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The Best Protein Powder

Quick Summary Points

  • Protein is absolutely critical for muscle growth and muscle recovery
  • Protein requirements differ, but if you're training, aim to have 1.5g-2g/kg of body weight
  • A range of different protein supplements exist including dairy (whey and casein), soy and egg to name a few
  • Protein can be taken before, during and after a workout as well as throughout the day
  • Aim to consume enough protein, either from food or supplements throughout the day at regular intervals to maximise muscle protein synthesis
  • If in doubt, purchase a 100% blended whey protein, which will cater for the majority of trainers

Protein For Muscle Growth

The maintenance of a positive nitrogen balance is crucial to a bodybuilder’s success in gaining lean muscle. This can only be achieved by the proper selection and adequate intake of protein. Nitrogen balance is where nitrogen input equals output. To be in an anabolic state, bodybuilders require a positive nitrogen balance, whereby input exceeds output, or excretion. This puts the bodybuilder in the best possible position to grow muscle. A diet deficient in protein would put the bodybuilder in a negative nitrogen state, where muscle tissue would be catabolised to extract amino acids.

Amino Acids Are The Building Blocks of Protein

Whilst non-essential amino acids can be made by the body, essential aminos must be obtained from the diet. Without these, your protein synthesis and resultant muscle growth will be compromised. The essential amino acids are: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Trytophan and Valine. The non-essential amino acids are: Alanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Aspartic Acid, Cysteine (Cystine), Glutamic Acid, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine and Tyrosine.

Protein For Power

Contradictory to common perception, skeletal tissue is only 20% protein. The rest is mainly water. Nonstructural or plasma proteins (e.g. enzymes, antibodies, lipoproteins, and hormones) constitute a small proportion of the body’s protein, but are very powerful and adversely affected by poor nutrition.

Comparing Protein Powders

Proteins are compared by their Biological Value (BV), a measure of the percentage of protein absorbed into the blood after oral consumption, but not excreted. Animal products are considered high quality proteins as they score better on this scale when compared to plant-based proteins. As a result, animal derived proteins such as egg, milk, casein and whey are considered proteins of choice by non-vegetarian bodybuilders. Plant based proteins that are deficient in one or more essential amino acid are considered low quality proteins. These tend to be low in lysine, methionine or cysteine. Soy is the highest quality of plant proteins. For bodybuilders, tissue repair and maintenance of a positive nitrogen balance is the main focus of protein consumption. For athletes, protein requirements are estimated at 1.5 to 2 g/kg of body weight, assuming adequate caloric intake and a diet with at least 65% of protein with a high Biological Value.1

Types of Protein Powders For Athletes & Bodybuilders

Whey Proteins include Whey Protein Concentrate and Whey Protein Isolate, and both have high BVs. Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) has a high protein, high amino acid content, and high BV, and also contains protein fractions. The BV of a dietary protein is determined by the amount and proportion of essential amino acids it provides.2 Some processing techniques denature whey and destroy fractions. WPC is typically higher in protein fractions due mostly to less processing than WPI. Whey makes a great source with its high amino acid content and protein fractions. As a fast release protein, it will quickly supply amino acids to your muscles to stimulate muscle growth, and prevent catabolism (muscle breakdown). This makes whey a great post-workout protein source, as it will quickly replenish depleted amino acid levels.3 The WPIs are relatively higher in Biological Value than the WPC as many of the fats & lactose are removed leaving a higher percentage of amino acids & protein per gram. WPIs are generally more expensive the other forms of proteins, so keep this form of protein to before and after training. Choose a Hydrolysed WPI for even faster absorption than straight WPI.

  • Egg Protein: slower in release than whey, but a good complement for whey.
  • Soy Proteins: a good option for vegans. Beware that this protein has a lower BV than the animal derived options.
  • Milk Proteins (such as Calcium Casseinate/Miscellar Casein) are high BV protein sources that are slowly released into the blood stream. Calcium Casseinate is the protein in normal milk and dairy products. Miscellar casein, is the natural, undenatured form of casein, separated by chemical-free ultrafiltration, providing a steady release of amino acids into the blood stream, perfect for a long lasting anti-catabolic protein.4

Choose a Protein Supplement For Your Needs

Protein supplements come in many forms. To ensure that you are getting your 5-6 meals a day, a protein powder can help. You can use some protein powders as meal replacements.Choose slower release options such as whey blends or Egg Protein. Protein bars can also ensure adequate protein intake, however check the nutritional panels to ensure that you are selecting one that is not only high in protein, but also low in saturated fat. If you are a hard gainer, a weight gainer protein, (with a higher ratio of carbs) should be your choice.

