I was very, very skeptical when I first read about this product. After trying it, reading more, and reading some more, my skepticism is still there, but has been suspended a bit. Quite a bit.
To explain, let’s talk about protein.
My go-to source for all information protein related is Lyle McDonald. He has a great website, Body Recomposition, with tons of articles, and he also is the author of several books. Of which I think I own all of them. When it came time for me to do some research on the type of protein in NeoCell Whey Isolate Complex Collagen Sport (which I’m getting to) one of the first places I went was to my bookshelf, pulled off The Protein Book and started reading.
I didn’t find what I was looking for. I had remembered learning in the past that collagen protein was used in a weight loss research study, and that collagen protein was essentially worthless when it came to sparing lean body mass during periods of caloric restriction. I finally found it, kind of, in Lyle’s Rapid Fat Loss Handbook.
The last chance diet
In the book, Lyle touches on something that was called the Last Chance Diet, which was centered around a liquid collagen protein product only. Yes, essentially a liquid diet. This was not the best for health, as Lyle stated, providing “…essentially zero nutrition to the body.” Collagen is considered an “incomplete” protein, meaning it does not contain all the amino acids, which are considered the building blocks (ie: raw material) with which to repair and build tissue. It does not contain tryptophan. However, there are many anecdotal reports of people using collagen supplementation who report improvement in joint pain and skin, hair, and nail condition.
Collagen and vitamin C
Collagen is actually the main component of the connective tissue in our body (ligaments, tendons, etc.) and makes up 25-35% of total body protein content. You also need adequate Vitamin C in order to synthesize collagen properly. Let’s remember, the Last Chance folks were getting no supplemental nutrition, and therefore were definitely not getting enough Vitamin C, nor any of the other nutrients necessary to sustain life.
OK, enough on collagen for the moment. Let’s talk about whey, baby.
Whey protein is likely the most commonly used and favored in sports supplement products. It is highly bioavailable with all essential amino acids, and in it’s isolate form also has little to no lactose.
In the last installment of his articles on protein quality, Lyle gives the below chart:
|Food||Protein Content||Digestibility||Speed||Quality||Important AA*||Micro-nutrients||Fat Content||Fatty Acids|
|Beef||High||High||Slow||High||N/A||Iron, Zinc, B12||Variable||N/A|
|Chicken||High||High||Slow||High||N/A||Iron, Zinc, B12||Variable||N/A|
|Fish||High||High||Slow||High||Taurine?||B12||Variable||W-3 fish oils|
|Whole Egg||Moderate||High||Slow||High||N/A||Iron, Zinc, B12|
If you eat a lot
|Whey powder||High||High||Fast||High||23-25% BCAA||Calcium||Low||N/A|
|Casein Powder||High||High||Slow||High||20% BCAA||Calcium||Low||N/A|
(reproduced from Bodyrecomposition.com, home of Lyle McDonald.)
As you can see, whey protein is pretty much the bees knees all around. I touched on whey protein very briefly in Gluten and Dairy Free Protein Powder 101. The interesting thing about whey protein isolate (WARNING!! SPECULATION, EDUCATED GUESSING, AND THEORECTICAL WANKING AHEAD!! This is my opinion only, and you should consult your doctor and registered dietitian about your own personal needs.) is that the lactose has been removed, so theoretically those with lactose intolerance *should* be able to tolerate it, and there is no casein protein, so theoretically those with casein sensitivity *should* be able to tolerate it, so MAYBE dairy intolerant folks would be able to use a pure, high quality protein isolate. I’m just sayin’. Your mileage may vary, and we are all biochemical snowflakes. Unique, that is.
Neocell whey protein
Neocell Whey Protein Isolate Collagen Sport is a combination of hydrolyzed collagen and whey isolate.
It also contains 1,000 mg of L-glutamine. As I mentioned in my Supplements for the Gluten Free Athlete-Glutamine Edition article, glutamine can assist in healing the gut, which can then absorb nutrition better all the way around.
Jean at Neocell was very kind and sent me samples of the French Vanilla and Belgian Chocolate Powders to try. Before I get to the taste review though, let’s talk a little more about the ingredients and why this sets this product apart from the collagen protein in the Last Chance group.
Neocell’s big selling point is that this is a “4 in1” product. It contains whey protein isolate, hydrolyzed collagen peptides, L-glutamine and amino acids, and vitamins and minerals.
From Neocell’s website:
The 4 in 1 Breakdown:
1 – Refuel
Whey Protein Isolate is THE preferred and superior form of protein for athletes. It’s rich in essential and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), necessary especially after strenuous workouts. BCAAs also play a role in the body’s levels of glutathione, an important antioxidant in the immune system. NeoCell’s whey protein isolate is developed using selective ion-exchange technology, which selects the primary functional and nutritional proteins alpha- and beta- lactoglobulins and other protein fractions for a highly effective and bio-active protein.
2 – Recover
Athletes all too often do not supplement their connective tissues in tendons and ligaments until deterioration sets in, resulting in the typical aches and pains of exercise. Super Collagen® 1&3 undergoes an absorption-enhancing process that uses enzyme hydrolyzation. This process yields low molecular weight collagen peptides for maximum bioavailability. Super Collagen® 1&3 is particularly rich in the amino acids glycine, proline, hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine, and supports recovery, strength, and flexibility of muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
3 – Regenerate
L-Glutamine & Exogenous Amino Acids – Strenuous activity burns through your body’s glutamine supplies, which can push the body to rip glutamine from your muscles if it isn’t coming from your diet. L-glutamine is the most abundant free-form amino acid in skeletal muscle and is crucial in the muscle recovery process. The special chemical structure of L-glutamine makes it the primary amino acid that drives nitrogen into muscle cells for muscle synthesis. Exogenous amino acids overall are important for increase of net muscle protein synthesis.
