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The founder of Myprotein reveals the truth about protein powder

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Are supplements good for you? What are superfoods? We speak to Oliver Cookson, founder of one of the UK’s largest sports nutrition businesses, to find out.

In a world filled with hundreds of nutrition brands, it can be difficult to make sense of what’s actually on offer through the noise — and there’s certainly a lot of noise to be found. Instagram and TikTok are increasingly flooded with influencers promoting new supplements, protein powders, juices and gummies, all claiming to be able to either revitalise your health, increase your metabolism or up your protein intake.

But Myprotein, which Oliver Cookson founded in 2004, was one of the first sports nutrition brands to really gain traction within the UK fitness industry and can be said to have paved the way for a lot of the brands that currently circulate today.

 

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So, now that Oliver has sold the business (for a whopping £58m in 2011) and is focusing on other ventures, we wanted to find out whether there are any real benefits to taking these supplements.

But before we delve into that, it’s important to understand what protein powder actually is.





What’s protein powder made of?

Protein helps to build muscle. As well as this, the amino acids that make up protein help to balance fluid, regulate hormones and sustain good overall health, and protein powder itself is a supplement made from a concentrated source of protein.

There are a lot of different types of protein powders to choose from, including whey isolate or casein, or vegan options like soy or pea.

What was once a tool for bodybuilders has now become a regular feature in many people’s diets, with social media influencers often making supplements seem necessary for a fit and healthy lifestyle.

Read more: A nutritionist’s guide to healthy snacks that deliver a sweet fix





Are supplements good for you?

According to Oliver, the answer is yes. “I understand the concerns out there,” he begins. “Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle, and many people simply can’t get as much as they want through diet alone.

“Whether they’re bodybuilders or just people trying to be healthier, they want to add muscle or simply ensure they get their protein needs in a convenient and dependable way.”

However, Kate Booker, nutritionist at Nutrition Geeks, says that powders are “not a healthy alternative to food”.

“We should be eating a nourishing wholefood diet with minimal processed foods,” she says. “Supplements should only be used in addition to an already healthy diet.”

Influencer combat

We all have our favourite celebrities, the ones we trust and follow (I certainly do), so it can be difficult ignore their support for a product they say really works.

The influencer world is admittedly a murky place. Greenwashing has been a thing for years, but with the rise of social media and an increased consumer interest in fitness and wellness since the pandemic, ‘sportswashing’ and ‘wellness washing’ are now things that consumers need to be aware of.

Read more: What is sound therapy and why are celebrities obsessed?

“Remember during that UEFA Euro 2020 press conference when Cristiano Ronaldo dismissively moved one of the world’s biggest soft drink brands out of the shot and drank water instead?”

“With that,” says Oliver, “the world witnessed how inauthentic brand sponsorships can really be”.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of influencers and celebrities out there promoting protein supplements and green powders they’ve never even tried — as revealed in a 2019 BBC documentary.

Benedict Ang, senior fitness coach at TotalShape and social influencer, has seen his fair share of health washing in the industry, noting: “There are plenty of fitness influencers and trainers out there who promote crash diets on supplements or extreme workout routines as the ultimate solution for getting in shape.”

“They’ll cherry-pick their results,” he says. “And create unrealistic expectations for their followers.”

To protect ourselves, Oliver advises consumers to look for brands that work with real people, not just athletes and celebrities. “Look for individuals who embody an active, health-conscious ethos, who radiate authenticity.”

Similarly, Benedict advises people to try to find influencers who authentically incorporate a product into their own routine — featuring it not just in adverts, but regularly in their content.

Going greens

After having sold Myprotein, Oliver remained passionate about the fitness and wellness industry, and decided to fix the ‘broken’ superfood powder category by creating a new brand, Verve.

Read more: Gareth Bale’s new exercise class is totally unique (and really hard)

If you haven’t already seen the new ‘drinking your greens’ trend on TikTok, it won’t be long until you do — superfood powders are about to become 2024’s latest wellness trend.

 

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What is a superfood powder?

If you search for superfood powders, you’ll find a multitude of products that contain varying and (often confusing) lists of ingredients. Put simply, superfood powders typically consist of a selection of vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables. Vitamins like B12, E and C can usually be found on the list of ingredients, as well as ground up vegetables and sometimes probiotics and prebiotics, too.

Are superfood powders good for you?

“If you’re eating a mineral-rich and nutrient-dense diet, you shouldn’t need to add expensive greens powders into your diet,” says Kate. “I prefer to eat my greens, with a bit of butter and salt.”

Across the board, if you’re looking to supplement your diet, it’s important to ensure that your powder of choice contains quality ingredients, and not just tiny traces of vitamins and minerals.

Verve’s latest product, V80 Greens Powder, claims to redefine green drinks, boasting a blend of 80 alkalizing fruits, veggies and greens.

“Ultimately, you should look for a brand that aligns with your values and delivers genuine results — a brand that’ll help you thrive,” says Oliver.

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