Let me start by stating what this article is NOT about. This article is not going to calculate the exact amount of protein your body needs or discuss the multitude of incredible food sources that provide excellent forms of protein. This article IS going to help you tell the difference between the primary types of protein supplements on the market; helping you to choose the protein supplement that fits your training, nutrition and goals. So lets get started.
Quick Overview – Why you need protein.
Protein makes up approximately 15-20% of your body weight, second only to water. Of that 15-20%, up to 70% of that protein is located within your skeletal muscle; making protein absolutely essential for muscle repair and muscle growth. In simplified but accurate reasoning, you need to consume more protein than your body utilizes on a daily basis in order to maintain or build muscle. If your training and daily activity breaks down more protein than you consume, you will lose lean muscle mass. Not good.
Do you absolutely need protein supplements? Well, no. However, protein supplements provide a convenient, cost-efficient, high-quality and calorie-adjustable means of reaching our daily requirements. So you don’t need them, but they certainly can make life easier and help you reach your goals faster.
Ignore the Extra Terminology
Don’t forget the obvious; protein supplements are made by companies, companies want to make money, companies need to make their product seem better than the competition’s, even if it is essentially the same. In the protein industry, the best way to do this is by stating the obvious and banking on the consumer’s lack of education. I’ve listed a couple of the most common examples below.
With all of the talk of steroids and performance enhancing drugs over the years, the term “anabolic” is strongly associated with the idea of extreme growth and results. Naturally, a whey protein that “dramatically increases our anabolic state” sounds far superior to plain old whey protein. The funny part is, all protein increases our anabolic state; it is just that one company decided to state it in bold letters with a lame explosion graphic behind it. Don’t be fooled.
2.)Gain up to X-lbs of Muscle
Remember how easy it was to get results when you first started working out? Have you ever noticed how fast people see results when they first start on a dedicated training program? That is because an untrained body makes very fast adaptations to sudden increases in training and workload. Those of us who have been training for years have to push and work incredibly hard for every single pound of lean body mass. Which group do you think protein manufacturers tend to use when conducting a “study” on the effectiveness of their product? Exactly. No experienced and well-trained athlete gains 8-12 pounds of muscle in a month, simply by using a different protein powder. The previously untrained athletes used in the majority of these studies could have easily gained 10 pounds in a month just from the sudden training stimulation and the nutrition program they were most certainly put on. Don’t be fooled by these numbers. If you see a protein that says “gain 8 pounds of muscle in 12 months”, you have likely found some honest research.
Focus on the Protein
Your primary concern should always be the type and quality of protein used in the supplement. Often times companies will add a number of other components to the mix that have very little evidence of actually helping, just to make the back side of the product look more impressive; try to ignore this or find a protein powder that avoids this all together. Additionally, keep in mind that a number of these extras may actually be working against your current goals; make sure you know why they have been added before buying.
YOUR PROTEIN CHOICES
Unfortunately, amino acids are often overlooked by many when it comes to choosing a growth, repair or recovery supplement. Keep in mind that any protein source you choose is constructed of amino acids and will be broken back down into the individual amino acids during the digestion process. So why not save your body a little time and take some pure aminos? If you are taking any of the other protein options, be sure to compare the amino acid profiles before making a decision.
Amino acids are a great pre, intra and post-workout option. Be sure to include some simple carbohydrates to drastically improve absorption.
Whey : WPC vs. WPI
Whey is essentially the king of the post-workout supplement world. Whey is fast digesting, carries a strong amino acid profile and boasts high biological value. Whey is a virtually essential protein for just about any fitness goal. While whey is great to take post-training to aid in the repair and growth of muscle, it is also a great way to raise your muscle-protecting nitrogen balance by taking some before and during your training. Lets take a deeper look into the various types of whey protein available.
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
The knock on WPC is that it contains less protein per gram and typically has more fat then some of the other options and is typically deemed inferior. The concentration of protein and the increased fat parts are true, but it is not always inferior. WPC often contains some compounds, lipids and other nutrients that aren’t found in the other forms of whey and seems to help increase IGF-1 and other growth factors. So don’t avoid a protein supplement just because it contains WPC, just be sure it is a high quality WPC, produced by quality company.
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
WPI is recognized by many as the superior form of Whey. WPI goes through a complicated process that removes all of the additional biological compounds, fats and lactose while preserving the quality of the protein. This process leaves you with a mixture that is as high as 96% protein. It is important to keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily make WPI inarguably superior to all other proteins, as much as the advertising claims it to be; it is great, but not perfect.
Casein protein supplements have rightfully become the know as the “night time protein.” Protein takes in the neighborhood of 3-4 hours to clear our bloodstream, which is part of the reasoning behind eating every 3-4 hours. However, this creates a nighttime dilemma. If you were to eat right before you went to sleep or drink a whey protein before bed, it would clear your system halfway through the night. Once the protein is cleared, you are now in a potentially catabolic state.
How does casein help avoid this? Casein protein coagulates and clots inside our stomachs, taking a much longer period of time to break down and digest. This increased digestion time slows the entire process and essentially feeds our body low doses of protein for up to 7 hours; helping to keep us anabolic and not catabolic.
Eating cottage cheese or meals with higher fat content right before bed can create the same slow-digesting effect induced by casein. However, high fat meals may interfere with your training goals and a thick chocolate shake is more appealing to many than cottage cheese.
Why not take the best of both worlds? Well, many companies now have products that claim to do just that. Above we have mentioned the two most popular types of protein on opposite ends of the digestion speed spectrum, but there are a great deal of other proteins available that fall in between. Most of these protein blends contain whey, casein and a few of the mid-speed proteins.
The idea is that the different proteins will digest and enter your bloodstream at different rates, creating a prolonged release of amino acids and maintaining a positive nitrogen balance. The directions will typically recommend that you drink some 3x per day so that you get a new dose as the previous serving is running out. This only makes sense to me if you aren’t eating any food at all. Otherwise you should be eating solid protein every 3-4 hours anyway. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in our diet; they do. Multi-speed proteins can serve as a great mid-morning or mid-afternoon does of protein. The Multi-speed proteins should also be viewed as multi-source protein; delivering a wide range of compounds and nutrients that aren’t available in a simple WPI or WPC.
Weight gainers should only be used by individuals that are having a difficult time eating enough calories during the day to actually gain any weight. Weight gainers are essentially a protein supplement that has a great deal of extra calories, carbohydrates and fats in the blend. With weight gainers you should try to stick with reputable brands and avoid the shady bottom-shelf “Super-Mega-50,000” weight gainers. Additionally, keep in mind that weight gainers cannot be the primary source of macronutrients in your diet; you need to eat and eat and eat if you are a hard gainer. The weight gainer will just help give you a little extra push.
Don’t just blindly select a protein off the shelf without knowing what you are actually buying and whether or not it actually fits in with your goals. A great deal of money goes into supplement marketing and packaging; so don’t be fooled by the model or the eye-catching colors. Read the ingredients and make an educated decision that will ultimately help you reach your goals faster.
By Lucas Irwin (unbreakablegear)