By: Rehan Jalali, C.S.N.
Protein for an athlete or fitness enthusiast is like a strong arm on a quarterback—absolutely necessary. Protein is the base nutrient for building lean muscle as well as a host of other positive functions. The fact is you must get adequate protein intake daily otherwise you may be compromising lean muscle and hence your looks and fitness results—And frankly, who wants to really compromise their looks and/or exercise performance!
Protein is one of the key macronutrients just like carbohydrates and fats. Protein has so many benefits to someone who is exercising and even to sedentary individuals. It has been shown to increase lean body mass, enhance immune function, lower muscle breakdown secondary to weight training, and even increase strength. One of the primary uses of protein in the body is to synthesize structural proteins such as muscle, skin and hair. Protein is also used to synthesize peptide hormones such as growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and insulin. Additionally, protein is used to synthesize key enzymes and other transport proteins essential to normal bodily function. Proteins are made up of sub-units called amino acids. There are essential (your body cannot make these) and non-essential (your body can make these endogenously) amino acids. Basically, when muscle protein synthesis is greater than muscle protein breakdown, muscle hypertrophy (growth) can occur due to the positive net protein balance.
I’m not trying to beat a dead horse here, but protein is a fundamental nutrient and therefore is vitally important for everyone to consume. I guess that helps explain the popularity of protein powders and high protein diets. Most people cannot consume the amount of protein from whole foods that is necessary for optimal body function when involved in weight training or an exercise regimen. Remember, there is a big difference between minimal and optimal. Studies by Lemon and associates have shown that individuals who exercise have a much greater protein requirement than sedentary individuals. A sound recommendation for hard training athletes is at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily (so if you weigh 200 lbs, try and consume 200 grams of protein throughout the day). This is where protein powders can save the day. They are convenient, provide a good source of protein, may even help suppress appetite, and they actually taste delicious nowadays thanks to advanced flavor technologies.
The Top Protein Players
Whey protein, a milk derivative, is by far the most popular protein on the market. Whey protein comes in various forms like concentrate and the better isolate form. Whey protein concentrate is a slightly lower grade whey protein that does not provide the benefits of microfractions and is usually a little higher in fat and lactose. Whey protein has a very high biological value which means it’s most readily utilized by human muscle tissue thus making it a very fast absorbed protein (hence anabolic). There are some advanced procedures (like cross flow microfiltration) that lead to a higher quality whey with added benefits over ion-exchange whey isolate in preserving key microfractions which are essential to its benefits. Whey protein isolate that is not heat treated contains these key microfractions like alpha lactalbumin and glycomacropeptides which can both positively support immune function. Some of the microfractions or growth factors found in whey protein can even enhance IGF-1 levels which can increase lean muscle mass—good news for hard training athletes! Whey peptides (chains of amino acids) may be better absorbed due to the peptide transport system in the gut. You might notice whey peptides listed in the protein blend of products.
BENEFITS: Quality whey protein isolate provides key microfractions discussed previously, has a very high concentration of BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids including L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-Valine) which can positively effect lean muscle mass and lower muscle breakdown (whey protein contains about 25% BCAA’s—the highest of any protein source), enhances glutathione levels in the body (glutathione is the body’s most powerful natural anti-oxidant and is a key part of the immune system), features high digestibility and absorption rate, and contains virtually no lactose and very low fat. Whey also contains about 50% essential amino acids which recent research has shown are vital for optimal muscle recovery and supporting lean muscle mass. New research even shows that whey can help with fat loss (especially belly fat), preserve muscle while dieting, boost exercise performance, and even suppress appetite due to its modification of CCK (cholecystokinin). New research is showing us some amazing things about the many benefits of whey protein. Whey protein has been shown to increase bone health while dieting. Now here’s something which will be music to your ears--Whey protein may actually have direct effects on fat loss. There seems to be a metabolic shift from muscle to fat loss with whey protein. Whey protein may help lower weight regain after weight loss. What’s really interesting is that whey protein may have targeted effects on the fat cells themselves. Key fat causing enzyme suppression and decreases in abdominal fat have been seen with whey protein. Other research shows that whey protein isolate supplementation can boost the hypertrophic effects of resistance exercise, especially when the whey protein intake occurs around the time of exercise (before and after). Protein timing is critical! Some other interesting research showed that whey protein supplementation may modify myostatin and gene expression secondary to resistance exercise. Translation—you will get larger and more muscular by taking whey protein before and after training. Now some of you out there might think that whey protein really does its magic due to its essential amino acid content only. However, a study from Arizona State University basically counteracts that idea. This study published in the Nutrition Research Journal compared whey protein to essential amino acids in terms of improving skeletal muscle protein. The results were that whey protein improved skeletal muscle protein way beyond that of the essential amino acids. According to published research in the European Journal of Public Health, supplementation with whey protein contributes to the increase of muscle mass, hypertrophy, and strength in athletes.
