Ultimate Protein Blend War: Which Brand is King?
Ultimate Protein Blend War: Which Brand is King?
What is a blend protein?

A blend protein combines two or more protein sources to create a unique supplement profile. Unlike a protein powder which uses just one type of protein, blend proteins offer more variability in regards to the amino acid profile, which can be extremely useful depending on your goals, dietary restrictions, and time of day in which you consume the protein powder (e.g. upon waking, pre-workout, intra-workout, post-workout, pre-bed). 

Common protein sources used in blend proteins include, but are not limited to:
  • Whey Protein Concentrate, Isolate, and/or Hydrolysate
  • Beef Protein Isolate
  • Egg Albumin (a.k.a. Egg White) Powder
  • Micellar Casein, Milk Protein Isolate,  and/or Calcium Caseinate
  • Rice, Soy, and/or Hemp protein
  • BCAAs - Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine in free-form or peptide form

Benefits of Blend Proteins

Protein blends offer a number of advantages compared to consuming the aforementioned protein sources in isolation. In this article I'll discuss the following three benefits:
  1. Increased muscle protein synthesis (MPS)
  2. Steadier stream of amino acids
  3. Improved health markers

Increased Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS)

It's a well-established fact that increased muscle protein synthesis (MPS), along with a caloric surplus and proper resistance training routine, are crucial to increasing lean body mass. When comparing consumption of whey protein only, soy protein only, and two different whey/caseinate/soy blends (25:50:25 and 50:25:25), the 25:50:25 provided the most sustained MPS and peaked the latest at 135 minutes post-ingestion. [1]

When researchers compared a soy/dairy protein blend or whey protein only, the participants who consumed the blend post-workout had longer lasting positive net phenylalanine (re: essential amino acid) blood levels compared to those who consumed only whey protein. [2] Milk protein, a natural protein blend comprised of whey and casein, is more conducive to increasing MPS post-workout due to improved amino acid uptake and net protein assimilation compared to hydrolyzed soy proteins. [3]

When comparing soy protein and milk, those who consumed milk exhibited higher MPS and overall greater net protein balance. [4] Those who consumed a 40g whey protein/8g casein blend and completed a resistance training program for 10-weeks accrued more lean mass than those who consumed 40g whey protein/3g glutamine/5g glutamine. [5]

This study confirms the notion that a combination of fast and slow digesting protein sources are optimal for improved MPS and lean mass gain compared to only consuming fast digesting sources.

Man Building Muscle
Protein blends offer hormonal and immune system benefits which can improve key health markers and improve quality of life.

Steadier Stream of Amino Acids

When it comes to speed of absorption, whey protein and casein protein are considered the fastest and slowest absorbing sources of protein, respectively. Other popular sources like egg, beef and soy protein fall somewhere in the middle. Combining fast and slow-digesting sources such as whey and casein optimizes amino acid absorption across the longest period of time. [6]

Whey protein and casein protein increased MPS by 68% and 31% respectively. However, when researchers looked at leucine, a key driver of MPS, they found that leucine oxidation (re: decrease in protein synthesis) was lower up to 7-hours post consumption. [7] Although whey protein increased peak and absolute branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) blood concentrations immediately (re: 0-2 hrs.) post-ingestion, consuming a protein blend provided the highest BCAA blood levels MPS rates later (re: 2-4 hrs.) in the recovery period. [8]

These studies demonstrate the importance of consuming a blend of protein sources for a steadier stream of amino acids in to the bloodstream. Combining protein sources also provides a unique and beneficial amino acid profile.

For example, when comparing three popular protein sources, casein contains the most glutamine, soy contains the most arginine, and whey contains the most leucine per serving. [9] By blending these proteins you can experience the best of all three: immunoprotective, circulatory, and muscle building benefits. 

