Optimal Protein Supplementation
The complete advantage of utilizing multi protein sources and amino acids for a new dimension of sports nutrition benefits!
From the everyday nutritionally inclined individual, to the maximum muscle inclined bodybuilder, adequate protein and amino acid ingestion is at the forefront of a sound nutritional program. The importance of moderate to high protein diets and amino acids has shown remarkable results in terms of maintaining a lean, muscular physique: aiding in fat loss, satiety, exercise performance and muscle recovery. In addition, recently moderate/ high protein diets have shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, maintain optimal hormone levels, and optimize liver and kidney function along with a host of other benefits.
Understanding that protein is important is one thing, but knowing what type of protein and amino acids to ingest is equally or even more important factor to consider.
What type of protein is the best for muscle growth, recovery, endurance, optimal health and well-being? Many studies have proven whey protein to be the best form to quickly enhance plasma amino acid content in the blood stream because of the fast digesting nature of whey. Other research has suggested that casein or other slower digesting proteins is optimal for staying anti-catabolic (less muscle wasting) throughout the day, something whey protein fails to provide.
The truth is that there is no one “best” source of protein for achieving health and fitness goals- in reality it is the combination of certain proteins that will yield optimal effects!
I hope to elaborate on this fact, touching on the type and digestibility of proteins, (utilizing the accurate, up to date method known as the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS)), the importance of including certain additional amino acids in the diet and the benefits of including unique protein fractions to achieving one’s overall fitness goals.
A. Protein Digestion- Finding a Balance
Protein powder usually comes in a single source of protein, with some companies preparing products with a couple different types of protein as opposed to one. The main types of protein that are used in powdered protein products include: whey protein concentrates, isolates and hydrolysate , micellar casein, milk protein concentrates and isolates, soy protein, and egg protein. There are other protein options but by generic basis, these types of protein dominate the industry.
There are a few differences among these types of protein:
1. Protein Digestibility/ Assimilation- That is, how much of the protein your body can actually use to build/maintain muscle tissue and support overall health. Known as the PDCAAS.
2. Amino Acid Profile- There are 22 total amino acids, 8 of which are essential and must be ingested through the diet. Protein sources have different amounts and types of amino acids. Animal protein (whey, casein, eggs, etc) contains an adequate amount of all amino acids essential for building tissue and maintaining life. However when looking at these proteins it is important to consider the concentration of certain amino acids. For example, whey protein is more dominate in branched chained amino acids; however, casein is more prevalent in glutamine.
3. Rate of Digestion- This is the rate at which the body can break down and absorb the type of protein. Every type of protein is broken down into individual amino acids, where it is then ready to be utilized in the blood stream.
The Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score is an excellent indicator of how the body will use protein. It is a more accurate determination for the utilization of protein in the body than the BV (biological value) measurement, which is more useful for nitrogen management in the body. Figure 1.0 illustrates popular protein sources and how well they are used in the body. A higher number indicates better assimilation.
The top three proteins one should be concerned with are whey protein, egg protein and casein protein. All of these have a perfect score in the PDCAAS, an amino acid score of 1.00 or higher and all together extremely favorable markers across other categories. Therefore, a protein powder beverage should contain forms of whey, egg and casein protein: in this manner it will provide the best possible results.
There are a few important points to consider when learning the differences between these sources. Whey proteins are digested rapidly in the body, yielding a quick influx of amino acids into the blood stream. Digestion of whey can begin as quickly as .5 hours and typically enters into the blood stream at the one hour mark. It remains in the blood stream 3-4 hours thereafter for usage before levels fall. Of these amino acids, L-leucine, L-valine, and L-isoleucine are more concentrated, which we will learn is important for a variety of fitness related benefits. However, all whey proteins aren’t digested and absorbed in the same manner. Whey isolates contain less fat and lactose than whey concentrate, and whey hydrolysates contain virtually no fat, carbs or other additives. Whey hydrolasates are basically predigested amino acids, the body requires little time to assimilate these for amino acid utilization. These are the purest and quickest absorbing whey there is. Therefore although all whey digests quickly, some sources are faster than others; with whey concentrate digesting fast, whey isolate faster, and hydrolysate the fastest. For the best effects, all types of whey should be used to ensure proper “quick release” amino acid content is reached in the blood.
Casein and Egg protein have distinct characteristics to be taken advantage of. Egg protein is digested at a medium pace compared to whey and casein; yielding a digestion rate of 2-3 hours, where plasma amino acid content is achieve for up to 5-6 hours thereafter before taping off. Egg is high in a variety of non-essential amino acids such as glycine and alanine and has been considered the ideal protein source for decades. Casein protein is the slowest digesting protein as it forms a gel in the stomach where it results in an amino acid “trickle” into the blood stream. Although Casein enters the blood stream at a similar time frame as whey, the level of amino acids in the blood is much lower. However, those levels are maintained for up to 8 hours before falling. Research has shown casein to be effective at maintaining a positive nitrogen balance in the blood stream better than any other source of protein out there- essential for staying anabolic. Casein is especially high in glutamine precursors, helping to speed recovery.
Figure 2.0 illustrates blood plasma leucine comparisons between whey and casein, an important indicator of protein synthesis and anabolic activity.