BEST USES: Due to its quick absorption, whey protein is excellent to take before or even right after a hard workout. It may even stimulate insulin response so it would be even more beneficial after a workout. It also works as a between meal snack for a protein boost in the middle of the day.
Casein is also a milk derived protein and comes in various forms including calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate, and micellar casein. Casein has a reputation for being the “anti-catabolic” protein and has some advantages over whey. First, casein is absorbed more slowly and can provide a sustained release of amino acids into the blood stream over a longer period of time. It forms a gel in the stomach and the amino acids are extracted more slowly and may be better absorbed over the long run. There are a few good studies that confirm the benefits of casein over whey including the famous Boire study which showed casein’s powerful ability to reduce muscle breakdown and increase protein synthesis and another study in police officers which showed
that the special casein group lost more body fat, gained more lean muscle mass, and had greater strength increases than the whey protein group. The authors of the study attributed it to the anti-catabolic effects of the peptides (chains of amino acids) found naturally in casein. Peptides are absorbed better than amino acids due to peptide transport systems in the gut. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that micellar casein actually provided a positive nitrogen balance and elevated amino acids for a whopping 8 hours. Now that’s what I call a protein that keeps working for you—this is not a lazy protein!
BENEFITS: It is slowly absorbed so there is a longer release of amino acids into the bloodstream and it has a very high glutamine content (especially in the better absorbed peptide form). Micellar casein (a higher quality form) which is undenatured (not heat treated) contains some milk fractions which can boost immune function and increase growth factors in the body.
BEST USES: As a pre-bedtime drink to lower muscle breakdown during sleep or for breakfast to provide a steady stream of amino acids in the morning.
Milk Protein Isolate
This protein contains both whey and casein. Total milk protein has been shown in research to provide amino acids and lower muscle breakdown for up to 8 hours. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the researchers stated that “our findings revealed that even when balanced quantities of total protein and energy are consumed that milk proteins are more effective in stimulating amino acid uptake and net protein deposition in skeletal muscle after resistance exercise than are hydrolyzed soy proteins.”
Egg Albumin (Egg white protein)
This is basically egg white protein that has a high biological value which means its absorbed and utilized well in the body. It is an excellent source of amino acids. I would consider it the “regular Joe” protein that gets the job done. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that egg protein maximally stimulated muscle protein synthesis after resistance training. The researchers think this is related to higher amino acid availability. This is a great protein to take before bedtime for optimal repair and anabolic recovery.
Unconventional Alternative Protein Sources:
Pea Protein - For all you vegans in the house, this protein can help you get key amino acids and preserve lean muscle mass. It’s about 90% protein and contains good amounts of Arginine, BCAA’s, and even L-glutamine. If you have any milk allergies and can’t tolerate milk-based proteins, then pea could be a way to go. Some clinical research shows it may lower blood pressure and can also have a moderate antioxidant effect.
Hemp Protein – Let me start by saying NO you can’t smoke it! This is an animal by-product free protein that also has a good amount of fiber and essential fatty acids in it (especially omega 3 fatty acids). It is only about 50% protein but is slowly absorbed due to its fiber content. It would be used much like casein since they are both slow released proteins.
