What is protein and why is it so important? We often get this question at our physical therapy clinics.

Protein is one of the three primary macronutrients that our body utilizes to create energy. Its siblings are carbohydrates and fats. Together, protein, carbohydrates, and fats make up the holy trinity of nutrition. Protein gets so much of the spotlight, particularly in the fitness world, because it is the most essential building block for adding muscle to your body.

Protein is the product of thousands of smaller structures called amino acids. Amino acids are organic compounds made up of mostly hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen. These amino acids are compounded together in groups and make up protein.

When amino acids and proteins from external sources (animals, plants, powders, bars, etc.) are absorbed by the body, they can be used for energy, to assist in laying down new muscle mass, and repairing damaged tissue. This is why so many fitness personalities and athletes get sponsored and stand behind protein brands. It is a very important tool in their physical development.

So how do you figure out what protein powder to buy? The major factors we look for when examining protein powders are:

  1. Type
  2. Quality
  3. Taste
  4. Price


  1. Type

There is a whole array of protein powder types out there and a new one seems to pop up every day. There are plenty of plant-based proteins out there (pea, hemp, soy, etc.), and they are great options for those that choose to not consume animal products. But, in this article, we will focus on the “big dogs” of the industry: whey and casein.

Whey Protein
Whey protein can be separated into 2 categories: concentrate and isolate.

  • Whey concentrate is the most common form of whey protein and is in the majority of products we see on the shelves. Whey concentrate is a byproduct of processing dairy into cheese, along with casein (we will talk about that later).

Whey concentrate is described as the most biologically-efficient protein for the human body to absorb. After it is separated from the cheese, it is processed down and filtered into a powder. Concentrate tends to be easier to mix with liquids and have smoother texture/ taste in protein shakes when compared to isolate.

However, there are some downsides to using whey concentrate. This type of protein powder usually contains more fat and sugar than whey isolate, and if you are lactose intolerance you can have some stomach irritation with consumption.

  • Whey Isolatestarts out as whey concentrate but is then filtered and processed even further. It is what is left over after almost all the carbs and fats have been removed from the protein molecules. During this process they also eliminate the lactose from the powder, making it consumable for those with lactose intolerances. The additional processing results in a purer protein source: 90% protein compared to the 80% protein in whey concentrate.

The downsides for isolate are: it is more expensive than concentrate and, unless more additives are in the powder, it will be slightly harder to mix and have a less desirable consistency compared to the concentrate.

Casein protein is the commonly forgotten stepbrother of whey protein. It is the other byproduct of producing cheese (other than water). Casein is treated the same as whey in that it is processed and filtered down to a point where it is approximately 80% protein.

The biggest difference between casein protein and its siblings is the rate at which it is absorbed by the body. Compared to whey, casein protein takes much longer to be digested by the body. Casein is still well utilized by the body, but the structure of the proteins take more work to break down, thus a slower digestive period.

  1. Quality

To identify the quality of your protein, let’s look at how we find the ratio of protein to filler in the protein powder you find on the shelves at your local supplement shop or grocery store. A simple equation is:

(grams of protein per serving/ total grams of contents per serving) X 100

= percentage of protein in a serving

The equation will give you the percentage of protein in each scoop. The higher the percentage, the higher the quality is and the fewer fillers are present in this supplement.


Protein A: 47.2g serving size, 22g protein per serving = 47%

Protein B: 31g serving size, 24g protein per serving = 77%

At first glance, these proteins look almost identical in their value, but when diving into it much deeper, we find that Protein B has 30% more protein and less filler that Protein A! That is a significant amount. I will admit that Protein A probably tastes a lot better, but you’re spending your money on stuff that makes up that taste rather than the protein that is helping you achieve your goals.

Rule of thumb:Look for proteins > 50% protein/serving. This will give you the best bang for your buck and usually translates into more servings per container.

  1. Taste

There is not much information or insight to share here. Find what you like and what you will be able to consume consistently. If you are completely new to protein powder, try buying the smallest containers possible, or going in and buying sample variety packs. This will let you find what you enjoy and not leave you stuck with a giant tub of powder you don’t like.

  1. Price

When we go out shopping we always have to look at the price and determine the best value for our money. Protein is no different. Instead of focusing on the overall cost or the size of the container, we need to look at the cost per servings. Two tubs of protein may look almost identical in their size, shape, and weight but have drastically different value when you break it down.


Protein A: $19.99, 2 lbs. total weight, 24g of protein per serving, 20 servings

Protein B: $22.99, 2 lbs. total weight, 24g of protein per serving, 28 servings

At first glance, the two options look the same and have the same weight and protein contents. Of course, we are going to buy the cheaper of the two, right? Not quite. If you do the math (price/servings) you find that Protein B will save you $0.18 per serving. If you are taking two scoops of protein every day, this means that you will save approx. $130 every year, aka a new pair of running shoes.

Bottom line: when shopping for a new supplement or fitness aid, it is important to be informed, read the labels, and buy the best option for your money.

If you have further questions about nutrition and supplementation for your fitness goals, talk with your FAST trainer or Foothills Sports Medicine physical therapist. You can even request an appointment online at one of our physical therapy clinics. We are dedicated to helping you live a long, happy, and healthy life.