Figure 2.0: Both whey and casein enter the blood stream at similar times. The difference is the higher level of amino acids whey delivers within the two hour mark before tapering off to baseline around 4 hours. Casein delivers a lower amount of amino acids, however this is sustained through the 7 hour mark. For this reason, whey is said to be more beneficial for protein synthesis whereas casein more beneficial to staying anti-catabolic due to the trickling of amino acids over an extended period of time.
Combining these sources will yield superior effects than ingesting one particular protein source. Whey proteins are digested rapidly and yield a high concentrates of bioavailable amino acids quickly. Egg protein is digested at a medium pace and contains favorable concentrations of non-essential amino acids. Casein is digested slower and yields superior nitrogen retention abilities and glutamine concentrations. Expanding on this, each protein has a different amino acid concentration which ensures the body has a variety of key amino acids to fuel sports performance.
B. Additional Amino Acids: The Big 4 You Don’t Want To Miss!
Of the 22 amino acids required in the diet, certain amino acids rise on the list of having more desirable traits than others. Of those, leucine, isoleucine, valine and glutamine are among the few on top and should be included in an optimal protein beverage.
Branched Chained amino acids consist of Isoleucine, Leucine and Valine. These three amino acids have gotten more press in the media today than basically any other type of amino acid combination. The reason is simple: they directly correlate to increased muscle recovery and growth, increased fat loss, increased strength, more energy, and a higher anabolic environment in the body among other things.
Why is obtaining these separately important if they are already present in the protein sources? Research has shown ingesting additional BCAAs to have astonishing benefits:
• They are free form amino acids and get absorbed much more quickly than if they were part of a protein source. The body has to break down protein sources to yield the BCAAs and total assimilation and absorption may be comprised when obtaining the benefits BCAAs has to offer is desired.
• Of the three amino acids, Leucine turns on protein synthesis. In fact, if you don’t have enough of this in the body, protein synthesis is compromised because Leucine is the prime activator of the mTOR pathway, essential for muscle growth.
• When dieting or performing physical work for extended periods of time, the body can use BCAAs as pure muscle fuel. This is very important because it prevents the use of actual muscle tissue to breakdown and helps maintain optimal fat burning. In fact, using BCAAs during a workout leads to a greater ability to maintain strength levels. Making sure the body has enough of these amino acids will ensure this benefit.
In addition to BCAAs, additional glutamine is highly recommended for optimal performance. Glutamine makes up roughly 60% of free form amino acids in the body. A few key points about supplementing with glutamine:
• Promotes cell hydration and volume- speeding recovery and protein synthesis
• Prevents muscles from being burned (catabolic)
• Since glutamine is depleted during training, it replenishes levels lost.
• Has been shown to increase growth hormone by 400%
• Helps boost immune function and intestinal health
Clearly, glutamine is an essential requirement when maximum performance and health is desired.
C. Specialty Protein Fractions: Colostrum and Lactoferrin Benefits
Besides including the best sources types of protein sources and key amino acids, there are a couple types of protein fractions that should be utilized to obtain the ideal protein supplement: colostrum and lactoferrin.
Colostrum is a special type of milk protein that is only available for a short time after the calf is born. It is unique in the sense that it has a super concentration of antibodies, antioxidants, immunoglobulins, growth factors , vitamins, and minerals. In regard to sports nutrition, it provides the following benefits:
• Significant increase in lean body mass compared to whey
• Significantly boosts immunity and decreases recovery time
• Provides serum IGF-1 increases. Colostrum will naturally boost IGF-1 resulting in various performance and health benefits.
Colostrum has been proven to improve lean muscle growth and sprint capacity when mixed with whey protein. For this reason it works perfectly with a supplement that also includes whey protein. Oxidative stress is an area that needs to be managed to obtain maximum results at the gym or maintaining health. Colostrum is rich in antioxidants, including glutathione. Glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant currently known; providing excellent support for muscle recovery and growth.
Lactoferrin is a rare protein from cow’s milk, totaling .2 grams per liter of milk. Similar to colostrum, it provides astonishing benefits to immunity health and is known as one of the most powerful immune enhancing compounds in nature. With lactoferrin, one can expect:
• Powerful antixodant properties
• Antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal support
• Production of good flora in the gut for healthy digestion
• Provide anti-inflammatory support
An often overlooked aspect of sports nutrition is antioxidant and immunity support. Lactoferrin fills the gap by significantly aiding one’s immunity health so that intense training can be sustained. Without proper immune function, an athlete can forget about performing at their maximum as the body will not have the tools necessary to perform as intended.
Conclusion: Putting It All Together
Without question, a specific variety of proteins, amino acids and specialty protein fractions is the best choice for creating the ultimate protein beverage for sports performance and health. Using whey protein concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate for fast release; egg protein for medium release, and casein for slow release will absolutely fuel muscle the best way possible. Branched chained amino acids leucine, valine, and isoleucine along with glutamine should be supplemented and included due to their direct contribution to a healthier, leaner, more muscular physique. Colostrum and Lactoferrin are excellent immune and performance enhancers which should not be overlooked as well.