If you’re a regular imbiber of content from the bodybuilding and fitness magazines, you’ve likely seen ads for ‘Carnivor’ protein powder. And if you’re a beef-eating aficionado the way I am, these ads have probably grabbed your attention. You’ve likely asked the question “is Carnivor protein good”; is it better than whey or other protein powders? It’s certainly reasonable to think so if we believe all the hype that accompanies these ads. But as advertising hyperbole increases, a corresponding degree of reality-based fact tends to decrease. This calls for us to look into the question “is Carnivor protein good” with a bit more rigor. So let’s go forward with a comparison of this bodybuilding supplement to both other protein powders and to eating beef itself as a protein source.
“Is Carnivor Protein Good”; Does beef make us stronger and bigger?
‘Carnivor’ is a relatively new protein powder made primarily from hydrolyzed beef. When the beef is ‘hydrolyzed’, it’s broken down into its component amino acids by way of acidic boiling or the addition of enzymatic chemicals. This begins the transformation of the beef from a slow-digesting steak to a relatively fast-digesting powder. It also allows the marketer of the protein, in this case MuscleMeds, to tout the protein for being absent of fatty content, which a juicy top sirloin most certainly isn’t.
But ‘is Carnivor protein good’… compared to just eating some beef?
Many bodybuilders (myself included) claim that regular beef consumption produces a noticeable increase in weight lifting strength. But even if we could prove this effect is something other than placebo, I don’t know whether it’s caused directly by an inherent property of the beef protein amino acid structure, or indirectly from something else that’s present in a whole piece of meat. As possibility for the latter: A rare-cooked steak contains quite a bit of blood. If it happens to be that a physiological reaction to eating blood triggers higher testosterone production in guys who eat beef (just a hypothesis), then this effect would likely be absent from beef-derived protein powders. Since many beef-eating bodybuilders report an anecdotal increase of aggressiveness along with strength after eating lots of steak, the possibility of hormone augmentation causing strength gains from meat consumption probably shouldn’t be dismissed.
But some in the bodybuilding community suggest that beef’s tendency to make us stronger really does come from its amino acid structure. Vince Andrich is just such a person. In his article on the topic (in which he ultimately touts milk protein over beef), Andrich points out that beef protein is high in Proline and Hydroxyproline. These, he says, are non-essential amino acids that play an important role in the formation of collagen and other connective tissue. Given that strength gains are largely dependent on building bigger and stronger tendons and ligaments, he draws a cause-and-effect relationship; the high amount of these amino acids in the beef ‘must be doing it’… right?
Not so fast.
Beef, he points out, is also high in arginine. This is another amino acid that’s non-essential but is instrumental in wound healing and tissue repair.
And let’s not forget that beef has a decent amount of naturally-occurring creatine, a substance that definitely enhances muscle performance and strength.
Here’s the point: In answering the question “is Carnivor protein good”, we need to take the “beef makes you stronger” claims with a grain of salt for a couple reasons. First, without double-blind studies, we don’t know if it’s fact rather than mostly or completely psychological. Second, if it does improve strength, we don’t know if beef’s strength-enhancing properties are transferrable to a powder supplement that’s been hydrolyzed from beef.
As far as beef protein powders being absent of the saturated fat that’s present in meat, this is beneficial to someone who wants beef protein but has potential cardiovascular problems that would make it dangerous to consume the marbled fat content of meat. The marketers of beef protein powders are heavily plugging this advantage of their supplement. However, what’s conveniently forgotten when this benefit is hyped is that healthy bodybuilders need some saturated fat; it’s used by the body for testosterone production – another substance that’s vitally important for muscle growth.
Bottom line: If you want the amino acids present in beef but you don’t want to eat red meat, Carnivor might be worth it. But I personally wouldn’t bet on it producing muscle growth that couldn’t be realized by simply throwing some lean cuts of steak on the grill and chowing down on some cow meat two or three times each week.
‘Is Carnivor Protein Good’; is it “the best” for muscle growth?