4 – Replenish
Each serving of Collagen Sport™ provides a good source of daily vitamins and minerals as well as the antioxidant power of Pomegranate extract. Increased activity results in higher oxidation in the body, requiring active individuals to counteract with high quality antioxidants. NeoCell’s pomegranate extract is standardized to 70% ellagic acid, an extraordinary antioxidant that fights cell-damaging free radicals generated during exercise.
Connective tissue and collagen
Jean also sent me some company based information which was an overview of the research on connective tissue and collagen. I am attaching a copy of that PDF here, for any one who is interested. Keep in mind this is compiled by The Collagen Research Institute, so they do have an interest in showing the positive results. That doesn’t negate anything that is stated, I’m just sayin’. Be aware.
Medline/Pubmed, extracts, and articles
I also did a little looking around on MEDLINE/Pubmed, and after getting frustrated reading articles for which I could only access the abstract and not the full text (reading the full text is important, because many times you can see that perhaps methods used were less than stellar, or the conclusion doesn’t match the actual findings, or the study was funded by a company/entity that has financial interest. You’d be surprised, research is not near as black and white as it appears to be) I was rescued by Daniel Green (@dgrreen on Twitter) who was so nice and sent me the full text of a paper I was very interested in reading. (Aside-Daniel is a very smart cookie at Cornell whose advisor is Brian Wansink, the author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, which you really should read if you haven’t already. Outstanding book.)
The paper that I was so jazzed to read was Effects of whey and fortified collagen hydrosalate protein supplements on nitrogen balance and body composition in older women. You don’t have to tell me how exciting my life is, I know.
One very important point I want to make from this paper first though, is that it is suggested that the current RDA of protein which is .8 grams/kg/day may be inadequate to meet the protein needs of older people. As we grow older, maintaining muscle mass and bone health gets more difficult, so eat your protein! Also, protein quality becomes less important if protein quantity and food quality is adequate. For the average person, all this nit picking about the minutiae of protein is a mute point. It’s even stated in this paper:
Because subjects in our study were provided about half of their dietary protein requirement using high-quality foods, it is possible that this combination (ie, a diet comprised of foods containing sufficient amounts of indispensible amino acids necessary to meet specific protein synthesis needs and a nitrogen-rich collagen supplement necessary to meet nonspecific nitrogen needs) was sufficient to maintain nitrogen balance despite the low PDCAAS of the supplement.
Conflict of interests?
The study was fairly well constructed, using the same small number of subjects (11 women) for both interventions. They used the Bod Pod to measure body composition, which isn’t fantastic, but not horrible either. Nitrogen balance is discussed, but it’s not clear if nitrogen balance has a direct relationship to lean tissue, as far as I understand. ANYWAY-I promise there is a point here-their conclusion was that supplementing with a collagen based supplement was as effective as a whey supplement for maintaining lean body mass. This is all good stuff. Now, a caveat. The study was funded by grant from Medical Nutrition, USA. They happen to manufacture the collagen based supplement. I’m just sayin’.
By now, I’m sure you’ve had enough of my lesson on protein. I know I have.
So what about this Collagen Sport stuff?
There’s a lot of things to like about it. I like that it is sweetened with xylitol (some people may not like this), obviously, that it is gluten free, and I really do like the idea of combining the protein sources. I like the fact that the company has been so helpful in answering my questions and providing me with information.
Flavors, textures and colors
I tried the vanilla flavor first. Whenever I review I protein powder, I use a shaker cup and mix with water only, as to get a true idea of flavor and texture. I was a little surprised to see the vanilla (which smelled awesome when I opened the canister) turn a brown color after I shook it. It mixed well and easily with no clumps. I did NOT like the taste the first time I tried it. I know that with hydrolyzed whey products, masking the bitter taste is a challenge, so I assume with the limited amount of additives and sweeteners in the NeoCell you are actually getting more of the true flavor of the protein.
I took Jean’s advice, and tried mixing it with less water and drinking it immediately after mixing the next time, and it tasted much better. Also, I much prefer the chocolate flavor, but also will mix it with only a small amount of water (as directed on the canister, actually, of course I didn’t read the directions) and drink it immediately after mixing with very cold water. Jean shared with me that she will often blend it with frozen bananas.
Given the potential benefits of the protein, I’m willing to have a less than dessert like flavor. It’s not unpleasant, just “mild” to use Jean’s adjective. I’ve grown accustomed to some over sweetened and over flavored protein powders, so it is just a question of readjusting expectations. Like so much in life. But I digress. If you are still with me, thanks for reading this massive post! This turned out to be a monster!
If you are new here and would like to read more information about living a healthy gluten free life, start with Gluten Free and Fit 101. There are other poorly formatted but well written articles there 😉
- BodyRecomposition, various articles
- Collagen: Incomplete Protein or Vital Supplement Solution?
- Tipton and Wolfe, Protein and Amino Acids for Athletes
- Hays et al, Effects of Whey and Fortified Collagen Hydrosalate Supplements on Nitrogen Balance and Body Composition in Older Women
- Modified Collagen may Stimulate Collagen Regrowth