What Protein Supplement to Take & When

Your protein intake must be staggered throughout the day to deliver a steady supply of amino acids to the blood and to provide an ample muscle-building state. First thing in the morning, blood amino acid levels are low, from being in a rested state (i.e. sleep). As you are at risk of being in a catabolic state at this time, you want to replenish amino acids to get back to a positive nitrogen balance, and shift from being catabolic to anabolic. A supplement containing fast, medium and slow release proteins such as whey (WPC and WPI), soy, and casein will provide an infusion of amino acids to get you back into nitrogen balance and will let you maintain high blood amino acid levels until your next meal.

Protein Powders Pre-Workout

Pre-workout consume a hydrolysed WPI/carbohydrate protein drink prior to your workout, to raise blood glucose and insulin levels.

Protein Powder Intra-Workout

Consume a protein/carbohydrate supplement during your workout to limit protein degradation. Protein has been shown to extend exercise endurance upon cessation of exercise. The protein of choice is a hydrolysed WPI because it is rapidly absorbed and contains all the essential amino acids, as well as a high percentage of leucine and glutamine, two amino acids that are used extensively during sustained exercise.5

Post Workout Protein

Protein synthesis is at its best after you train. For fastest protein absorption, consume a hydrolysed Whey Protein Isolate at this time. Another option is a Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) which also has a high percentage of protein, with a low fat and lactose content, although a hydrolysed Whey Protein is preferable. In the first 4 hours after a workout, and the next 16-18 hours, an essential part of muscle growth is the maintenance of a positive nitrogen balance. Because WPI is fast acting and the effects of WPC is more sustained, take a supplement snack composed of WPI and WPC.6

Nite Time Protein

Night time a protein drink, made from a miscellar casein, lower in carbohydrates and fat, is superior for many reasons. By comparison, food increases stomach acidity, not good for bedtime as it may result in heartburn. The correct shake can provide lower insulin levels, increase glucogen levels to stimulate the conversion of stored triglycerides into usable fatty acids for body-fat reduction, suppressed somatostin for more efficient GH release, and sustained release of amino acids. A slow release protein before bed helps prevent catabolism during the hours of fasting while you sleep.7

Why Take Protein Powder?

Protein is essential to maintain a positive nitrogen balance to help you add quality muscle to your physique. The selection of the right protein at the right time can enhance your ability to keep your levels of amino acids at optimal levels, and minimise the risk of a nitrogen deficit, which is a catabolic state. It may seem more expensive to go out and buy the main types of protein products, that is a hydrolysed WPI for pre and post training, a whey protein blend for in the morning and a casein protein for before bed. By using the above combination of protein varieties, you may enhance your body’s ability to have the right degree of protein absorption at the right time. You can also save money in the long run. WPI tends to be more expensive, so using the less expensive options at the other times will not only help you get the most appropriate levels of protein synthesis at the right time, but also be smarter on your budget. Protein supplements are best purchased in larger tubs, so that they are cheaper per serve. Protein supplements can offer a quick and convenient alternative to cooking, preparing and sitting down to eat balanced meals due to busy schedules.

1 Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements, Jose Antonio, PhD, Douglas Kalman, Phd, RD, Jeffrey R. Stout, PhD, Mike Greenwood, PhD, Darryn S. Willoughby, PhD, G. Gregory Haff PhD., p. 206
Ibid., p. 242
Nutrient Timing by John Ivy, Ph.D., and Robert Portman, Ph.D., p. 44 and 51
Ibid, p. 79
Macrobiotic Nutrition – Priming Your Body TO Build Muscle and Burn Fat by Gerard Dente with Gerard Hopkins, p. 59
Nutrient Timing by John Ivy, Ph.D., and Robert Portman, Ph.D., p. 44
Macrobiotic Nutrition – Priming Your Body TO Build Muscle and Burn Fat by Gerard Dente with Gerard Hopkins, p. 59

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