This is the time of year that there is an influx of people signing up for gym memberships, vowing to finally get fit and change their lifestyle for better health and wellness. For those that are interested in how to incorporate supplements into their fitness routine to optimize and enhance results, this blog is intended to help provide some basic science based information on supplements. Since there are multiple supplements, this installment will focus on protein supplements.
Is it possible to obtain all the protein your body requires from whole food without the need for protein supplements? Absolutely the answer is yes. But is it really practical, cost effective, efficient and does the average person who’s busy with ‘life’ have the time to plan out their meals to achieve this objective? Typically the answer is “No”, that’s why smart supplementing makes sense. Protein supplements are one of the foundations of supplementing.
Let’s review what protein does in the body. A complete protein provides 20 amino acids, 9 of which are essential amino acids (meaning they must come from nutrition and cannot be made internally from other amino acids). Amino acids function to provide the building blocks for the repair and rebuilding of skeletal muscle. In addition, the amino acids from protein are used in nearly every body organ and function from kidneys to heart to eyesight.
Protein requirements vary based on activity level and range from 0.6 g/lb for sedentary people to as much as 1.6g/lb for athletes. For reference, a 4 oz serving of chicken breast provides around 20 grams of protein. Whole food protein must be digested to be absorbed and utilized by the body, this process takes a fair amount of time for the amino acids to actually enter the bloodstream. This is where a protein supplement has an advantage over whole food. A protein supplement offers bioavailable amino acids in forms that are easily digested and nearly immediately absorbed into the bloodstream. Post-exercise, when the body needs amino acids to repair and recover from the stresses of training, a protein supplement can provide these essential amino acids in a near instant dose.
So what makes a quality protein supplement? First, one must look at the grams of protein provided divided by the total grams of the serving. For example, MaxPro provides 30g of protein in a 35g serving, nearly 87% pure protein. Second, one must look at the type of protein being provided. Whey isolate protein is broken down and immediately available into the blood stream. Whey concentrate is digested over a course of 1 to 2 hours. Potassium caseinate is digested over a course of 2 to 3 hours. Egg protein and soy proteins are other protein sources along with vegetable proteins, all of which vary in the amount of time they are absorbed up to 4 hours. Finally, one should investigate and evaluate the manufacture of the protein supplement. Does the manufacture adhere to Certified Good Manufacturing Practices? Are the milk solids sources from United States dairies? Does the manufacture have a history of their product meeting label claims?
Other than post exercise, when are other times a protein supplement can be used? Protein supplements are ideal for in between meal snacks. In between major meals, a bolus of protein from a protein supplement will keep the body’s metabolism level high, maintain positive nitrogen balance in the blood and can be ultra convenient if ‘on the go’. Further, when dieting, protein is essential for preserving lean skeletal muscle while attempting to burn body fat stores for energy.
While the majority of a person’s protein needs should be met from whole food protein, the timely use of protein supplements can be key in optimizing the benefits from exercise, aid in preserving muscle while dieting and support a healthy nitrogen level/metabolism.