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Quality Before Quantity

Quality Before Quantity
Protein.  It is easily the most important ingredient to any athlete that continually stresses their body in the pursuit of more muscle.  What are the differences?  What should you look for?  This nutrient's popularity and the technology that has gone into its development have created a double-edged sword. Go back several years and weight gainers and proteins that were just as much sugar and fat as protein ruled the roost.  Now customers have multiple sources of protein (e.g. egg, soy, casein, whey) they can choose from and multiple levels of quality, particularly with whey protein.  

It's great to have choices, but the lack of clarity regarding what to focus on and why can make it hard to make a wise decision.  Sure your friend's friend may act like he knows best, but does he?  This article will work to break down some of the foundational aspects of what makes a good protein and also cover the recent developments that are being made to continually raise the bar higher.

Protein Source: All Things Animal
Because of research which has identified that the essential amino acids are critically involved in stimulating the building of muscle proteins (Tipton et al. 1999; Volpi et al. 2003), supplementing with complete sources of protein is a must.  Complete proteins are those proteins that supply all of the essential amino acids in ratios that support their utilization for growth (Campbell et al. 2007).  In this respect, both of the proteins found in milk, casein and whey, egg, beef, poultry and other forms of animal meats are complete proteins.  Debate continues over whether soy protein is considered a complete source or not.  Regardless, studies show that both after feeding and after exercise other sources of protein (e.g., casein or whey) induce greater increases in muscle protein synthesis than soy protein, so it could be considered somewhat of a moot point (Tang et al. 2009).   

While research does exist supporting the ability of egg and beef protein to stimulate increases in muscle protein (Moore et al. 2009; Symons et al. 2007), the practicality and convenience afforded to utilizing the milk proteins, particularly whey, is impossible to ignore.  Sure, if you want to run around gnawing on steak or sucking back boiled eggs, go ahead; don't let this article stop you.  All joking aside, both egg and beef are good proteins and should comprise other meals found in your diet, but when it comes to a protein source that delivers high quality, convenience and good taste, milk and its proteins are nearly impossible to beat.  A number of studies have used casein and whey in combination with resistance training and some suggest there might be no difference between the two (Tipton et al. 2004), but most of the recent research suggests that whey is superior at stimulating positive health as well as positive adaptations to resistance training (Cribb et al. 2007; Tang et al. 2009; Tang and Phillips 2009).  

Furthermore, a number of accepted standards exist to objectively evaluate protein quality and whey protein always seems to find itself at the top of the leaderboard in this arena as well (Millward et al. 2008; Tang and Phillips 2009).  In this respect and when compared head to head, a source of whey protein has greater amounts of both the essential amino acids and the branched-chain amino acids when compared to casein, egg or other sources of protein.

The Wonderful World of Milk
So how do we go about getting this good stuff into our favorite protein powder?  Whole bovine (from a cow) milk is approximately 87% water and 13% various solids.  The solid fraction is further broken down into 27% of which is protein (the remaining 73% consists largely of fat, sugars and various minerals).  Splitting this 27% fraction again gives us the two milk proteins: casein (80%) and whey (20%).

Manufacturers have two predominant ways to separate the protein from the sugar and fat resulting in a purified protein product: ion-exchange and micro/ultra filtration.  Ion exchange, even though it produces a quality product, has fallen out of favor because of reports that this process can negatively impact how much of the protein is available for use in the body after the process is complete.  Micro/ultra filtration is the preferred method and involves passing the protein across a series of filters and polymers that progressively strips away more and more sugar and fat resulting in a highly purified protein product.  This is where things get interesting because recent developments have led to the use of cross-flow micro/ultra filtration that results in a protein product that does not negatively impact all of the outstanding health benefits that are known to exist in whey proteins. ProSource's own original NytroWhey formulation was and continues to be a pioneering product in the field of cross-flow micro/ultra filtration of protein content.

The Skinny on Concentrates
If you've attempted to educate yourself at all on protein production, you have certainly read on various labels about whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate and hydrolysates.  By production standards, a concentrate can be anything that ranges from 30% to 89% protein.  This means that for every 100 grams of this product, you will be getting anywhere from 30 - 89 grams of protein.  Not bad if it's 85% protein, but definitely not good if it's 40% protein or lower.  Surely, the manufacturer will put this information on their label, right?  Likely not, so if the protein powder you are about to fork over your money for has ‘whey protein concentrate' towards the beginning of its list of ingredients, you might want to consider taking another trip through the protein aisle.

Isolate - Your Guiding Light
Whey protein isolate, however, must be at least 90% protein and as a result the highest quality protein powders are in isolate form, no questions asked.  To use the word isolate on the label, production standards must reach this level so if you see isolate on the label (particularly if it's the first ingredient listed), you can rest assured that the majority of product contained within is coming from a derivative that is at least 90 grams of protein for every 100 grams of the powder you consume.  You could view the word 'isolate' as a lighthouse safely guiding you through the troubled waters of watered-down concentrates and confusing labels to your purchase of a high quality product.  Additionally and more often than not, companies understand the importance of a high quality product and if they've taken the right steps to delivering a high quality isolate they are not going to hide from it and you'll be able to find it on their label.

Hydrolyzing - Getting Smaller With Your Protein Chains Before You Get Bigger
Finally, hydrolyzing of the proteins found in whey (or other protein types as well, but most often it occurs with whey) has gained excitement.  This technique uses acid or enzymes to break up the protein chains from long chains of amino acids to smaller chains of amino acids.   What results is a mixture of amino acids chains (called peptides) that are of different length of amino acids.

