Is this the second most asked question in bodybuilding, after how do I get big? Is this the question that divides opinions and brings out the most hyper inflated trash talk?
Protein powder is the most used supplement (notice the word supplement– more on that later) in the fitness industry. Mainly because of it’s convenience, and secondly due to its marketing.
Protein powder is to bodybuilding what gasoline is to the motor vehicle. They cannot be separated.
Whey has a biological value (protein quality) of 105 which makes it higher than any other protein source. Whey is a protein source derived from milk. Milk is 20% whey and 80% casein (utilized in slow release protein powders).
Whey is absorbed in under an hour and make it the ideal protein source straight after a workout. It’s not too heavy on the stomach, you can take a shot and forget about it, knowing protein synthesis can kick in almost immediately, and you can grab some dinner in a hour or 2. Just like fuelling or topping up your car with oil to keep everything ticking over.
Casein goes through the digestive system at a much slower rate and can take up to 7 hours to fully release it’s amino acid content. This makes it an excellent source of protein overnight and between meals during the day to keep your protein ratios topped up.
Casein is known for it’s anti-catabolic characteristics, it is not directly thought to be responsible for muscle protein synthesis (which creates muscle mass), but it has the wonderful effect of stopping your existing muscle mass from breaking down.
Protein powder is one of the most researched supplements in existence. Each week there is a new bioavailable strand of protein being introduced that promises to push the boundaries of deliverability, and athletic performance.
Someone right now is at the counter of a supplement shack asking what’s the best protein powder for building muscle. No doubt its in the clerks best interests to point you to the latest science backed protein snack that just happens to have it’s logo emblazoned across their tee.
Then there’s the type of protein, when you need to take it, how much… ask the sales guy and you can come out with 3 different boxes…of slow release, fast release, peptide enhanced amino acid-condensed-instantaneous-vegetable and beef flavoured predigested whey. Confused? Who wouldn’t be.
Types Of Protein Powder
- Whey Protein
- Casein Protein
- Hemp Protein
- Pea Protein
- Soy Protein
- Rice Protein
Whey is the king of protein powders. Casein is second. Casein is considered slow release so it is recommended to be taken when you are going to go long periods without eating, usually before bed, or when you are fasting it’s considered useful to prevent muscle breakdown (atrophy).
Casein utilizes a drip feed approach and whey starts to process as soon as you consume it.
Whey and Casein have the highest amino acid content (building blocks of life – used to not only build muscle but to also transport oxygen through the bloodstream and improve the immune system) and are the best at stimulating protein synthesis.
If you can’t take whey or casein (vegan, dairy or lactose intolerant) then you have the choice of plant based protein powders.
Whey is the most popular because it is fast acting and quick to digest- but you know living in gym culture means your body needs a protein shake right after you finish the last rep of your workout.
Not necessarily. It doesn’t always need it immediately as right now while you are reading this your body is making protein. It depends on how much protein you have ate that day and whether you had protein as part of a preworkout meal, or if you are on a fasted state.
If you are fasting it makes perfect sense to have a whey shake as soon as your workout ends, so you don’t eat into your existing muscle mass. Add some simple carbs in with it to spike those insulin levels to replenish glycogen stores (glycogen resynthesis).
Protein is called the build blocks of life for a reason. Protein synthesis orders proteins to be made in the body with a code of commands sent by our DNA which tells our mRNA enzymes to leave the nucleus and attach to ribosomes which create protein.
This process relies heavily on amino acids to create the proteins. tRNA brings all the various amino acids it has been signalled to retrieve by the mRNA enzymes. DNA acts like a computer system which is using an email program to send messages to individual enzymes. You go here, you bind to that molecule, ignore that one, grab these molecules…
How does the enzymes know which amino acids to collect? They read the triplet code, or as it is scientifically known as, the codon. The 3 letters each amino acid is coded with.
And some people think God the greatest software designer of all doesn’t exist. Doesn’t sound like we were created by a completely random collision of gases and molecules. As the body and Newton’s Third Law confirms – no reaction can occur in the body or life without an opposite reaction.
Protein synthesis is a complicated chemical process which allows our bodies to stay in a homeostatic (self-regulating) state. Proteins are made to maintain life. If protein synthesis didn’t occur, you would cease to be a living organism.
You Body is Constantly Making Protein
Does It Matter What Time Of The Day You Consume Protein?
Nutrient timing became really popular in recent years. It sold a few ebooks and online courses and got some bodybuilding “thought leaders” a few more subscribers on YouTube, but heck this is bodybuilding, the wild west, what’s here today and new- is revisited and disproved tomorrow.
This research debunks the anabolic window myth which basically suggests protein and carbohydrates should be consumed inside a 1-3 hour post workout window.
Some take this to higher extremes of paranoia consuming a shake as soon as they complete their last barbell curl fearing complete and utter muscle failure.
If you are performing intermittent fasting, are on a calorie restrictive weight loss diet, trying a buckwheat diet, or are training first thing in the morning prior to breakfast, it does make sense to have a shake or a meal as close to the end of your training as possible.
Common sense must prevail. If your goal is to increase muscle mass in the gym with progressive resistance training and diet or cut up for a show (which normally means holding onto muscle mass and lowering body fat) and you have already consumed protein that day, you may not need an instant protein hit immediately post workout.
Your body will most likely be still converting protein from previous meals to use to fuel and repair muscle building. But you need to make sure you are hitting your bodies required macros (protein, carbohydrate and fat intake).
If you aren’t consuming enough protein and at the right time of day your body can revert to a catabolic state, where muscle tissue is actually broken down and used to fuel your body, and not for enlarging your muscle mass.
NIGHT TIME FUEL WHICH PREVENTS MUSCLE BREAKDOWN:
A slow digesting protein like casein can play an integral part in stopping your body from breaking down muscle to use as fuel.
