After closely examining each of these protein powders, we can’t deny that Optimum Nutrition Whey has the MusclePharm Combat Whey beat on a variety of levels. It has a better, more natural taste, a smoother texture, and offers a more complete nutritional profile than the MusclePharm brand.
Whey protein is a fast absorbing protein that is essential in post-workout recovery, and Optimum Nutrition clearly designed its whey with that in mind. From the branched-chain amino acid profile, to the added recovery vitamins and minerals, Optimum certainly knew what they were doing when they created this shake.
The MusclePharm Whey was still a decent alternative, but gave us the impression that it was more artificial and possibly even not as nutritious as the Optimum version. Regardless, we put each one to the test and chose our winner based on a rigorous, comprehensive review.
Why Do We Need Protein?
The human body is not capable of making its own amino acids, but also needs them to be healthy. A food with a complete amino acid profile contains almost 20 different amino acids, including arginine, glutamic acid, aspartic acid and tyrosine.
Things like hair, nails and, most importantly, muscle are made from complete proteins, and it is also an important building block for things like bone, blood and cartilage. For athletes or exercise enthusiasts, it’s certainly of the utmost importance.
The Importance Of Whey
Whey protein tends to be the fastest absorbing type of protein, and is ideal for times when the body may be depleted. An example of one of these scenarios is the hours directly following a workout. During strength training, muscle breakdown occurs—this is part of the overall process.
The body then begins to repair those muscle fibers, but in order to do so, it needs protein. The recovery process starts almost immediately after the strength training session ends, but it can’t begin unless the body has an adequate supply bioavailable protein.
Casein protein, for example, is broken down much slower and is ideal to prevent muscle catabolism at night while we sleep. After a workout, though, whey is a much better option because it is easier for the body to break down and use rapidly.
Whey protein shakes, due to their convenience, suit these needs extremely well, but choosing the right one can be difficult. You may think you’re getting the amino acids you need, when in reality you’re just drinking a chocolate shake with a bunch of filler in it.
Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein
Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein is specifically designed to be taken either in the morning, before a workout or after a workout. You can mix it in a blender, a protein shaker or even use it to make some protein-packed recipes, and it comes in over 20 flavors. As the title states, the main ingredient is whey protein isolate, and each scoop contains 24 grams of protein. Overall, it is a quality protein powder that comes with a designated scooper, tastes great and, doesn’t strike us as being artificial or made with any filler.
Amino Acid Profile
In one scoop of the Optimum Nutrition Whey, you’ll find a complete amino acid profile that covers basic needs for the active weightlifter or athlete. First, the protein powder contains these essential amino acids:
These are micronutrients, and while only some may sound familiar they are all necessary for basic functioning in the human body.
Next you’ll find what are called conditionally essential amino acids. These include arginine, cysteine, tyrosine, histidine, proline, glutamine and glutamic acid. While these are not “essential amino acids” they are still a part of a complete amino acid profile and are used as building blocks for muscle after exercise.
To complete the amino acid profile, Optimum Whey also has four nonessential, but useful amino acids. These are aspartic acid, serine, glycine and alanine. While they are technically considered non-essential, they play a large role in recovery and the reversal of muscle breakdown.
We were especially pleased to see that there were 4 grams of naturally occurring glutamine in each serving. Glutamine has been shown to alleviate soreness after exercise, as well as play a crucial role in overall protein metabolism. More simply: greater glutamine, equals better absorption of protein.
All protein shakes are technically considered “processed” foods since they are made not found organically in nature. However, as a general rule of thumb, you should look for protein powders that have the shortest ingredient lists.
Optimum Whey only has 6 ingredients. Each jug is made with a protein blend, cocoa (this depends on the flavor you choose), lecithin, natural and artificial flavors, acesulfame potassium and lactase.
Most of these ingredients appear to be fairly simple, and we didn’t get the impression that this shake was loaded with lots of chemicals or artificial compounds. However, it is worth noting that acesulfame potassium is an artificial sweetener. It is used in a wide variety of foods and has been approved by the FDA for general use. That being said, if you are concerned with the potential effects of artificial sweeteners the use of acesulfame potassium may be a deterrent in buying this brand of protein.
