This article is not meant for you if you want to learn the science behind the ion-exchanged, cross-mutaed, isotopically labeled protein tracers - blah blah blah. In this article, I will strip away all the hype, science, and confusion that surrounds protein powder. By the time you are through this article and put it to memory, you will become the resident protein powder expert and amaze your friends the next time you visit the sport nutrition store. No more 2-hour shopping trips for protein powder because you don't really have a clue what to look for!
Is Protein Powder really necessary?
So, although protein supplements are not an absolute requirement for gaining mass, I have yet to meet any person able to get 400 grams of protein per day from cooking food. If your protein intake is greater than 200 grams per day I will suggest a protein powder - it will make your life a lot easier.
In addition, dollar for dollar, protein powders and meal replacement drinks tend to be more cost effective than whole food. Don't get me wrong, though. Protein powders are still supplements in my book. Supplement means an addition to the diet. I emphasize this because the focus of any diet should be food. Whole food is often preferable to powders because it can offer a whole spectrum of nutrients that powders cannot.
Most of your dietary protein should come from meat, fish, poultry and eggs. However getting all your protein from whole food is not always practical or convenient, especially if you have to eat 6 or more times a day to get your required intake. I will stress to you, for optimal muscle gains, you should limit yourself to a maximum of three shakes per day or 40 % of your meals. To some this might even sound like it's going 'overboard' and I would not disagree.
The bottom line is that both food and supplements are necessary to achieve a complete nutritional balance as well as the desired level of protein intake, especially if you're not a big fan of cooking. And I assume that over 95% of you reading this do not have a personal maid at home cooking all your meals while you sit around waiting for your next meal. Do not make the fatal mistake of thinking protein powders can take the place of a solid training and nutrition program.
Does protein powder really work and are they healthy?
I get this question emailed to me almost every day. I just showed how it 'works' as a supplement to help you hit your supplemental protein mark but you are probably still wondering, 'Yeah, but is protein powder going to help me get muscular or is it a scam?" A better question would be, "Does protein really work?" and the obvious answer is 'yes.' You are fully aware that protein is composed of building blocks called amino acids, which performs a variety of functions in the body such as building and maintaining healthy muscles when combined with diet and exercise. Protein also:
- Supports red blood cell production
- Boosts your immune system
- Keeps your hair, fingernails, and skin healthy
However, not all protein powder is created equal. Most protein powder contains an array of questionable ingredients such as aspartame, saccharin, fructose and artificial colors. It's interesting to note how unhealthy most of these protein powders actually are. Look for a protein powder with natural ingredients rather than products that are sweetened with chemicals and made with ingredients that are certainly not going to create an environment for muscle growth and fat burning.
Also avoid products with refined carbohydrates such as fructose, sucrose or brown rice syrup. Make sure that the product is made from a reputable company that is genuinely interested in good health. Unfortunately supplement manufacturers will continue to meet the demands of bodybuilding consumers with unknown crappy products because we buy it and it is cheaper for them to create. Do your homework by seeking out unbiased reviews, investigating the company's history, and reputation. And then make a decision and take responsibility!
In the past one of my criteria for a healthy protein product was that it was great tasting and that it should mix easily. Most protein powders mix quite easily, even with a spoon, however I was disappointed to discover that taste will inevitably be sacrificed for a safe and healthy product. I can live with this. You see, once a product is removed of all artificial chemical sweeteners such as aspartame or sucralose, and simple sugars, it is left almost tasteless and sometimes even gross.
How much protein powder do I need?
A better question would be, "How much pure protein do I need to achieve my goals?"
Protein is an extremely important macro nutrient and should be eaten frequently throughout the day. I recommend at least 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. This means that if you are 150 pounds and 10% body fat (150 x 0.10 = 15 lbs of fat leaving 135 lbs of lean mass), you will require at least 135 to approximately 205 grams of protein per day.
I recommend that protein powder be used primarily for your pre-workout, workout and post-workout shake. This is when liquid food is more advantageous over whole food since it has a faster absorption rate.
I do not recommend protein powder do be used for meal replacements for more than two meals. Here is what a typical day might look like:
Meal 1 (breakfast) - whole food
Meal 2 (mid morning) - liquid protein meal
Meal 3 (lunch) - whole food
Meal 4 (mid afternoon) whole food
Meal 5 (pre and post workout) liquid protein meal
Meal 6 (dinner) whole food
Meal 7 (before bed) whole food
What kind of protein powder should I use?