The degree of hydrolysis may be highlighted that identifies the percentage of bonds which have been hydrolyzed, oftentimes ranging from 5 to 25%.  Shorter chains of amino acids are known to be digested and transported quicker into the bloodstream.  The faster it's in the blood, the faster it can get to your working muscles and the faster this happens, the thought is the more effective repair, recovery and growth will be.  A word of caution, however, exists regarding hydrolyzed protein products.  Just because it's hydrolyzed doesn't mean its high quality, because technically a company could make a hydrolysate from a whey protein concentrate that is only 50% protein.  So even though you would be ingesting shorter amino acids chains on the front end (because of the hydrolysis process), the fact that you were ingesting so much less protein to begin with would likely be superceded by a high protein quality protein source.  While no studies have directly addressed this suggestion, research support does suggest that extracellular amino acid levels is the driving force of muscle protein synthesis and those protein sources which contain more amino acids (isolates) would subsequently have a greater chance of maximizing the delivery of amino acids, resulting in increased muscle protein synthesis (Bohe et al. 2003; Cuthbertson et al. 2005). BioQuest's MyoZene has long been an excellent example of a hydrolyzed protein product with more than sufficient amino acid content to drive a high rate of protein synthesis.

Review Time
Protein is important for general health and critically important if you are stressing your body with exercise and you want it to grow.

Essential amino acids are an absolute prerequisite for growth of muscle proteins and complete protein sources contain all of the essential amino acids in the right balance.  Animal proteins are complete sources of protein.

Whey protein is an exceptionally high quality protein source found in milk and when compared to other protein sources it is often considered to be superior.

Processing techniques have resulted in varying levels of protein with isolates being greater than 90% protein by weight and concentrates ranging from very low protein amounts (30%) to potentially very high amounts (89%)

Hydrolyzing proteins results in shorter amino acid chains potentially speeding their delivery into the blood, but hydrolyzed proteins should come from isolate sources.

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Making The Choice
After arming yourself with the critical information you need to go about deciding what protein to choose, selecting a protein that will suit your wants and goals will hopefully be easier.  While I am aware of a few protein powders that meet all of these guidelines, the NytroWhey line from ProSource has provided an array of ingredients that are known across the industry as being of the highest quality.  Glanbia Nutritionals (USA) is one of the worldwide leading providers of whey proteins and companies which utilize their proteins often have the highest quality protein as a starting point.  NytroWhey Ultra Elite utilizes not one but three whey protein isolates produced by Glanbia: Provon, TherMax, and Leuvon.  

Provon is a highly purified form of whey protein isolate (approximately 90% protein) created by a process pioneered by Glanbia we discussed earlier, cross-flow microfiltration.  This product results in a protein powder very low in sugar and fat (less than 1% each) and a healthy dose of leucine (around five grams of leucine per serving).  In addition and encompassing an area I highlighted before, TherMax is a hydrolyzed whey protein isolate that contains a high percentage of small peptides (short chains of amino acids) that facilitates rapid transport from your gut to your blood to your muscle.  

Finally, Leuvon is the newest patented form of whey protein isolate to join the Glanbia line.  Leuvon utilizes a technology exclusive to Glanbia, cross flow nanofiltration and this new processing technique produces a protein with almost impossible to explain levels of leucine.  By selectively hydrolyzing the existing protein to only include peptides that contain leucine and then adding free leucine which forms additional bonds with these leucine-containing peptides, a final product is produced which contains 45 grams of leucine per 100 grams of protein.  All told, the leucine content of NytroWhey Ultra Elite is four times greater than typical leucine levels found in other whey protein sources.

Previously mentioned was the importance of the essential amino acids to stimulating the synthesis of muscle proteins.  Leucine is one of these essential amino acids and it also is one of the branched-chain amino acids that are the amino acids found in the highest concentration in skeletal muscle and have been shown in previous research to help with soreness and recovery (Coburn et al. 2006; Garlick 2005; Katsanos et al. 2006).   Specifically, a number of studies have suggested that a high concentration of leucine may be critically necessary to maximally stimulate the initiation of protein building in response to exercise or feeding (Bush et al. 2003; Suryawan et al. 2010).  While more research is needed to fully determine the impact of leucine, current research suggests that adequate amounts of leucine are needed multiple times throughout the day to ensure muscle building can occur (Katsanos et al. 2006; Suryawan et al. 2010).  In this respect, the leucine content of Leuvon and its inclusion in NytroWhey Ultra Elite should be viewed as a factor to tip the scales toward growth.  

Finally, NytroWhey Ultra Elite also contains a reasonable 12 gram dose of carbohydrates that helps with taste but also provides valuable fiber which helps to control the extent to which blood glucose and insulin change in response to its ingestion.  It also contains a mixture of medium-chain triglycerides, flax seed and conjugated linolenic acid (CLA); all sources of fat which research has shown to have positive effects on exercising individuals.  

Closing Thoughts And Your Short List
The purpose of this article was to highlight and review the biochemical and physiological factors that are impacted as a result of consuming a high quality protein product.  A number of protein sources exist with milk sources such as whey regularly demonstrating greater levels of quality due to higher levels of the essential and branched-chain amino acids.  A series of manufacturing steps can be performed, all of which can result in a higher quality product.  Additional ingredients such as leucine, low glycemic carbohydrate and healthy fats are all key ingredients which can be added to help with taste while also providing a more balanced, healthier and more effective product.  While other possibilities do exist, the commitment made by ProSource and particularly the arrangements they have made with Glanbia Nutritionals and their inclusion of all three whey protein isolates in their NytroWhey Ultra Elite product makes it a product that should appear on anyone's short list.

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