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Never judge a book by its cover or a canister by its label… or at least look beyond what the label TELLS you is important. Those big, bold circles, numbers, and aggressive words on protein products (GAIN MASS! SHRED!) are designed to sell powder… not necessarily to serve your goals. If you’re really serious about what you’re putting in your body then you need to do a little math. If you’re in the middle of serious training, when every single macro counts, the true value of your protein matters even more than those extra few reps you’re so proud of yourself for putting up.
What’s In A Serving?
Even casual consumers can appreciate getting precisely what they expect from each scoop or serving. But there’s your first trap: scoops and servings are two totally different things. One scoop per serving is FAR from a universal rule. Hell, in some gainers you’ll see up to FOUR scoops per serving. If you’re already counting protein grams, then you’re probably tracking calories too, so let’s be totally transparent about what you’re putting in. The only way to do that is by finding the P/Cal.
Start with a question you’ve asked yourself a million times, clicking through your powder options on Amazon or Bodybuilding.com: What’s the best powder for my post-workout shake? Is it the one with 32 grams per serving… but a serving is two scoops for a total of 310 calories… or is it the powder with 22 grams per serving… but a serving is a single scoop at 100 calories. Most people would choose the first one… but the second option is actually the winner in our eyes. It has a higher P/Cal.
What Is P/Cal?
P/Cal is the percentage of calories that come from protein. Framed in a different way, P/Cal answers the question: “How many of the calories in this powder are protein calories vs. calories from fats or carbs?” In the example above, those 32 grams of protein are enticing, but at 310 calories per serving that’s a P/Cal of 41 percent. The second powder, with only 22 grams per scoop and 100 calories, has a P/Cal of 88 percent. It’s a huge difference. That first powder is full of garbage-calories that aren’t serving your goals. More often than not, those empty calories come from insulin-spiking maltodextrin, and they’re buried in the ingredients panel somewhere, often under “flavorings.”
Brands like Quest Nutrition have hopped on the P/Cal bandwagon, and they’re starting to list it in the materials for their products. But if the product doesn’t list the P/Cal, it’s pretty simple to figure out. Basically, multiply the grams of protein by four (there are about four calories in every gram of protein) and divide this by the total calories in a serving. Boom: P/Cal. Everything has a P/Cal. Steaks can be from 40 percent to 70 percent, depending on the fat content. A boneless, skinless chicken breast is usually 70 percent plus, which is why it’s the gold standard in protein for bodybuilders. So unless you’re planning on eating a few meals of shrimp and egg whites (both have a P/Cal in the 90s) every day for the rest of your training-life, you’re going to need some help from protein isolates to remove those fats and carbs, giving you that high P/Cal powder you can use whenever you need it. For a powder blend, a good P/Cal is in the mid-80 percent range. Unflavored ones can get into the 90s.
Think of your body as a car: do you want to be driving a Mercedes or a Pinto? What are you using to fuel your machine and keep it running at optimal performance? A “normal diet” is regular unleaded gasoline. A controlled macro diet, where everything serves a purpose, especially the protein, is the premium stuff. Keep that machine running longer, keep it moving from zero to 60 in 5 seconds flat, and keep it looking dead sexy.
P/Cal lets you take control of your macronutrients. Rather than buying into a mass-gainer that isn’t clear about where all the carbs and fats are coming from, or what purpose they’re serving (the dreaded “proprietary blend”), start with a high P/Cal protein powder and add on from there. It doesn’t work the other way around, does it? You can’t take the carbs out of your gainer if you’re trying to lean-up. Instead, stock your arsenal full of tools that are adaptable to whatever your goals may be that day, that week, or that month. Quest’s Add-On powders are a new innovation designed to do precisely that: add clean carbs or healthy fats to your high P/Cal powder depending on your macro goals.
Calculating P/Cal takes a little more work (until more companies start being upfront about their percentages), but it’s worth it if you’re serious about your nutrition.
Nobody wants to look like a Pinto.