Improved Health Markers

Protein blends offer hormonal and immune system benefits which can improve key health markers and improve quality of life. After 20 subjects consumed 50g of one of four different protein sources (soy concentrate, soy isolate, soy isolate/whey blend, or whey blend) for 12 weeks, those who consumed the whey blend exhibited significantly lower estradiol levels (re: the primary female sex hormone).

Both the soy isolate/whey blend and whey blend had an increased testosterone/estradiol ratio, which indicates a testosterone increase and/or an estradiol decrease. [10] Consuming whey and casein together may lead to a Serum Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1) increase of 15% and fasting insulin increase of 21%. [11] Both Serum IGF-1 and fasting insulin levels are crucial drivers for improving body composition.

Protein blends containing whey, a protein source high in antioxidants, offer increased glutathione content (re: fights free radicals and peroxides), anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, and immunoprotective benefits. [12] These benefits are especially important for those who engage in high intensity physical activities (e.g. sprinting, weight training, and uphill cycling) that place the body under a large amount of physical and hormonal stress. Furthermore, whey consumption supports lymphocyte activity, the main type of cell in the fluid circulating through the lymphatic system. [13] These lymphocytes are crucial for ensuring the body's immune system is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Comparison of Top Blend Proteins 

Now that we've discussed the benefits of protein blends, let's examine six popular blend proteins. 

Exhibit 1: Chart comparing six popular protein blends on the basis of ingredients, cost, servings, and nutrition

Betancourt Big Blend

  • Servings - 60
  • Calories per serving - 120
  • Serving size (grams) - 32
  • Protein per serving - 22 grams
  • Protein (% of serving) - 68.75%
  • Cost per serving (approx.) - $0.800
  • Cost per gram of serving - $0.0364
Ingredients: May contain caramel, Sucralose, natural & nature's equivalent flavor. Cookie crumbs consisting of: Sugar (sucrose and caramel), enriched flour, canola oil, cocoa (processed with alkali) glycerin, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, emulsifiers (soy lecithin, polygycerol esters of fatty acids, acetylated monoglycerides, mono and diglycerides, datem) leavening (baking soda and or calcium phosphate), cornstarch, salt, natural and artificial flavor, chocolate.

Ingredient Analysis – Betancourt has a fairly lengthy ingredient profile which includes fast (whey), medium (egg) and slow (casein) digesting sources, and a digestive enzyme blend. However the "other ingredients" list is too extensive – thickeners, sugar, enriched flour, canola oil, high fructose corn syrup, salt, and direct soy ingredients, just to name a few. 

Macronutrient Analysis – Betancourt has a fairly average macronutrient profile based on calories, carbs, protein, and fat. It has the 4th lowest protein concentration per serving, but is the cheapest per serving and per gram of protein. 

Taste (Chocolate Latte) - Upon immediate ingestion I noticed a combination of both light and dark chocolate flavors. The coffee/latte aftertaste didn't hit me until after I swallowed the liquid, but it was too bitter for my palate. I provided a few long-time coffee drinkers with samples and they found the chocolate overpowering and the coffee flavor underwhelming. 

Mixability – On two different occasions I mixed Big Blend with water and almond milk. I used a spoon to stir in the whey both times and it was completely mixed with no clumps in about 10 seconds. 

Beverly Ultimate Muscle Protein (UMP)

  • Servings - 30
  • Calories per serving - 120
  • Serving size (grams) - 31
  • Protein per serving - 20 grams
  • Protein (% of serving) - 64.52%
  • Cost per serving (approx.) - $1.166
  • Cost per gram of serving - $0.0583
Ingredients: Protein Blend (Milk Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate, Whey Protein Concentrate, Casein, Egg White, Whey Protein Isolate), Maltodextrin, High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Magnesium Citrate, Soy Fiber, Potassium Citrate, Salt, Soy Lecithin, Mono- And Diglycerides, Gum Arabic, Medium Chain Triglycerides, Borage Oil, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose, And Tocopherols Added To Protect Flavor.

