As a professor of sports nutrition I can tell you that the single biggest problem I see with bodybuilders is their lack of supplementation knowledge, and the supplement they mess up with more than any other is protein, which is the single most important muscle-building ingredient you can take. Read on for a fair analysis of the state-of-the-knowledge on protein supplementation.
Calories and Grams
Okay, here's a brief review just to make sure we're all on the same page: Your body requires about 2,600 excess calories to make a pound of muscle. Those extra calories have to come from somewhere, right? Right. And I am sure you know that protein, which is necessary for muscle-cell growth, has got to be primary in that formula. That's true as well. In fact, as a bodybuilder you likely are well aware of the research showing protein requirements for intensely training lifters to be in the neighborhood of 2.0 grams per kilogram bodyweight (nearly 1 gram per pound) in order to maintain positive nitrogen balance and faciliate growth. I would guess that you also know about other facets of sports nutrition as well. For instance, you are probably familiar with the difference between monosaccharides and polysaccharides; to put it simply, simple sugars versus complex carbohydrates. All have 4 calories per gram, but with markedly different effects on the body. The same thing goes for another food substrate — fats. For example, saturated fat and fish oil are both 9 calories per gram, but each has different effects in terms of the way your body handles them. T
he point is this: All calories, even from the same food substrate, are not created equally. Where they come from makes all the difference in the world. Protein is no different. Sure, you say, you know all about complete and incomplete proteins and you try to choose complete proteins as much as possible. Good. But if you really want to maximize muscle gains you have got to catch up to where the science is. And science has taken us two steps further.
Step I: Protein Source
Without a doubt, the first major question you have to ask yourself is this: Where am I getting my protein from? This question goes well beyond the general issue of complete versus incomplete protein and delves into the structure of the protein itself. Protein, especially in the form of powdered supplements, can come from a variety of sources: egg (albumin), soy, milk (casein), and whey. Chances are, you have tried most if not all of these supplements and have your own preferences (egg may have caused you gastrointestinal problems; casein may have been accompanied by too much sugar, etc.). However, from a scientific standpoint, this is what you should know: Regardless of the methods that are used to evaluate protein quality (Protein Efficiency Ratio, Net Protein Utilization, and Biological Value) whey protein is always rated at the top of the scale.
You may know that whey protein is a high quality protein powder from cow's milk. You may also know that milk has two proteins — casein (approximately 80%) and whey (approximately 20%). What you may not know is that whey proteins naturally contain high amounts of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA's) and glutamic acid, which enhance muscle recovery and nitrogen balance, respectively. BCAA's comprise about one-third of the muscle tissue and up to 10% of the fuel required in muscle activity, which can lead to more intense and longer training sessions, and thus better gains. Because whey is more soluble than other protein sources it is a very fast-acting protein. For instance, if you consume a 25-gram serving of whey on an empty stomach, levels of blood amino acids peak roughly 60 minutes after ingestion and return to pre-meal levels within four hours. Due to this high rate of absorption, especially if taken during a period (post-exercise) where the body is working to repair muscle damage, whey is considered a very anabolic protein. In fact, simply consuming whey protein stimulates an increase in your body's protein synthesis (muscle-building capabilities) by nearly 70%. And not only that, unlike casein, whey ingestion does not bring about protein breakdown within the muscle. Forget about the fact that studies show that whey is more effective than red meat in limiting body weight gain and guarding against increasing insulin sensitivity. Forget about the fact that whey proteins have been shown to reduce blood pressure. And forget about the fact that studies have found whey to be protective against the development of cancerous tumors in animals (probably due to its immune-promoting properties) and the bad cholesterol called low-density lipoprotein (probably due to the lactoferrin content in whey). Forget all that. While those are all great benefits, chances are that the bottom line for you is this: Whey is the most absorbable, fastest-acting, and anabolic of all proteins we have studied to date. That's why whey protein is a common ingredient in infant formula, in protein supplements for medical use, and, of course, for bodybuilding products.
Step II: Protein Production Process
Okay, so we are beyond general protein "completeness" and identifying the most anabolic of protein sources. Good, because science has brought us further. Hey, that you are eating high-quality protein (whey) is a given. We are now in a new stage of sports nutrition where the focus is not so much on the quality of the raw protein substance, but on the production process. Here is where protein quality can get turned up a notch — or not.