Overall, we found the Optimum Nutrition Whey to not only be a shake that has a place in the gym, but also one that could serve as a meal replacement. Each scoop contains 120 calories and only 3 grams of carbohydrates, making it a suitable protein source if you can’t always get your hands on something else and need to eat.
It comes in 20 flavors, and Optimum Nutrition even suggests using it to make healthy snacks like Birthday Cake Protein Pudding Pies. Last but not least, it comes in 5, 2, 10 and 1 pounds sizes.
MusclePharm Combat Whey
While we didn’t like it as much as the Optimum Nutrition Whey, the MusclePharm Combat Whey was still an adequate protein solution for heavy exercisers or those who may lack protein in their diet. It has 25 grams of protein per scoop and is relatively low in calories and fat.
It is actually a blend of proteins and not just whey, which actually wasn’t a bonus as some might assume. Each scoop contains whey protein concentrates, hydrolysates and isolates, egg albumin and micellar casein. It is a good mix of proteins, but it makes this protein shake less usable after workouts or in times of protein depletion. Casein is a protein found in foods like cheese, butter and ice cream. It’s usually slow absorbing but is also an allergen for many people.
Amino Acid Profile
While the MusclePharm Whey claims to have to whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate, it does not list the amino acids it contains anywhere on its packaging. It’s safe to assume that if there is whey protein in the blend, there will be a complete amino acid profile, but not making this clear felt a little deceptive, especially when so many other brands indicate this on their labeling. The type of whey isolate used in the shake is claimed to have been purified to rid it of any excess fat, sugar or impurities.
By not being as specific as possible the MusclePharm Combat Whey isn’t as convincing as the Optimum brand. The packaging is flashy and attractive, but when it comes to the facts about nutrition, MusclePharm leaves the potential buyer a lot to wonder about.
MusclePharm Combat Whey does list its ingredients on the label just like the Optimum brand whey. However, you’ll find a few more hidden ones than in the Optimum version. For example, MusclePharm uses cellulose gum, guar gum, xanthan gum, sucralose and acesulfame potassium. Aside from acesulfame potassium, these are all added ingredients that we felt didn’t need to be in the mix.
We were especially disappointed to find not one, but two artificial sweeteners in the shake. Sucralose is known by many as Splenda, and its health effects have been widely debated by nutritionists. While we’d prefer a shake with no artificial sweeteners, the fact that MusclePharm uses two was a serious downside. Taste is important, but it isn’t worth possibly ingesting chemicals.
For the most part, the MusclePharm Combat Whey is just a shake. You likely can’t use it to make protein-packed treats, and it seems mostly designed as a meal-replacement or a post-workout shake. Additionally, it only comes in 5 flavors and 2 sizes. It’s cheaper than Optimum’s whey, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s a much less impressive shake overall, and while it may contain a wide variety of proteins, it doesn’t quite feel like it measures up to the more natural, pure blend that Optimum uses.
A Word On Shakes As Meal Replacements
Protein shakes are an excellent way to get nutrition when you’re in a hurry or need nutrients after a workout. However, real food is always a better option. If you have a choice between a protein shake and couple of chicken breasts with some rice and broccoli, you should also go for the more natural, organic stuff. Protein shakes, while a health supplement, are still processed foods, and the body tends to absorb more nutrients from organics. As a matter of convenience, they’re perfectly fine; just don’t let shakes make up your whole diet.
The main reason we chose Optimum Nutrition Whey as our winner because it seemed like a much more honest, cleaner protein shake overall. The amino acid profile was clearly listed on the packaging, and the shake was designed for the specific purpose of providing post-workout support. That being said, Optimum Nutrition also suggested a number of different uses for the shake, which we felt gave it a greater overall value.
MusclePharm is a cheaper option but appears to leave a lot to be imagined about what it might actually contain. The amino-acid profile isn’t listed on the packaging, and there are a number of different proteins in the mixture that make the shake not necessarily suitable for one specific need. It also is just a shake, and there are no recommendations on how to use it creatively like the Optimum version. Lastly, we are very disappointed by the use of excessive artificial sweeteners. For someone on a budget it may suffice, but if you have a choice, we’d strongly recommend Optimum Nutrition