Ingredient Analysis – Beverly has a somewhat lengthy and concerning ingredient profile which includes a very fast (BCAA), fast (whey), medium (egg) and slow (casein) digesting sources and only includes one thickening agent. However, Beverly includes a laundry list of no-no's: fats (sunflower oil, MCTs, borage oil), soy (fiber, lecithin), salt, and carbohydrates (maltodextrin). 

Macronutrient Analysis - Beverly has a fairly average macronutrient profile based on calories, carbs, protein, and fat. It has the 2nd lowest protein concentration per serving, is the 2nd most expensive per serving, and most expensive per gram of protein. 

Taste (Chocolate) – Very mellow cocoa smell and flavor upon first taste. The longer I sipped on it the more it tasted like a marshmallow dusted lightly with cocoa powder. Not overly sweet and no artificial aftertaste which is good but I wish the chocolate flavor was more prominent. 

Mixability – On two different occasions I mixed Beverly UMP in water using a shaker and spoon. 1 scoop in 8 ounces of water mixed well with minimal clumping and foaming but I had to add extra water because the powder absorbed so much liquid. With a spoon I mixed 1 scoop by slowly adding water until it reached a sludge-like consistency. This powder absorbed considerably more liquid than other powders so keep that in mind when looking for your desired powder to liquid ratio. 

Dymatize Elite Fusion 7

  • Servings - 40
  • Calories per serving - 170
  • Serving size (grams) - 45.4
  • Protein per serving - 23 grams
  • Protein (% of serving) - 50.66%
  • Cost per serving (approx.) - $1.012
  • Cost per gram of serving - $0.0440
Ingredients: ELITE FUSION-7 Protein Matrix [(Whey Protein Concentrate, Milk Protein Concentrate, Egg Albumin, Milk Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Isolate, Micellar Casein, Whey Protein Hydrolysate), Sunflower Creamer (Sunflower Oil, Maltodextrin, Sodium Caseinate, Mono & Diglycerides, Natural Tocopherols, Tri-Calcium Phosphate)], Elite Fiber Blend (Polydextrose, Fibersol®-2 Soluble Corn Fiber, Cellulose Gum, Xanthan Gum, Carrageenan), Maltodextrin, Natural & Artificial Flavors, Lean Lipid Matrix [Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), Medium Chain Triglycerides], Targeted Vitamin & Enzyme Matrix [Zytrix® (Protease, lactase, Lipase), Ascorbic Acid, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Cyanocobalamin], Beetroot Powder (for Color), Salt, Potassium Chloride, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose, Stevia Leaf Extract

Ingredient Analysis – Dymatize has a fairly lengthy ingredient profile which includes a very fast (hydrolysate), fast (whey), medium (egg) and slow (casein) digesting sources, a digestive enzyme blend, and no direct soy ingredients. However, I'm concerned with the addition of sunflower "creamer, added carbohydrates (maltodextrin), a "fiber blend" and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). These four ingredients should not be components in a protein blend powder; they add unnecessary bulk which diminishes the protein concentration of the powder. 

Macronutrient Analysis – Dymatize has a lacking macronutrient profile – it requires nearly 1.5 times the serving size and 50 more calories compared to other blends to reach 23 grams of protein. It has the lowest protein concentration per serving, is the 3rd most expensive per serving, and 2nd most expensive per gram of protein. 

Taste (Rich Chocolate Shake) –I picked up a milk chocolate flavor after the first sip, but I wouldn't say it was "rich". There was a nice cocoa presence but it tasted somewhat muted compared to other chocolate powders I've tried; I gravitate towards bolder and slightly sweeter chocolate proteins. The aftertaste was pleasant; it was not bitter or artificial. 

Mixability – 1 scoop in 8 ounces of water or almond milk mixed perfectly in a shaker bottle, but got a little clumpy when I mixed with a spoon. Adding a little more liquid and stirring another again with the spoon resolved this issue. 

