7. Protein Supplements vs. Protein Food Sources.
Adequate amounts of good quality protein is definitely a must for anyone trying to increase lean muscle mass and/or reduce body fat while maintaining muscle tissue. Consuming appropriate amounts of protein is not only going to create a good environment for muscle synthesis but it will also optimize anabolic hormone levels, increase metabolism relative to other nutrients, prevent insulin related fat gain, and improve cardiovascular risk profiles.
There is no argument with these advantages of consuming adequate amounts of good quality protein. The argument among athletes and nutritionists however has focused primarily on the amount needed and whether if it makes any difference if you eat your protein from a supplement or from food.
If you have the money, it is certainly convenient to just drink down a high quality protein supplement, and adding a high quality supplement certainly can't hurt.
Beyond the convenience however, there is no substantial evidence that there is any advantage to consuming the [protein through supplementation. Does that mean you shouldn't take supplemental protein?
Absolutely not. There are obvious times when one source may have a greater advantage then the other. For example a "fast digesting" proteins such as whey isolate would be an ideal supplement to consume immediately upon waking and immediately following strenuous exercise when your blood amino acid levels are low.
Conversely, eating a protein meal can be advantageous as your last meal of the evening because the digestion process provides a slow steady stream of amino acids to the body when your next meal will not occur for several hours later.
The whole source meal can also speed up your metabolic rate as much as 30% because of the energy necessary to digest, process, and absorb it. This means that out of 100 calories of a protein food such as chicken breast, the net amount of calories left over after processing it is 70.
If you have the time and money, a majority of your protein intake should come from low fat high quality complete proteins food sources. Supplements can be incorporated at important times such as immediately upon waking, immediately prior to work outs (BCAA supplementation) and immediately following strenuous workouts for the optimum situation.
When choosing supplemental protein sources it is very important to choose commercial products that are pure, pesticide-free and manufactured in such a way that ensures that the protein is not denatured and that it contains the important components such as glycomacropeptides that support key hormonal, immune and neurological functions.
Bottom Line: It really does not make much of a difference in what form you get your protein from as long as it's a complete protein and sufficiently digestible. For the purposes of developing muscle, the only guidelines for protein that you must follow are:
- Consume a source of complete protein with every meal
- Eat at frequent intervals approximately three hours apart (about six times per day)
- Consume a minimum of 1.0 grams to 1.5 grams per pound of body weight.
There are times when it would be beneficial to consume more than one gram per pound of body weight (and definitely more than 0.8 g/lb - the RDA), such as during hard training and when the body is under extreme stress.
Using Variety To Increase Effectiveness
Protein intake should come from a variety of sources. Supplements can add value to an athlete's intake. Varying protein sources is important because each protein source will have different amino acid, vitamin and mineral profiles.
By eating a variety of protein sources and incorporating a good quality protein supplement an athlete who exercises intensely can maximize gains and avoid micronutrient (vitamins or minerals) nutritional deficiencies that are often found in athletes that consume food from very limited food sources.
Additionally, by consuming a variety of good protein sources such as lean beef, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, low fat cheese, milk, and legumes you will ensure that you are consuming all the required amino acids necessary for growth and repair.
Too many athletes eat proteins with an inadequate amino acid profile necessary for growth and repair and as such, limit the gains they make in and out of the gym. Time and time again I see athletes that do work their but off in the gym, but they do not eat properly (even though they are eating "healthy") and as such, not only limited their gains but also put themselves at risk for over training and reaching a catabolic (muscle wasting) state.
Protein Supplements & Cost:
Nutritionists have claimed that protein supplements are very expensive relative to their protein content and that whole food sources are cheaper.
This may be true, depending on how you calculate the true cost. If you include the cost for meal preparation and the time it takes to prepare a meal protein supplements are typically not substantially more expensive than whole food sources.
Supplement Companies & Quality:
Picking a company that is reputable is extremely important. If the company purchases its raw products from another manufacturer it is important that the manufacturing processing techniques does not filter out the important protein factions. It is also important that the company does not use a process that denatures the protein.
A good reputable company will carefully select raw material suppliers based on quality and proven effectiveness and have all raw materials certified by independent scientific testing for potency and purity before they are introduced into their manufacturing process.
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In many cases you get what you pay for, as there are many less expensive products produced under questionable manufacturing methods, compromising freshness and potency and introducing toxic elements into the products.
