Ask a fitness or nutrition professional “What’s a hot food trend?” and you’ll likely get “protein!” as a response. Over 60% of Americans are seeking to increase their protein intake. The U.S. accounts for almost three times as many new “protein” food and drink product launches as any other nation (20%) compared to the United Kingdom and India, which follow at 9% and 7% respectively. 1
Several weeks ago, a colleague asked for my thoughts on “the new protein gummies.” Huh? Protein gummies? That’s interesting; aside from naturally-rich protein foods, such as beef, pork, poultry or fish, most protein-rich products come in the form of bars, shakes or powders. I was intrigued.
The newly launched RAP Protein Gummies were launched in the fall of 2014. A serving provides 200 calories, 20 grams of protein (from whey protein isolate) and 39 grams of carbohydrates (from corn syrup, erythritol [a sugar substitute/alcohol], tapioca syrup [a form of sugar] and sugar). They also provide 8% DV (daily value) of calcium (from the whey) and 100% of DV vitamin C (from ascorbic acid) in each serving/package. They are a low-sodium food and contain no fat or cholesterol 3. These chewable, fruit-flavored, multi-colored gummies are like protein-packed, vitamin-enhanced fruit snacks for adult fitness gurus. Are they worth the _____ tag?
The makers behind the gummies claim the product contains the “perfect ratio” of carbohydrates and protein at 2:1. Why all the fuss over the perfect ratio? Consuming proper carbohydrate-protein mix (in adequate amounts) after a workout means faster glycogen replenishment in muscles, more muscle building, reduced muscle soreness, improved muscle strength and improved body composition (AKA less fat, more muscle)9. As for pre-workout, consuming protein plus carbohydrate prior to resistance training can also increase protein synthesis 6.
Certainly, protein and carbohydrates are certainly part of an effective pre- and post-workout fueling regimen. However, that 2:1 ratio may not be all that “perfect,” as carbohydrate intake should be a little higher. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a 3:1 ratio and the National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends the oft-agreed-upon 4:1 ratio. Most reputable sources cite the 4:1 ratio; in addition to the gummies, an individual could eat a banana to bring the ratio closer to 3:1 or 4:1, depending upon the size of the banana.
Optimal carb/protein ratio aside, whey protein isolate is an excellent type of protein; compared to other sources of protein, such as soy or casein, it is better absorbed and better utilized by the body, resulting in greater muscle protein synthesis (growth).8 Additionally, it can be added to products without flavor or texture issues and is a rapidly absorbed protein source that can aid in muscle repair/growth and satiety (feeling of fullness). 9, 10 Whey is also one of the richest sources of leucine, an essential amino acid that is required in adequate amounts to trigger muscle protein synthesis. (At 20 grams of whey isolate in a serving of these gummies, you’ll get approximately 3 grams of leucine, which is enough to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.)
The bottom line? The type of protein is high-quality and 20 grams is a good amount—not too much, not too little to get the benefit.
The other part of the equation is carbohydrates. Pre- workout, moderately absorbed carbs are best; post-workout, rapidly absorbed carbs are best. These gummies rely on sugar as the source of carbohydrates—a rapidly absorbed type of carbohydrate. However, there are other sources of rapidly-absorbed carbohydrates that also provide more nutrients, such as dried or fresh fruit, 100% fruit juice, cereal and crackers. At 39 grams, the gummies are a little low, whether we are talking pre- or post-workout. Add a large piece of fruit or a granola bar to reach adequate levels.
A “whole foods” diet
Both the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the National Strength and Conditioning Association recommend consuming nutrient-rich, “whole” foods as opposed to supplements for proper pre- and post-workout fueling. An example would be opting for fresh fruit that naturally supplies Vitamin C (plus a host of other nutrients) versus a food that has Vitamin C added in the form of ascorbic acid. Consuming whole foods results in a higher overall nutrient intake while also avoiding unwanted added ingredients (such as added sugar, fat and/or sodium).
The RAP protein gummies may not be “ideal” in terms of nutrient level or ingredients. They do, however, offer a nice dose of protein, are convenient (tear open and eat), novel (gummy candy that provides protein?!) and pretty tasty (it’s nothing to write home about but they aren’t too bad).
Nevertheless, they do not outweigh the ol’ dietitian mantra of “food first.” Consider the following whole food ideas that are high in protein, lower in added sugar and also provide beneficial B-vitamins, calcium, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and/or fiber (all “nutrients of concern” that the majority of Americans need to increase).
5.3 ounces plain Greek yogurt + 1 medium banana + 1 tablespoon honey
1 English muffin + 2 ounces turkey breast + 1 large banana
12 ounces low-fat chocolate milk + ½ scoop whey protein powder + 2 dried dates
1 cup raisin bran cereal + 8 ounces milk + 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
1. Mintel. “US Consumers Have A Healthy Appetite for High Protein Food.” Mintel Group. 18 Jan. 2013: 15 Dec. 2014.
2. “The New Taste of Protein: Fruit-Flavored Gummies.” PR Newswire. 10 Sept. 2014: 15 Dec. 2014.
3. “Post Workout Protein.” RAP Nutrition LLC Web. 15 Dec. 2015. http://rapproteingummies.com/how-it-works/#!post-workout
5. Paddon-Jones, D., et. al. Protein, Weight Management and Satiety.” Am J Clin Nutr. 87:5. (2008): 1558S-1561S.
6. Tipton, K., et. al. “Timing of Amino Acid-Carbohydrate Ingestion Alters Anabolic Response of Muscle To Resistance Exercise.” Am Jour Phys - Endocrin and Metab. 281:2, 1 August 2001, E197-E206.
7. Mohr, C., “Timing Your Nutrition.” Academy of Nutr. and Diet. 14 Dec. 2014: 15 Dec. 2014.
8. Tang, Jason, et. al. “Ingestion of Whey Hydrolysate, Casein, or Soy Protein Isolate: Effects on Mixed Muscle Protein Synthesis at Rest and Following Resistance Exercise In Young Men.” Jour of Appl Phys. 107:3, 1 September 2009, 987-992.
9. Wein, D., Miraglia, M., “Whey Protein vs Casein Protein and Optimal Recovery.” National Strength and Conditioning Association. 15 Dec. 2014.
10. Phillips, Stuart M., et. al., “Dietary Protein to Support Anabolism with Resistance Training in Young Men.” J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Apr: 24(2):134S-139S.
For SCAN Blog
Kym Wroble is an in-store registered dietitian for Hy-Vee, a large, Midwestern grocery store chain. Kym played varsity volleyball at Dominican University and also at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, which she attended before deciding to major in nutrition and dietetics. She continues to enjoy a very active lifestyle: playing indoor and outdoor hockey, running, weight-lifting, taking exercise classes and training for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Race to Cure Diabetes century ride every summer.