The Science Behind Success in the Octagon
Training for most mixed martial arts (MMA) athletes is physically and metabolically demanding, often involving multiple sessions per day dedicated to mastering numerous disciplines, strength and power training, and cardiovascular endurance. The overall high frequency of fighting-specific and strength/power training highlights the importance of rapid recovery for the MMA athlete. This is where supplements can help, and at the top of the list should be a well formulated protein formula. Here's a synopsis of the latest research to get the most out of your protein supplement.
The #1 Reason You Need Protein After a Workout
Your body is constantly breaking down and building (synthesizing) muscle proteins. In the fasting state, the rate of breakdown exceeds the rate of synthesis. Thus, your body is in a net negative protein balance. This constant state of flux is accelerated after your workout. Here's the important part - resistance training (or any form of exercise) alone speeds up protein synthesis and breakdown, but if no protein is consumed after exercise then protein balance is still negative. Basically your muscles start to breakdown proteins to provide the amino acids necessary to build new muscle. Needless to say this futile cycle is not optimal for recovery. We know that consuming protein alone increases protein synthesis, and many studies now have shown this anabolic effect of consuming protein is potentiated by resistance exercise. Bottom line - your muscles are sensitized to take up amino acids at an accelerated rate and turn them into proteins after a workout, so consuming a high quality protein supplement should be top priority. But how much, what type, and when?
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The recommended dietary allowance for protein is set at 0.8 grams per kilogram body weight per day. These values were based on nitrogen balance studies done in sedentary individuals. That's only 60 grams for a 75 kg (165 pound) athlete. Several studies now confirm that athletes need slightly more protein to maintain a positive nitrogen balance. The preponderance of evidence suggest anywhere from about 1.5 to 2.0 g/kg is appropriate. That's 113 to 150 grams of protein for the 75 kg athlete. There is no evidence that protein intakes higher than this offer any benefit, so the 'more is better' adage does not apply here. These recommendations are for the total amount of protein consumed in a day. But what about the optimal amount after a workout?
Many of the early studies showing that protein supplementation after resistance augmented protein synthesis used only 6 grams of essential amino acids, indicating it does not take much to elicit a positive effect. However, if you compare the magnitude of responses in protein synthesis across studies there is evidence that a greater effect can be achieved with slightly more protein. In fact a recent study specifically addressed this question in a dose response experiment. Subjects performed a resistance exercise session on five separate occasions. After exercise, they randomly consumed a drink containing different doses of protein: 0, 5, 10, 20, or 40 grams. Compared to consuming no protein, muscle protein synthesis was increased by 37% after the 5 g dose and 56% after the 10 g dose of protein. The 20 g dose condition increased protein synthesis even further by 97%. When 40 g of protein was ingested, there was no further increase in protein synthesis. These results indicate a dose response relationship between the amount of protein ingested and stimulation of protein synthesis after resistance exercise up to 20 grams of dietary protein. At the higher dose, there was a marked increase in protein oxidation suggesting that the extra protein was being used as fuel. Thus somewhere between 20 and 40 grams of high quality protein appears to maximize the anabolic response.
Only the essential amino acids are responsible for stimulating muscle protein synthesis . About half of the amino acids in most high quality protein supplements are essential. Thus, somewhere between 10 and 20 grams of essential amino acids are ideal. More specifically, researchers have isolated the amino acid leucine as the most important in respect to augmenting the anabolic response to protein feeding. Studies indicate that about 2-3 grams of leucine optimizes the increase in protein synthesis. Since whey protein is about 10% leucine, about 20-30 grams whey delivers an optimal level of leucine.
What Type of Protein Should You Use?
Two of the most popular protein sources are whey and casein, which are the two major proteins in milk. These two milk proteins are both excellent sources of all the essential amino acids, but they also have some key differences. Whey is renowned for its high quality rating and regular use among bodybuilders. Scientific studies have revealed that whey has several unique qualities that make it an attractive protein source for athletes. A distinguishing feature of whey protein is the complex protein source with a high prevalence of essential amino acids, particularly leucine, which rapidly stimulates protein synthesis.
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Whey contains about 10% leucine which directly activates a critical compound in muscle cells called the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) that turns on protein synthesis. Whey protein is digested and absorbed quickly resulting in a more rapid increase in plasma amino acids compared to casein, which results in a larger and more rapid increase in protein synthesis. Chronic ingestion of whey results in improved body composition including both increased lean body mass and decreased fat mass. There are also a host of other bioactive components in whey that promote recovery and general well-being (e.g., increased satiety, improved blood glucose control, antioxidant and immune effects, and blood pressure lowering).
When to Consume Protein?
The majority of protein supplementation studies have focused on the post-exercise time period and this work unequivocally shows this is an important time. However, there is accumulating evidence that the pre-exercise time period is important too. The main evidence for this comes from a study where researchers gave subjects 6 grams of essential amino acids after exercise and showed it stimulated protein synthesis. This was a well characterized response at the time. The astounding finding was that when the same dose of protein was given immediately before exercise, there was a significantly greater increase in protein synthesis after exercise. The greater effect associated with pre-exercise supplementation was attributed to elevated blood levels of amino acids before exercise and greater delivery of those amino acids to the active muscles as a result of muscle contraction. It has been shown that delivery of amino acids to muscle is one of the rate limiting steps in protein synthesis. This land mark study makes a strong case for consuming protein during the pre-exercise time period.
The word 'protein' derives from an ancient Greek word meaning 'of primary importance'. The MMA athlete should also consider a protein supplement of primary importance for speeding recovery and optimizing adaptations to training. Whey protein has several features that make it ideal. Based on the latest science, the ProSource Team has developed high quality convenient choice to ensure athletes are getting their protein requirements. Two of their leading products are NytroWhey Ultra Elite and Supreme Protein bars. NytroWhey Ultra Elite is specifically designed to achieve maximal delivery of amino acids to muscle to ensure a positive protein balance. The state of the art peptides particularly rich in branched chain amino acids with extra leucine make it a unique anabolic delivery system. Taken before and after exercise NytroWhey Ultra Elite will ensure the muscle is primed to grow. Supreme Protein bars are also a superb option. Besides being delicious, the bars also contain a high quality whey protein that can be used around workouts or as a meal replacement.