The marketers of ‘Carnivor’ protein powder claim their protein supplement is “more concentrated” than steak or other protein powders, including whey. The first assumption we’re supposed to draw from this is that our muscles will get bigger when using Carnivor because of this greater concentration.
Before discussing this part of the “is Carnivor protein good” question, let me get something personal off my chest: I think the battle among protein powders has to be the silliest notion that bodybuilders buy into. It seems to be a perceived competition-of-benefits borne out of and perpetuated by irrational, instinctive association:
‘Protein is needed for tissue growth. Therefore, “better protein” equals “better tissue growth”… or “MORE tissue growth”’
Of course, this assumes that man is somehow capable of transforming what nature has made into something better than how nature made it. In tandem with this is the illogical assumption that if people consume any more protein than their bodies can use at a given time, they’ll somehow benefit. It’s as if there’s no ‘law of diminishing return’ that kicks in rather early – which would actually result in only those people who are protein deficient gaining anything positive from concentrated protein supplementation.
With that said, some points in the article by Vince Andrich are interesting. He likes to compare protein sources by their amino acid profiles per 100 grams of protein. In assessing this juxtaposition, he points out that the addition of some amino acids to one type of protein means the subtraction of others in order not to exceed the 100-grams comparison. This somewhat blows a hole in a flaunted benefit of Carnivor protein powder; its creators have added branch-chain amino acids to it – a move apparently aimed at improving its profile when compared as a bodybuilding compound to whey protein. Since whey protein is naturally high in these vital three muscle building aminos, beef protein powder evidently needs some alteration in order to favorably compare.
But this modification, along with hydrolyzing the beef in the first place, might revise beef’s protein away from what makes it uniquely beneficial in the first place. It shifts the amino acid structure of the protein powder so that it more closely resembles that of milk. And given the tough tensile strength of whole beef, its protein is digested and absorbed by the body very slowly. When it’s pre-broken down into a powder, this slow-digestibility characteristic is lost in favor of making it as quickly digestible as whey. In the end, it might be that converting beef protein into something that mimics whey protein results in nothing more than something smacking of an over-priced whey protein. Admittedly, this is conjecture on my part, but a possibility worth considering.
Nevertheless, the makers of ‘Carnivor’ protein powder advertise ‘350% more protein’ in 37 grams of their powder as compared to 37 grams of steak. Obviously, there’s no trick to making this comparison favorable for the powder since they could easily have juxtaposed it with a very fatty cut of meat. In addition, they tout 20 times more creatine in their product than what’s present in beef. This is simply the result of adding 2.5 grams of creatine per serving as an additional supplement in the product. I don’t find that objectionable at all; I’m personally a fan of creatine.
But the 800-pound gorilla in the room among debate of all these subtleties is whether such small distinctions amount to any difference amidst the flood of amino acids present in a well-fed athlete or bodybuilder. That’s what I’ll briefly address in the last section of this ‘is Carnivor protein good’ article.
‘Is Carnivor Protein good’; Do YOU find it better than other proteins?
While contemplating all of this, I’m reminded of a television program I saw as a child. It was a News special about those ‘eccentric’ bodybuilders of the 1970s; you know… Arnold, Franco, Frank Zane. Anyway, at a point in the segment, I recall the host showing and describing a typical muscle building meal within the daily diets of bodybuilders of that time. Lo and behold: he presented nothing more than a steak, a baked potato, some green vegetables, and a huge glass of milk.
Imagine that: bodybuilders of that day were building great bodies with their beef, whey, and casein proteins all in a single meal.
So my overall conclusion, at this point, is that if you’re asking the question “is Carnivor protein good”, it might be indicative of what I’ve suggested if you’ve been pulled into ANY of the ‘protein battle’ rhetoric: You might be experiencing frustration with your body building progress due to workout tactical errors rather than from nutritional deficiencies.
Nevertheless, if you’ve tried ‘Carnivor protein’ powder, we’d love to get your feedback. Did it improve your strength? Did it help you increase muscle mass? Or did it do nothing beyond what a steak and whey protein shake would do for you?
Your comments are welcome.