A site for Gen-X men, by Gen-X men, about the stuff in life that really matters.
The Arrow Logo - SVG
Oh no!
It looks like you aren't logged in to the Arrow community. Log in to get the best user experience, save your favorite articles and quotes, and follow our authors.
Don't have an Online Account? 

The Best Protein Supplements for Gen-X Guys

Are collagen, soy or meat protein powders right for you?

Man in kitchen wearing a muscle t-shirt and pouring protein powder into shaker
Chris Buck

My experience with protein powder began in high school, when a gym owner with forearms big as canned hams handed me a one-pound canister labeled Joe Weider’s Dynamic Muscle Builder. “Muscles don't grow if you don’t feed ‘em,” he told me.

Forty years later, my workout routines and objectives have changed, but my body’s need for protein has not. 

Muscles start shrinking after age 30 unless you stay in the fight; in fact, a man needs to be eating at least 30 grams of protein at each meal, a technique called protein timing. Fail to hit these numbers regularly leads to age-related muscle loss, what scientists call sarcopenia, which can lead to loss of balance and injury.

Eating steak and eggs at every breakfast is now absolutely against doctor’s orders (and I have the Crestor prescription to prove it). So protein powder makes its triumphant return. Over the years I’ve tried plenty, of every claim and composition. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Whey Protein

Perhaps the most common form of supplemental protein in circulation, whey is a byproduct of cheese production. The translucent liquid you see floating atop yogurt? That’s whey.

It’s pretty easy for your body to absorb, has all the amino acids you need and definitely helps deliver mass, or at the very least inhibit muscle loss. 

If you tend toward lactose intolerance, look for “protein isolate,” which has had the lactose removed. “Protein concentrate” packs a lactose punch. I once blew a chance with a stunning aerobics instructor when I inadvertently let one rip while sharing an incline bench. 

Vegan Protein

Not an oxymoron, but also not the level of oomph found in animal-sourced protein. Usually made from soy, peas, rice and similar sources. 

It’s easy to digest, great if you have food allergies, and has a neutral flavor profile. Use it in a smoothie with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt (damn, I just un-veganed it). 

Unlike whey, which is a complete protein, many vegan proteins can be lacking in the amino acid department. Look for a soy protein, or a vegan product that’s labeled “complete protein,” which usually means it comes from a mix of plant sources. 

Collagen Protein

Who’s up for a nice, tall glass of cow and pig bones? That’s a major source of the stuff that knits your body together at the ligament and tendon level. It’s also in our skin, bones, fingernails and hair.

If you’re a semi-centenarian, collagen is a great way to add a little luster to your complexion and keep the juice in your joints. I’ve been throwing a scoop in my morning coffee for a few years, and I definitely notice the difference.

Don’t take this if you want size. This is about keeping joints happy. One unsavory side effect: it doesn’t always completely digest. Sometimes, when I hit the commode, it’ll seem like I’m blowing my nose out of my butt.

Beef, Milk and Egg Protein

The big three and what the mighty strongmen and athletes of old subsisted on. You remember that scene in Rocky, don’t you?

Today’s red-blooded, All-’merican beef-milk-egg powders purport to isolate all the muscle-building good while leaving the fats and sugars behind. And sing all the praises of vegan/vegetarian protein you want; in my experience, nothing hits like animal-based protein.

While trying those powders was mostly positive, today it feels like too much gun. I lift heavy one day a week to maintain mass, but my building days are behind me. If I was looking to bulk up, however, this stuff would be on my shelf.