Labrada Pro V60

  • Servings - 40
  • Calories per serving - 160
  • Serving size (grams) - 40
  • Protein per serving - 30 grams
  • Protein (% of serving) - 75%
  • Cost per serving (approx.) - $1.250
  • Cost per gram of serving - $0.0417
Ingredients: PRO-V (Unique Blend of Micro Ultrafiltered Whey Protein Concentrate, Agglomerated Egg Albumin, Calcium Caseinate, Micro Ultrafiltered Whey Protein Isolate, Ion Exchange Whey Protein Isolate), Natural and Artificial Flavors, Xanthan Gum, Cellulose Gum, Acesulfame Potassium , Sucralose.

Ingredient Analysis – Labrada has a clean ingredient profile which includes fast (whey), medium (egg) and slow (casein) digesting sources and no direct soy ingredients. However I'm unsure as to why they needed two thickeners and two different forms of whey isolate. 

Macronutrient Analysis – Labrada has a solid macronutrient profile based calories, carbs, protein, and fat. It is tied for the 1st highest protein concentration per serving, is the most expensive per serving, and 3rd most expensive per gram of protein. 

Taste (Chocolate Ice Cream) – This was my first chocolate ice cream flavored protein; there was a slight cocoa flavor but it was quite muted. The aftertaste was a bit too artificial for my taste and I didn't really pick up on any ice cream-like flavors. 

Mixability – 2 scoops required slightly more water than average; with most powders I'd use 12 ounces of liquid I found myself using 16 ounces because of how thick the liquid was getting. It mixed pretty well with a spoon but I did find a few clumps after the first round of stirring. 

PES Select 

  • Servings - 55
  • Calories per serving - 120
  • Serving size (grams) - 32
  • Protein per serving - 24 grams
  • Protein (% of serving) - 75%
  • Cost per serving (approx.) - $0.909
  • Cost per gram of serving - $0.0379
Ingredients: Ultra Premium Protein Blend (Milk Protein Isolate, [comprised of casein protein, and whey protein], Whey Protein Concentrate 80%, Leucine Peptides), Natural And Artificial Flavors, Cocoa Powder, Sodium Chloride, Guar Gum, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium Allergen Information: Contains milk and soy (lecithin) ingredients.

Ingredient Analysis – PES has one of, if not the cleanest ingredient profiles. It includes ultra-fast (leucine peptides), fast (whey), and slow (casein) digesting protein sources. It contains only one thickener and no direct soy ingredients. I'm interested as to why they didn't include a medium digesting source (e.g. egg) or digestive enzymes, but I believe they did not include these so as to keep protein concentration high and minimize the number of potential allergens. 

Macronutrient Analysis – PES has a solid macronutrient profile based on calories, carbs, protein, and fat. It is tied for the 1st highest protein concentration per serving, is the 2nd cheapest per serving, and 3rd cheapest per gram of protein. 

Taste (Snicker Doodle) – Wow, this tastes exactly like snicker doodle cookie dough! There was a pleasant sweetness balanced by hints of cinnamon. It wasn't too sweet, there was no artificial aftertaste, and none of the flavors overpowered each other. I could eat this by the pound! 

Mixability – 2 scoops mixed with 16 ounces of water and shook vigorously for 10 seconds; it didn't clump, foam, or leave residual granules in the shaker. I also created a sludge using just 2 scoops of PES Select and enough water to give it a goopy consistency. Unlike the other powders PES Select has more of a whey consistency so it's smooth without and didn't absorb as much water as the other proteins. I placed the sludge in the fridge for about an hour and once I dug in with my spoon I swore I was eating real cookie dough – regarding both consistency and flavor.