Before deciding which protein powder is necessary, here is a short protein primer to help you make sense of the thousands of different protein powders from which to choose:
WHEY PROTEIN makes up 20% of total milk protein. Whey is recognized for its excellent amino acid profile, high cysteine content, rapid digestion, and interesting variety of peptides. Since it is very quickly digested the best time to consume it is before your workout, during your workout or immediately after your workout. These would be considered the phase in the day where you need energy the most and when your body is in anabolic state.
CASEIN PROTEIN makes up 80% of total milk protein. Casein is recognized for its excellent amino acid profile, slow digestive nature, and interesting variety of peptides. Since casein is slowly digested into your bloodstream, don't use it during workouts or after workouts - you need a fast absorbing protein at these times. Instead, use a casein protein for all other times outside the pre and post workout window.
SOY PROTEIN is the most controversial of all protein types. While the soy groupies have gone to great lengths to label soy as a super food with magical effects, there is also a good amount of research that suggests soy protein may be contraindicated in many situations. BECAUSE OF ALL THE CONFUSION, IN MY PERSONAL OPINION, I SUGGEST AVOIDING SOY PROTEIN ALTOGETHER AND STICKING TO THE OTHER TYPES LISTED.
Protein Blends are generally a combination of several types of protein blends such as whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, egg protein, casein protein, and soy protein.
Why would you want a blend anyway? You will receive the full spectrum of proteins and you will receive varying rates of absorption from the different types of protein. Using a blend will create an anabolic environment from the whey and an anti-catabolic environment from the casein - use this kind at any time of the day but NOT before or after a workout.
Whey hydrolysates (also known as hydrolyzed whey protein, and are also called peptides), are powerful proteins that are more quickly absorbed; more so than any other form, since your body prefers peptides to whole proteins. Hydrolysates are produced through very low heat, low acid and mild enzymatic filtration processes, (those highest in the essential and the branched chain amino acids) and are potentially the most anabolic for short-term protein synthesis such as the pre and post-workout window.
Whey Protein Versus Whey Isolate:
Most whey protein powders that stock the supplement shelves are made up of whey concentrate and mixed in with a small portion of whey isolate. Comparing the two, whey protein isolate is more expensive than whey protein concentrate because it has a higher quality (more pure) and a higher BV (biological value). Whey protein isolate contains more protein and less fat and lactose per serving. Most whey protein isolates contain 90-98% protein while whey concentrates contain 70-85% protein.
Whey protein isolate is the highest yield of protein currently available that comes from milk. Because of its chemical properties it is the easiest to absorb into your system. Obviously with its high concentration, it appears that an isolate protein would be the obvious choice instead of a concentrate. However, this is an individual decision because the isolate is more expensive, and just because it is purer does not guarantee that it will help build bigger muscles. Its extra concentration may not justify its extra cost.
SO WHAT IS THE BOTTOM LINE? WHICH SHOULD YOU CHOOSE?
For the Pre-workout and Post-workout phases, as long as whey hydrolysate is the first or second ingredient on the supplement label then there is probably not enough in the product to influence protein synthesis to reap the optimal benefits. As stated, whey isolates are also a extremely high quality whey and for maximal anabolism isolates should be combined with whey hydrolysates for only the pre-workout and post-workout phases of your program. The inclusion of small amounts of whey concentrates will not harm you but this should not be the first ingredient on the tub of protein powder.
IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR THE STRONGEST PROTEIN POWDER TO EXPLOIT YOUR FULL GROWTH POTENTIAL DURING THE GROWTH AND RECOVERY PHASES (ANY TIME OTHER THAN PRE AND POST WORKOUT PERIOD) THEN USE A BLEND.
You will receive the full spectrum of proteins and you will receive varying rates of absorption from the different types of protein. Using a blend will create an anabolic environment from the whey and an anti-catabolic environment from the casein.
I hope this article familiarized you with the basics of protein powder and gave you a foundation to work from when deciding on your next order. Don't get caught up in the hype and start becoming a more educated consumer when you take your next trip to the nutrition store. Now you can tell the sales rep exactly what you are looking for instead of staring blankly at the shelves without a clue!
Oh yeah, protein powder will help you get more jacked and attract the ladies, but it's not going to do it in a 'ultra short period of time' with the simple addition to your diet.