If there is one supplement that should clutter every bodybuilders counter space, it should be a jug or two of high quality protein powder. This is based on the simple fact that protein supplements have been proven time and time again to boost muscle building, decrease fat, and increase strength when combined with heavy resistance training.
In the bodybuilding world, milk based (whey and casein) protein powders have received the greatest amount of research support, thus it stands to reason why they are the best selling protein supplements offered today. Although both whey and casein have many benefits, there are a few things that must be considered in order to get the best muscular gains for your buck. In the following article, we address five important areas for you to consider when choosing the "what" and "when" in milk based protein supplementation.
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein isolate (WPI) is produced from the proteins found in milk. With greater than 90% purity, it represents the purest of all protein products on the market. Furthermore, WPI contains approximately 0.5% fat and 0.5% lactose, so it is great for those who limit fat intake and/or those who are lactose intolerant. WPI digests relatively rapidly, which leads to robust increases in protein synthesis.
Amino Acid Profile
High-quality whey protein isolate is produced using cross-flow microfiltration (CFM), this retains a superior amino acid profile that contains an abundance of 8 essential amino acids, including an exceptionally high level of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). An absolutely exceptional WPI, such as that found in NytroWhey Ultra Elite, will have been processed to yield extremely low-molecular-weight di- and tripeptides, sufficient for triggering almost instantaneous aminoacidemia (flooding of amino acids into the blood).
WPI's absorption rate makes it ideal as a pre-workout supplement. Even taking as little as 20 grams before working out will ensure an abundance of important BCAAs are supplied throughout your training session, thus maintaining anabolism and attenuating catabolism.
Studies show that the rate at which amino acids enter the blood, immediately after a bout of resistance training, drives the level of anabolism in the body. WPI ingestion has been shown to cause hyperaminoacidemia after exercise, leading to increased protein synthesis. The only better choice, in a strict post-workout sense, is whey protein hydrolysate (below) because of its even faster rate of digestion.
Whey protein isolate has a medium digestion speed, making it the ideal daytime protein supplement, especially between meals. Its high bioavailability delivers muscle building proteins and its easy absorption minimizes fullness and bloating, guaranteeing your muscle needs are met without the chance of missing a meal.
The amino acids in whey protein isolate are absorbed at a rate of about 8 to 10 grams per hour. So if you consume 40 grams before bed, you will only be feeding your muscle for about 4hrs while you sleep. This isn't bad, but micellar casein is better (see below)!
Whey Protein Hydrolysate
Whey protein hydrolysate (WPH) is made from WPI by a pre-digestion process. This processing requires special enzymes that break down (hydrolyze) the protein, resulting in the production of peptide fractions (short chains of amino acids). These fractions are low molecular weight and thus pass through digestion quickly. In fact, small Di- and tri-peptides absorb faster than any other protein or amino acid supplement available. As a result of rapid absorption, WPH ingestion pushes water into muscle cells (cell volumizing), speeds recovery, and signals for increased anabolic drive. At the cutting edge of this science lies a product like BioQuest's MyoZene, which contains a rare and highly specialized hydrolysate content with a unique capacity for speeding aminos and other growth factors to muscle tissue well within the short one-to-two hour anabolic window after your workout. How unique, you ask? Well, in a landmark brand-specific study presented at the prestigious American College of Sports Medicine, MyoZene-supplementing athletes experienced gains of 24% in strength/muscle endurance at the mid-point of the 30-day study, and 32% at the end of the study.
Amino Acid Profile
High-quality products utilize advanced enzymatic degradation and thus retain the superior amino acid profile of the WPI starting product.
The very rapid and easy absorption of WPH make this a great choice before training. Studies have shown that sustaining high levels of blood amino acids while working out promotes greater muscle growth and faster recovery.
WPH is the ultimate post-workout protein supplement. Depending on the level of hydrolysis, WPH absorbs much faster than any other source of protein, thus signaling for greater anabolic drive. In addition, since it is pre-digested, you will note very little stomach discomfort or bloating, which means you can eat a healthy mean soon after ingestion.