Filtering Out the Proteins
So, this is what you need to know: Whey protein is a co-product of the cheese making process. After fresh milk is approved for quality and is pasteurized, the casein ("curd") and a portion of the milk-fat are separated out to make cheese. What's left from this process is a liquified whey that then must go through a process to separate out the whey protein from the milk sugar (lactose) and other non-protein materials. This filtration process attempts to "isolate" the whey proteins. Without question, the most effective means of filtering is micro/ultra filtration (the micro filters are even smaller than the ultra filters and renders an even more pure protein product). The producer uses a series of filters made from polymers to separate out the whey protein from the liquid milk. This process yields a good result for you, the bodybuilder, because you end up with isolated whey that is fairly inexpensive (especially relative to the tremendous benefits it offers). Now keep in mind that at this point you can find both whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate. You always want to look for whey isolate; try to avoid whey concentrate. In the isolation process, whey can be isolated to various degrees. Whey isolate contains 90% or more protein. However, a whey concentrate powder contains less than 90% and often much less, even as little as 25% protein! (The rest is non-protein material, such as fat, ash, impurities and broken down carbohydrates.) That's right: You can take in 100 grams of whey concentrate and only get 30 grams of protein. Not only that, but ingestion of whey concentrate also seems to bring about gastrointestinal distress in some people.
Bottom line: Always choose whey isolate when you can.
Hydrolyzing the Proteins
When preparing whey proteins, concentrate or isolate, some manufacturers will use a technique known as "hydrolyzation". Here's what that means: The whey proteins are "pre-digested" through the action of enzymes that are added to the whey solution in order to convert the proteins into more highly-digestable peptides. Therefore, it is a good idea to include a hydrolyzed form of whey isolate for even greater effectiveness. Even more pertinent to a bodybuilder, a hydrolyzed whey isolate is a great way to get the maximum amount of amino acids into the bloodstream immediately after a workout. This way you have 1) the most anabolic protein, 2) with the highest percentage of protein molecules (isolate), and 3) pre-digested for quick absorption. That's the best way to put you in an anabolic state when your body needs it the most.
Ion Exchange Versus Cross-Flow Micro/Ultra Technology
Now at this point your eyes may be starting to glaze over, but there is one more important issue that you should know. There are two advanced means by which manufacturers separate the protein from the liquid. Yes, you already know about micro/ultra filtration, but there is more. The "ion exchange" process uses chemical solvents and electron charges in an ion exchange tower to separate the whey protein from the liquid. The good news is that ion exchange does yield a very high percentage of whey protein. The bad news is that it seems to negatively affect biological value in the process. For instance, glycomacropeptide — an important health-promoting protein molecule — is often depleted from the solution in ion exchange. Fortunately, technology has brought about a more advanced filtration system known as the "cross-flow micro/ultra" (CFM) technique. CFM uses a process that comes very close to the high percentage of protein from the ion exchange process, but does so without losing the important health-promoting whey components lost in ion exchange. Perhaps some of this benefit comes from the fact that the CFM technique does not use destructive chemicals to separate the whey protein from ash, lactose, and fat. Also helping preserve the biological value of the whey protein is CFM's use of low termperatures in its filtration. This ensures that the isolation of the whey proteins is done at a pH that is natural for the whey proteins. Therefore, vital molecules like glycomacropeptides and other potential growth factors are not discarded or destroyed. Moreover, CFM uses ceramic filters, which are indestructible. The end result is that the CFM process results in a higher protein subfraction content. What you will find if you study the protein production process is that CFM maintains a significantly more complete protein profile — one of optimal balance, as found naturally in whey, even more than with ion exchange. With CFM, there are virtually no denatured proteins and important protein fractions (peptides) are kept intact. That gives you a protein you are ready to digest, absorb and use to create more muscle tissue.
The Final Word
When all is said and done, you want the highest quality protein you can get — the biggest bang for your buck — to ensure maximum muscle growth. So, here's the final word:
- For packing on mass, you've got to do your job outside the gym just like you do your job in the gym. Put time and effort into finding the supplements that have maximal anabolic potential.
- There is a tremendous difference between proteins when it comes to quality, digestability, absorbability, and effects on muscle tissue.
- Science suggests that whey protein is the most anabolic of the protein sources available (and also has the least digestion problems).
- Whey protein isolate has a higher percentage of protein than whey protein concentrate or ion exchange.
- Hydrolyzed whey protein isolate can provide you with a pre-digested form of protein, which is advantageous for greater absorption, digestion and effectiveness.
- Cross-Flow Micro/Ultra (CFM) filtration brings about the most denatured and growth-factor-rich protein available, while at the same time, maintaining a high protein content.
Table 1: Whey Protein Ingredient Compositions Typical in the Marketplace
|Whey Components||Whey Powder||Whey Protein Concentrate||Whey Protein Isolate|
|Protein||11% to 14.5%||25% to 89%||90% +|
|Lactose||63% to 75%||10% to 55%||0.5%|
|Milk Fat||1% to 1.5%||2% to 10%||0.5%|
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