to keep these amino acid pools topped off through the feeding of protein every 2 - 2 1/2 hours. When feeding stops, there is a fall in protein synthesis and a rise in protein breakdown. This translates into a loss of lean body mass after extended periods without protein.

7. Soy Protein Isolate for Dieters

For years, bodybuilding gurus have recommended the use of soy protein for pre-contest bodybuilders who need to shed body fat while keeping as much lean muscle as possible. Normally when the body is forced into a low calorie diet program, it reacts by slowing down your metabolic rate. This will make it increasingly more difficult to lose body fat. Soy-protein isolate helps lessen this effect through several different pathways. First, soy-protein isolate has been found to enhance endogenous production of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), thyroxin (T4), and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroxin is the main player in the regulation of your metabolic rate. The more thyroxin you have the faster your metabolism will be. A faster metabolism insures that more of the food you eat will be used as fuel and less will be stored as fat, an important advantage to any dieter.

Another way soy accelerates fat loss is with its unique concentration of amino acids. Soy-protein isolate has the highest concentration of amino acids in what is called the "critical cluster". This cluster of amino acids contains the three branch chain amino acids (BCAA's) and two essential aminos - glutamine and arginine. These critical amino acids help a bodybuilder spare muscle while losing body fat during a pre-contest diet. Any time you diet, your body tries to break down muscle glycogen in an effort to provide the body with more calories. In fact, your body will often try to use broken down muscle for fuel before it uses stored body fat. This is called muscle catabolism or muscle breakdown. These three branch chain amino acids are the first amino acids that are used for fuel when your body begins muscle catabolism. If you have a high amount of these branch chain amino acids in your diet, your body will first use these for fuel before it breaks down your stored muscle.

8. The Health Benefits of Soy Isolate

Now that we know that soy is a quality protein source, what health benefits can soy protein bring to its consumer? The intake of soyfoods has long been associated with a reduced risk for certain cancers. Research has suggested that phytic acid and protease inhibitors, two of the nonnutritive compounds in soybeans, contribute to the observed anticarcinogenic effects of consuming soy. (1) Residents of the United States and the United Kingdom, as a whole, consume the smallest amounts of soyfoods but have the highest instances of breast and prostate cancer. Japanese residents in comparison are the largest consumers of soyfoods and have the lowest instances of these cancers. (3) Researchers point to the isoflavones genistein and daidzein, which are found exclusively in soy and soy protein isolate, as the major components behind soy's anti-carcinogenic effects.(2)

Soy protein isolate has shown the ability to promote bone health, which in turn aids in the prevention of Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a chronic disease characterized by a decrease in bone density, which results in abnormally porous and fragile bones. It has been suggested that a high protein diet may increase the excretion of calcium in the urine, which can lead to this health condition. Studies have shown that not all proteins have the same effect on calcium excretion. Compared with animal protein, soy does not result in an increased loss of calcium in the urine thus promoting a more optimal calcium balance. (4) In addition, the isoflavones in soy protein have been shown to increase both bone mineral content and bone mineral density which will improve the health of abnormally porous bones.(5)

Soy protein isolate has shown the ability to effectively lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. Experts agree that these cholesterol-lowering effects can be achieved through the consumption of as little as 25 grams of soy isolate protein each day. The experts point to the high levels of the amino acid arginine for this lipid lowering effect. (6) LDL cholesterol is one of the primary factors behind progressive atherosclerosis. This medical condition is caused by the progressive build up of plaque that clogs blood flow in the arteries.

Soy protein has also shown the ability to improve kidney function. While scientists agree that the high protein intake of bodybuilders is necessary for proper muscle building and repair, they also agree that this diet will place additional stress on the kidneys. Studies of both humans and animals have shown that soy proteins filter more easily in the kidneys thereby reducing their workload. In 1993, a study was performed on the Romanian Olympic swimming and rowing teams. In this study, the athletes were supplemented with 1.5 grams per kg of bodyweight of soy protein along with their dietary protein (2 grams per kg of bodyweight) per day. This additional protein showed no detrimental effects on kidney function and actually showed from 5 to 46 percent improvement in kidney function.


(1)(2) Messina M, Messina V. Increasing use of soyfoods and their potential role in cancer prevention. J Am Diet Assoc 1991;91:836-840

(3) American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures-1996.

(4)(5)(6)Ross PD. osteoporosis: Frequency, consequences and risk factors. Archives of Internal Med 1996's 156.1399-1411.

(7)(8)(9) Bulus, N., Pysysiological Importance of Glutamine. Metabolism Vol.38, No.8, August 1989.

(10)(11) Parry-Billings, M. Effects of changes in cell volume on the rates of glutamine and alanine release from rat skeletal muscle in vitro. Biomedical Journal, 276, 1991.

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