You can skyrocket your protein balance and give your body the best chance to build muscle and recover if you add slow digesting protein sources to your diet. It is especially effective at night as it can take the body 7 hours to digest and synthesize casein protein.
If you want to find out how casein can also play an integral part in your protein supplementation read it on this article section.
How Many Grams of Protein Does a Bodybuilder Need?
Multiple studies found that bodybuilders need a higher amount of protein than sedentary individuals as they are actually targeting their muscles with intensive resistance loads to make them bigger.
This 2011 government study shows you need between 1.2-1.8 g of protein per KG (2.2 lbs) of bodyweight. So if you weigh 200 pounds you will need between 109 to 163 grams of protein per day.
Though realistically that is not likely to maintain muscle mass and prevent muscle breakdown (catabolism) for anyone who is working really hard in the gym.
1.8 g of protein per pound of bodyweight was recommended in this 2015 study. Bodybuilders in the know usually stick to this ratio, anymore and your body will have a hard time processing it.
This is 2-3 times the recommended amount in the 2011 government study, but it is more geared towards bodybuilders who actively target their muscles, and in particular the muscle breakdown and repair process is dramatically enhanced with protein supplementation.
Whey Isolate vs Whey Concentrate
Confusingly there are two different types of whey to contend with, concentrate and isolate. Isolate contains less lactose (and less sugar and fats), which can be the cause of stomach upsets.
The essential amino acid content is virtually the same in whey and isolate protein, after all they are both made from milk.
Isolate has a slightly higher protein content, usually 90% and has less fats and carbohydrates. The figures are nominal, whey concentrate per 100g is 80% protein and although brands differ the average whey powder has 1.5 grams of fat and 3.5g of carbohydrates.
Concentrate can have 3.5g of lactose and Isolate usually only has 1g.
Should You Buy Whey Isolate or Concentrate?
Whey concentrate is a lot more popular than isolate. Isolate is marketed as a slow release protein not designed for immediately after training – which after 25 years of going to the gym seems to be the most popular time for protein consumption.
Whey Isolate is more expensive, but in truth most protein should come from your diet from food and complete protein sources. Paying more just to get a extra gram or 2 of protein won’t make a difference.
If you were really that fussed you’d dip your scoop back into the protein box again.
Getting most of your protein intake from whey powder is not advisable. Not only will you and the people close to you have to live with your bloating and flatulence issues, there is too much sugars, thickeners and artificial flavors added to protein powder.
Not forgetting you may not be able to tolerate the added vitamins and minerals, which could possibly lead to toxicity.
Which Whey is The Right Way?
Whey Protein can be refined into 3 categories
- Whey Concentrate (high quality or low quality ratios, usually 70-80% shockingly some brands have 20%)
- Whey Isolate (next stage of refinement-higher quality usually 90% pure protein + more expensive)
- Whey hydrolysate (easiest to digest, 0 lactose, up to 94% protein)
If you have issues with lactose, isolate has less lactose than concentrate. Hydrolysate has none.
Protein For Fat Loss Myths
Diet protein shakes are heavily targeted towards anyone on fat loss diets, which at any point in time seems to be about 25% of the world’s population.
This is crazy, considering how high the sugar intake is in these low fat protein drinks, which can spike blood insulin which can lead ironically to weight gain and diabetes.
Protein is a sports nutrition supplement but forget about protein isolates, protein concentrates and protein hydrolysates, the best source of protein is food.
No matter what type of body composition you are trying to achieve or maintain, consuming protein straight from a powder is not good.
A supplement is an addon, and as such should not be the mainstay of your diet. Powders do not have the same nutritional compounds as whole foods.
Can You Ditch Whey For Rapidly Digesting Free Essential Amino Acids?
What about getting rid of whey and replacing it with free essential amino acids like l-glutamine and taurine, leucine or l-carnitine? Essential amino acids are great for topping up your existing macros but their downside is they are so rapidly absorbed into the blood that they are not generally utilized for protein synthesis.
Whey on the other hand has slower digesting amino acids. These acids are not oxidised in the liver like essential amino acids, which means more of them are delivered onto the protein synthesis stage, which is responsible for anabolism, aka muscle building.
Whey also contains several amino acids, including branched-chain amino acids. The property of whey ensures that these amino acids survive longer as they aren’t absorbed into the blood immediately (can take up to an hour to saturate bloodstream). This makes whey protein good at sustaining protein synthesis over a longer period than freeform essential amino acids.
However, like a sports car needs to be fuelled with high octane gasoline, if you add EAAs to your protein shake straight after your workout, you can turbocharge the protein synthesis process.
You can kick-start it straight away with the combination of the rapidly digesting EAAS and have the process sustained longer with the slower released branched-chain and non-essential and conditionally essential amino acid profiles inherent in whey.
Maximum efficiency and growth potential.
Alarming Levels of Toxicity In Protein Powders
A not for profit group called Clean Label Project published a damning report about the toxicity levels in a lot of leading protein brands. See it here.
They analyzed 134 protein supplements from 52 separate brands. They were checking the levels of contaminants that included heavy metals, pesticides, BPA and other contaminants that have been linked to loads of adverse health conditions, not least cancer.
Are we really living after the year 2000 and they are still putting this crap in our food, well supplements at least?
Do you actually or can you trust anybody in the supplement industry?
I like to treat supplement companies with a pinch of salt. I consume a whey concentrate shake occasionally after I train, if I know I won’t eat for a long period, or If i’m training during lunch break and have errands to run.
I no longer wake up in the morning and consume a protein shake or take 4-5 scoops a day like I did 20 years ago. Not only is this a waste of money, it’s just so ineffective and makes you feel like crap.