Buckwheat protein – This is basically a low fast, low carb protein extract from a fruit seed. It is a slow released protein and is good for vegan’s or individuals who cannot tolerate milk or soy-based proteins.
Brown Rice Protein – As the name suggests, this is extracted from brown rice. It happens to contain a large amount of L-arginine which is good for muscle pump and blood flow. This might be a good protein to take before a workout. Obviously, this is also a vegetarian friendly source of protein.
When designing an optimum nutrition program, it is important to consider the type of protein to take at certain times during the day to maximize results!
For example, Pre-bedtime you would want to take a protein blend that includes Whey, casein, and egg protein –This blend of slow, medium, and fast absorbing proteins will give you a greater nitrogen balance and amino acid release over a longer period of time while you sleep (7-8 hours). This can also enhance tissue repair and muscle building so you can flex harder on Instagram! Pro-Night from SNAC fits the bill here perfectly.
In the morning you would want to take a protein blend along with some carbs almost like a meal replacement. A great “morning combo” would be one scoop of ProGlycosyn mixed with a scoop of Pro-Night! This way you get the protein blend along with some carbs and extra key amino acids like L-glutamine and L-arginine for maximum anabolic effects!
And finally post-workout is a critical time of the day! This is the time to replenish depleted muscles asap! You would want to take a very quick absorbing protein at this time along with some fast-absorbing sugar (like dextrose) for glycogen replenishment. ProGlycosyn is perfect for post workout as it also includes quick absorbing Whey protein plus extra L-glutamine for better recovery and immune health as well as L-arginine which stimulates nitric oxide. Plus, it includes a very absorbable form of creatine and the best time to take creatine is after a workout for maximum absorption! Numerous studies show the benefits of post-workout whey protein intake in terms of improving performance in athletes and enhancing body composition. And some studies including one published in the Journal of exercise nutrition and biochemistry suggest that the composition and timing of protein intake is more important than the total amount.
Pro-night and ProGlycosyn can upgrade your protein game and take your fitness and performance results to the next level! I also highly recommend the SNAC Fighter Training Stack.
To sum it all up, if you’re not taking enough protein, the right type of protein or the right timing for the protein, you are definitely not maximizing your efforts in the gym.
PROTEIN MYTHS EXPOSED:
MYTH: Taking too much protein daily in healthy people can be damaging to the kidneys.
FACT: There are no research studies that show any adverse effect to the kidneys of healthy people when consuming higher levels of protein daily, even in excessive amounts. Excess protein that the body cannot use is broken down and excreted out or in very rare cases is converted to fat. The only studies that show adverse effect to the kidneys with large intakes of protein daily are in people who have only one kidney. Again, exercising individuals need more protein. NOTE: For exercising individuals it is important to drink plenty of water daily.
MYTH: You can only absorb 30 grams of protein in one sitting.
FACT: The body has the ability to absorb and utilize more than 30 grams of protein per sitting. This varies from person to person, but research studies have used upwards of 40 grams of protein per sitting to stimulate muscle growth. Again, hard training athletes need plenty of protein to stimulate lean muscle mass and lower muscle breakdown. This requires that they consume more than 30 grams of protein in one sitting in many cases.
MYTH: You should only take protein by itself and never take it with carbohydrates.
FACT: This couldn’t be further from the truth. You see, combining protein with carbohydrates as found in ProGlycosyn has several significant benefits. One is that the protein actually lowers the glycemic index or the rate at which the carbohydrate is absorbed and thereby can reduce fat storage that may occur if the carbohydrate was consumed by itself (due to insulin release). Two, since carbohydrate intake does stimulate the hormone insulin, the protein (amino acids specifically) can be transported at a greater rate into muscle cells where they are needed most for muscle building. You see, insulin helps transport carbohydrates and amino acids into muscle tissue, but excess insulin production can also lead to fat storage. The only time a protein drink should be taken by itself is before bedtime to lower muscle breakdown during sleep. As mentioned, a protein blend like Pro-Night is ideal at this time.
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