Other things to look at are how the product is handled after production. Tamper resistant seals should be placed on every product where possible or practical to ensure freshness and to eliminate contamination risk.
The best companies to consider are those that control their own manufacturing facilities and do enough volume that they stock minimal inventory and turn inventory over quickly. If inventory is stored it should be done in a clean, temperature-stable environment that helps guarantee a fresh and stable product.
Because you are in some cases what you eat, I typically stay with a few companies that I trust regarding the quality of their products, how they are handled and how efficient they are brought to market.
High Quality Protein Supplement Products
The ideal protein supplement is one that provides an optimum serving of high-quality protein that has the highest biological value combined with bioactive compounds including good fat and naturally slow releasing complex carbs that is low in sugar, made from only top quality ingredients, with a clean delicious taste with no aftertaste.
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When it comes to protein products, the following is a short list of some of the companies who provide high quality products: Legal Gear, MHP, MRI and Gaspari Nutrition to name a few.
Amino Acids Supplements:
Amino acids come from protein rich sources such as meat, fish, dairy products, and vegetables such as legumes, peas, and grains.
There are many types of amino acid supplements on the market. Amino acids pills are simply predigested protein.
When evaluating amino acids products it is not only important to look at the concentrations and ratios of each amino acid so it is 100% useable but also to look at the quality of the protein source that the pills are made from.
Many of today's amino acid supplements come primarily from lower quality protein source. Also it is important to evaluate the source in case you may be allergic to the source. For instance many supplements are derived from milk products and this may not be preferable for those that have allergies associated with a milk protein source.
As far as the value of amino acid supplementation from predigestive processing, there is no clear consensus that the body will absorb amino acid supplementation better, leading to greater improvements in strength and muscle mass.
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Branch Chain Aminio Acids (BCAAs) Supplementation:
There is a significant decrease in plasma levels of the branched-chain amino acid leucine after aerobic, anaerobic, and strength exercise due to increased branched-chain amino acid metabolism in muscle tissue.
Because branched-chain amino acids are the only amino acids that are not readily degraded in the liver an increase in dietary Branch-chain amino acids will reliably increase their concentration in blood and other tissues; therefore supplementation can be very beneficial to the bodybuilder and athlete.
Several studies have also shown that branched-chain amino acids preserve stores of glycogen (a storage form of carbohydrate that can be converted into energy) and help prevent muscle protein breakdown during exercise and stress.1
Branched-chain amino acids should be replaced in one-hour or less following exercise or participation in a competitive event. My suggestion is a dosage of 5 grams both before and after training, especially during pre contest when protein levels may be lower, and calories restricted.
Branched-chain amino acids can also be acquired through protein supplements. Many bodybuilders get their BCAAs by consuming a whey protein shake or drink both before and immediately after exercise.
Whichever way you prefer (there are unique advantages to either method it is important that a bodybuilder replaces the branched-chain amino acids that are used as fuel during a workout.
If this is not done, not only will energy levels and protein synthesis be less than optimal, but your body will rob the branched-chain amino acids it needs from either muscle tissue or from protein consumed rendering the rest of the protein incomplete and unusable.
One company who I favor when supplementing with BCAA's is Anabol Natural.
I also like VPX's BCAAEX product. VPX BCAAEX contains a Proprietary BCAA Matrix: that has powerful anabolic and anti-catabolic activity to inhibit muscle breakdown, increase nitrogen retention and protein synthesis while maximizing recovery following intense training. I also switch off at times and use Beverly Internationals "Glutamine Select Plus BCAAs" product.
I like this product because it not only contains the important Branch Chain Aminio Acids leucine, isoleucine and valine and glutamine both of which are important to stimulate your muscles to grow and recover after heavy, intense resistance training.
Because the formula contains precise ratios of pharmaceutical grade L-Glutamine and free forming crystalline branched chain amino acids you can be guaranteed increased strength, added lean muscle mass and improved recovery. Glutamine Select Plus BCAAs tastes great, mixes easily into a post recovery or pre-workpout protein shake and contains no carbohydrates or sugars.
Protein Powder Supplements:
Regarding protein powders there are several out there of high quality. However there are many more companies that are not of high quality for one of many reasons. Reasons may include:
- Questionable manufacturing methods, compromising freshness and potency and introducing toxic elements into the products.
- Processing techniques filter out the important protein factions.
- Poor processing techniques that denature the protein.