WPH is not the best choice to take between meals. During this time you want a protein that will sustain amino acid delivery for 2 to 4 hours and WPH absorbs too fast.
WPH is known for its fast rate of absorption, which is the opposite of what you want from a protein shake before bed. Stick will slow absorbing proteins (like micellar casein) for best effect.
Whey Protein Concentrate
Compared to other whey protein products, whey protein concentrate (WPC) is relatively impure. However, WPC is the starting material for most whey protein supplements and thus includes most of the benefits associated with taking them. The impurities in WPC are generally from lactose and fat, making this product undesirable for those who are dieting and/or lactose intolerant. Producing WPC does not require the expensive processing that WPI and WPH and, as such, it is much more affordable. You will find the most inexpensive whey products contain a large amount of WPC.
Amino Acid Profile
Whey protein concentrate has a robust amino acid profile with 8 essential amino acids and a large amount of BCAAs. As well, less processing means that the whey will retain more of its native structure and added health benefits. Just remember, scoop for scoop you get less protein (due to impurities).
Compared to other protein sources, WPC has a medium absorption rate, which is sufficient as a pre-workout protein supplement. However the fat and lactose in WPC may cause bloating or stomach discomfort when taken before physical exertion.
Studies show that the rate at which amino acids enter the blood after a bout of resistance training drives the degree of anabolism in trained muscle and amino acids from whey isolate enter the blood fairly rapidly. A better choice is whey protein hydrolysate because of its extremely fast rate of absorption.
WPC is a perfectly suitable (and usually affordable) product to be taken between meals. The extra calories in this supplement provide excellent nourishment for ectomorphs (i.e., skinny and lean people) and those who are bulking up. However, be aware that WPC contains much more calories than WPI (which can make you fat) and be sure that you do not skip meals because you feel full from your protein shake.
Having a medium absorption rate, drinking a WPC shake before bed is a decent choice. The caveat is the extra calories ingested from fat and lactose, which are not ideal right before sleeping.
Casein is the most abundant protein found in milk. Micellar casein is casein in its purest form. Micellar casein has the unique ability to form a gel in the stomach, substantially slowing absorption, and making it a sustained supplier of nutrients. Micellar casein is isolated using microfiltration and as a result is undenatured and retains its native structural properties. Casein is noted for its anti-catabolic quality and its slow release of amino acids into the circulation. It should be noted that casein is a protein category that is characterized by wide variations in ingredient quality. (Because it is a less hyped, less highlighted protein format, many less-than-reputable manufacturers seem to believe that they can cut corners on purity and efficacy with the casein products they offer.) A product like BioQuest's Ultimate Casein, however, contains casein processed via an advanced microfiltration technology that yields the most undenatured form with the highest amounts of bioactive peptides and other growth factors.
A good micellar casein product will be produced by CFM, which preserves the many sub-fractions and growth factors known to give this protein its anti-catabolic properties. This superior form of casein protein has a robust amino acid profile.
Micellar casein has the slowest absorption rate of all protein products rendering it a less effective choice compared to whey protein products.
Again, the remarkably slow absorption of micellar casein makes it a mediocre post-workout choice compared to whey sources of protein. Research has definitively shown that faster absorbing proteins lead to greater anabolic responses immediately after exercise (for up to two hours).
The slow absorption and high bioavailability of this unique protein source provides protection against catabolism for hours between meals.
Micellar casein is the number one pre-sleep protein supplement. Drinking just 30 grams of micellar casein has been shown scientifically to promote a 7 hour sustained plateau in blood amino acids, leading to the highest muscle nitrogen retention and utilization in its class. In one study, the slow and sustained absorption of this protein was shown to reduce catabolism by 34% for 7 hours after ingestion.
So there you have it. The definitive what, when, and why of protein supplementation. Use these guidelines to derive the most value from every gram of protein you consume.