Trutein

  • Servings - 53
  • Calories per serving - 120
  • Serving size (grams) - 34
  • Protein per serving - 25 grams
  • Protein (% of serving) - 73.53%
  • Cost per serving (approx.) - $0.915
  • Cost per gram of serving - $0.0366
Ingredients: Trutein® Protein Blend (Pure Undenatured & Nonthermally-Processed Milk Protein Isolate, [Containing Naturally-Occurring Micellar Casein], Egg Albumen, Cross-Flow Nanofiltered Whey Protein Isolate, Ultrafiltered Whey Protein Concentrate), TruFiber™ Inulin, Natural & Artificial Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Cellulose Gum, Guar Gum, Protease Enzymes, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose, Soy Lecithin

Ingredient Analysis – Trutein has one of the cleaner ingredient profiles which include fast (whey), medium (egg) and slow (casein) digesting sources, and a digestive enzyme (protease). But it includes numerous thickeners (xanthan gum, cellulose gum, inulin, and guar gum) as well as direct soy ingredients (soy lecithin). 

Macronutrient Analysis – Trutein has a fairly average macronutrient profile based on calories, carbs, protein, and fat. It has the 3rd highest protein concentration per serving and is the 2nd cheapest per serving and per gram of protein. 

Taste (Chocolate Truffle) – This tasted exactly like a chocolate truffle when I mixed it with cow's milk and almond milk but the chocolate flavor was a bit muted when I mixed it in water. There was no artificial aftertaste and it had strong chocolate notes which I liked but it could have been a bit sweeter. 

Mixability – Trutein mixed quite well with a spoon; 1 scoop in 8 ounces of water left me with no clumping but some residual granules. When I mixed Trutein in a shaker it mixed very quickly with no foaming but once again, some residual granules. However a quick refill with some more liquid left my shaker spotless. 

Protein Blend Wars - The Bottom Line

Thus far we've discussed the benefits of protein blends as well as examined six popular brands. All six brands have redeeming qualities but I recommend PES Select Protein if I had to pick one.

The clean ingredient profile, incredible mixability, and exceptional taste make PES Select Protein an all-around blend protein. With only one thickener, no soy ingredients, as well as ultra-fast, fast, and slow digesting protein sources, it has an exceptional nutritional profile.

It's also tied for 1st with the high concentration of protein per serving. The mixability is also top-notch; whether you mix with a spoon or with a shaker it tastes great and has an excellent consistency.

With regards to the taste, I cannot believe there's a protein powder that tastes EXACTLY like snicker doodle cookie dough.

Finally, being the 2nd cheapest per serving and 3rd cheapest per gram of protein it's an all-around knock-out-of-the-park protein.

Editor's note: PES Select can be purchased here. Flavors include Blondie, Cookies & Cream, Milk Chocolate and Snicker Doodle.
References
1) "A Soy, Whey and Caseinate Blend Extends Postprandial Skeletal Muscl... - PubMed - NCBI."National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 2) "Soy-dairy Protein Blend and Whey Protein Ingestion After Resistance... - PubMed - NCBI."National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 3) "Dietary Protein to Support Anabolism with Resistance Exercise in Yo... - PubMed - NCBI."National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 4) "Consumption of Fluid Skim Milk Promotes Greater Muscle Protein Accr... - PubMed - NCBI."National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 5) "The Rationale for Consuming Protein Blends in Sports Nutrition. - PubMed - NCBI." National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 6) "Coingestion of Whey Protein and Casein in a Mixed Meal: Demonstrati... - PubMed - NCBI."National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 7) "Protein – Which is Best?" National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 8) "Protein Blend Ingestion Following Resistance Exercise Promotes Huma... - PubMed - NCBI."National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 9) "The Rationale for Consuming Protein Blends in Sports Nutrition. - PubMed - NCBI." National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 10) "Effect of Protein Source and Resistance Training on Body Composition and Sex Hormones."National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 11) "Differential Effects of Casein Versus Whey on Fasting Plasma Levels... - PubMed - NCBI." National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 12) "Anti-inflammatory Potential of a Malleable Matrix Composed of Fermented Whey Proteins and Lactic Acid Bacteria in an Atopic Dermatitis Model." National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 13)  "Modulation of Immune Function by a Modified Bovine Whey Protein Con... - PubMed - NCBI."National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.