- Poor handling of the product in shipping that cause the protein to spoil.
- Poor inventory in a non temperature-stable environment affecting freshness, and quality.
- Unsubstantiated claims, inaccurate labeling as to the ingredients and content.
- Poor quality raw materials used.
- No quality/control verification regarding protein content.
If your protein is not of high quality your hard work in the gym will not be maximized, and your overall health may also suffer, since your body will not be getting the bioactive peptides, vitamins, and minerals it craves and needs after heavy resistance workouts (as well as when on a calorie restricted diet).
For this reason, I will typically stay with the companies I know and trust. The following are some of the products I currently use in order of preference.
Maximum Human Performance (MHP) Probolic-SR:
This company is run by two people who know the sport; Gerard Dente a fellow top NJ bodybuilder like myself and Dr. Vincent Giampapa, a world-renowned anti-aging physician. This company employs a staff of expert scientists, sports nutritionists and biochemists to bring high quality products to market.
Probolic-SR rates high on my list for an evening protein boost because it uses a high quality casein based slow digesting protein, with "micro-feed" technology that reportedly increases bio-availability enabling a dieting bodybuilder to get close to 100% utilization of every gram of protein and provide a continued flow of amino acids to the muscle in a "metered dose" to keep the body in an anabolic muscle building state for up to 12 hours.
This sustained delivery keeps your body in an anabolic, muscle building state and prevents catabolic muscle wasting and ensures that your muscles receive the nutrition they need to support muscle growth and recovery.
Probolic-SR is also packed with Branch Chain Amino Acids, and glutamine, and as such is a highly efficient anabolic/anti-catabolic protein.
LegalGear Anabolic Protein Matrix:
This high quality protein supplement uses a mix of whey, milk protein isolate and buckwheat protein fractions, LegalGear gives you the most advanced protein matrix available today.
The whey protein fractions provide a high quality BCAA rich quick release protein that is great for immediately after a work out or upon waking.
The product also includes Milk Protein Isolate, a high quality slow release protein and buckwheat protein which is used to provide an additional slow protein source while also provided some good "low impact" lean carbs to help replenish glycogen stores and improve protein transfer into the muscle.
Buckwheat protein fractions also have a unique fiber (aids in digestion) and hypoglycemic (carb clearing) agent that allows you to maintain a keto diet and partition carbohydrates. The carbohydrate faction is also a low glycemic carb that is digested slowly and used to build muscle and not fat.
Gaspari Nutrition IntraPro:
The owner of this company, former Mr. Universe and IFBB Pro, Richie Gaspari knows what works, and uses his product himself. The company has spent a considerable amount of money researching and testing product combinations to see what works best and what does not.
Click Image To Enlarge.
Richie Gaspari & Jeff Behar.
Rich is also a former training partner of mine, so I trust him well. Rich's latest product, IntraPro is a high quality anabolic/anti-catabolic whey protein blend that uses a unique combination of pure pharmaceutical grade fast acting and highly absorbable cross flow micro and ultra-filtered whey protein isolates and concentrate to with a strong macronutrient profile designed for promoting and maintaining lower levels of body fat while also providing high quality fast acting proteins required for muscle growth.
IntraPro also provides an optimal ratio of the branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine for inhibiting muscle breakdown.
It also includes precise amounts of L-glutamine and taurine for maximum muscle cell volumization, and precision dose of the potent micronutrients turkesterone (from Ajuga turkestanica Extract) and 20-beta-hydroxyecdysone (from Rhaponticum carthamoides extract) for enhanced protein synthesis (the all important second part of the muscle building process I discussed earlier which is required for maximizing muscle development and net muscle gain).
IntraPro is fast absorbing and is also ideal upon waking and immediately following a hard workout.
Protein bars can be a super convenient way to get needed protein into your system when you are short on time. They can be tossed into your gym bag for that perfect, post- workout, hi-protein meal, or into your briefcase for a fast lunch.
A protein bar however is only as good as its ingredients and the processing. A protein bar should provide quality protein with bioactive nutrients that will help replenish energy reserves particularly post workout, spare amino acids and promote maximum net protein utilization for growth.
Protein bars should have the correct nutrient blend, be free of toxins and taste well. What I mean by a correct nutrient blend is the right amount of quality protein with the correct percentages of high quality carbohydrates, and good fat (no hydrogenated, partly hydrogenated or rancid oils) for promoting maximum net protein assimilation.