It is amazing how two small letters can cause such a large amount of confusion within the health and fitness community. A simple designation put forth for two completely different professions that are frequently confused among the public; I am talking about physical therapy (PT) and personal training (PT).

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a profession and a service based around the rehabilitation of individuals with musculoskeletal injuries. Physical therapists diagnose musculoskeletal and functional impairments, implementing an array of specific interventions to address the impairments and improve the physical functionality of the patient. These interventions can include manual therapy, neuro-muscular re-education, therapeutic exercises, modalities such as ice, heat, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, etc., and a variety of other processes within the physical therapy scope of practice.

However, this is only the outpatient side of physical therapy. Physical therapists can be found in various settings including nursing facilities, neuro rehab facilities, hospitals, MD offices, outpatient clinics, and even in schools.

Personal Training

Most personal trainers assist a client in achieving physical goals. These can be improvements in overall health, aesthetics, body composition, muscular performance, or cardiovascular endurance. This can be done in a variety of ways and in multiple different settings. Though most gyms and fitness centers offer complimentary consultations with personal trainers to get clients on the right track, certified personal trainers (and non-certified personal trainers) can work in gyms, colleges, professional sports franchises as strength and conditioning coaches, or even become self-employed and do freelance work.

Physical therapy and personal training are two very different professions under the same umbrella of the health and medical field, though there is a substantial variation in the education required to practice in each field.

Physical therapists must undergo seven years of college, achieve their doctorate, and pass an array of state and national tests. Most personal trainers are required to attend a 6-month training course and pass a standardized exam for certification. In some cases, experienced personal trainers may have obtained a bachelors or master’s degree in exercise science or kinesiology.

Although this process to become a personal trainer is less rigorous, personal trainers help people daily to live healthy lifestyles and achieve goals that boost their physical abilities, mental fortitude, and self-worth. Similar to any other profession, there are very competent individuals with copious amounts of knowledge and skills.

At Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy, you can enjoy the benefits of both professions. Ten of our locations include FAST® (Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training) which offers personal training, group fitness, and sports performance training. Our certified strength and conditioning specialists and personal trainers are also a key component to our sports medicine team. They also work closely with our physical therapists and their patients to deliver sports-specific, transitional rehabilitation programs.

As we all flock to our TVs to support and cheer on our country, we take notice of athletes often forgotten by big media channels in events like synchronized diving, swimming, rowing, beach volleyball, and even gymnastics. We sit and watch in amazement as they accomplish seemingly superhuman feats. It’s a way for the country and world to bond over a universal language—sports.

Every four years the best of the best gather to compete against each other for a chance to win the holy grail of sports, an Olympic medal. And every four years new trends, training philosophies, and rehab products take the spotlight.

This year’s Olympic games have brought attention to the purple and red bruised dots all over Michael Phelps, and almost every other athlete competing. As those who have already Googled it know, the marks are from receiving cupping therapy.

Cupping therapy is an ancient technique used to pull toxins from the body. Today it is used for a variety of reasons including rehabilitation, pain management, and improving athletic performance.

The process is simple—a plastic, silicone, or glass cup is placed over the skin and light suction lifts the tissue underneath. This can be done by using a heat source (such as a flame), which is placed inside the cup for a couple of seconds. This changes the air temperature, causing a vacuum effect that seals the rim of the cup to the skin. It can also be done by using a hand-pump, manipulating the air pressure through a rubberized valve at the tip of the cup.

Now that we have the “what,” let’s answer the “why.”

The therapy changes how the body functions from a musculoskeletal and circulatory standpoint. The suction effect increases blood flow to the area, providing nutrients and oxygen to the tissue. It also helps to break up metabolic waste that has accumulated during strenuous activities or following the recovery of an injury or surgery. Freshly circulating blood and less metabolic waste improves muscle function and recovery time.

Cupping also creates separation and movement between fascial layers. Fascia is the tissue that divides and connects our entire muscular system. When it is restricted, it also restricts our range of motion, flexibility, and even our strength. Traditional massage therapy or physical therapy techniques apply pressure to the skin to address fascia restrictions, thus improving the function of the muscle it encases. Cupping allows us to do the same thing but in a more efficient way that also improves blood supply and healing time.

Now, the big question: “Don’t those big bruises hurt?”

Those purplish bruises are actually the remnants of burst capillaries under the skin. You see, our skin can only take so much pulling and stretching before the blood vessels inside hit their limit and burst. Yes, they look painful, but in most cases they are purely aesthetic, and there is minimal tenderness even an hour after cupping is performed. Some people don’t experience bruising at all. The reaction is based on the elasticity of each person’s skin.

To be perfectly clear, cupping is no walk in the park. After all, suction is pulling your skin, tissue, and muscle into a small plastic cup. While it’s uncomfortable during the process, once the pressure is released the discomfort dissipates. You are left with, for lack of a better term, a giant hickey, but the benefits often exceed any discomfort and the less than attractive marks.

However, cupping therapy should only be administered by a trained professional. At home kits and lack of training can result in further injury or permanent damage to the skin and subcutaneous structures.

Cupping, when performed by a trained professional, can be an amazing addition to any training or rehab regimen. If you would like to try cupping therapy for performance or rehabilitation purposes, please contact your local Arizona physical therapy experts at Foothills Sports Medicine for more information.