Many of today's protein bars do not meet the minimum requirements for quality. Many are loaded with sugars, low quality protein. Several are loaded with fat or have been created with no regard to the correct nutrient blend.
Low quality protein bars created in this manner can cause protein waste, indigestion, bloating, water retention and fatigue. These symptoms can put added stress on the body which can lead to a sluggish metabolism, impaired nutrient assimilation, and less than optimum performance in the gym.
Why does this matter? Protein bars high in simple carbohydrates like corn syrup or fructose can raises blood insulin levels rapidly leading to rapid blood sugar fluctuation, which may cause insulin insensitivity and fat gain.
Low-carbohydrate bars are not necessarily ideal either because many of the low carb bars substitute the carbs for bad fats such as hydrogenated or partly hydrogenated oils. These bad fats can negatively affect essential metabolic pathways and also are believed to cause insulin insensitivity and fat gain.
Many low-carb bars today also contain glycerin, a sugar alcohol which supplies the body with empty calories and can cause bloating.
Additionally, there is also mounting evidence that many processing ingredients found in highly processed foods can act as 'endocrine disruptors' which inhibit fat mobilization and can increase estrogenic activity; not what the male bodybuilder desires.
Bottom line, the ingestion or exposure to these substances can have dramatic effects on our state of health and the development of disease and should be avoided when possible. Thanks to advancements in food science, there are high quality choices now available, such as:
Labrada Lean Body Bars:
Labrada Lean Body Bars are also a good choice because they are made from hi-protein, low-carb, low-sugar, and low-fat. Lebrada Lean Body Bars are packed with 30 grams of Lean Protein, the same proprietary protein blend found in Lean Body instant bodybuilding nutrition packets.
They also contain less than 17 grams of the protein is tested for purity and potency by an independent lab using HPCE (High Performance Capillary Electrophoresis) to ensure quality. Flavors include: Chocolate Peanut Butter, Double Chocolate Chunk and new Coconut Creme and Mint Chocolate Chip. They're simply delicious!
Meal Replacement Products:
Meal Replacement Products are more than just supplements they are complete meals that are typically high in protein, low in fat (some have no fat) are many are also low in carbohydrates. They are used to support muscle building, recovery and repair and can also serve as an anti-catabolic agent sparing muscle mass while dieting.
Meal Replacement Products can come in various forms: pre-made drinks, bars as well as pre-packaged powdered drink mixes that you mix with water, milk, or juice and then drink in the place of a meal. Meal Replacement Products contain a wide array of vitamins and minerals (which is the difference between most Meal Replacement Products and other protein supplements are nutrient dense and provide a perfect, compact low in sugar and cholesterol.).
Because of convenience, and also typically price Meal Replacement Products can be very valuable to the busy athlete and bodybuilder when used to supplement whole food meals.
To get the best Meal Replacement Products I would recommend the purchase products that uses multiple high quality protein sources. This approach will allow you to obtain a greater number of functional benefits of the different proteins used.
I typically Meal Replacement Products that use a combination of whey, and milk proteins as the primary ingredient, unless I am trying to target a desirable effect (like immediately raising blood glucose levels following fasting/sleep). When I do use Meal Replacement Products I favor the following products because I trust the quality of the company and their processing techniques.
Labrada Lean Body Meal Replacements:
Labrada Lean Body Meal Replacement powder is a protein powder made from a blend of high quality proteins, including ion-exchanged whey protein.
It is low in sugar, fat, and sodium. It is free from hydrogenated oil, salt, corn syrup solids, fructose or mono and diglycerides. It contains essential vitamins and minerals, while also providing 45 grams of protein per serving.
Instone IntakeLean Meal Replacement Product:
As some of you may know I now live in LALA land (Los Angeles) home of Sly Stallone and home to his company Instone. The Intake Meal Replacement Product contains 18 grams of the high quality protein and only 4 net carbs (and under 1 gram of sugar).
It also includes premium fatty acids (including flax, docosahexaenoic acid, and conjugated linoleic acid), glutamine, and a diverse blend of vitamins and minerals making it more than just a protein product, but a meal replacement that helps you lose fat, maintain and gain lean muscle, and feel healthy.
High Quality Protein Snacks:
Protein snacks can also be a super convenient way to get needed protein into your diet and provide a break from the standard chicken, tuna, turkey and eggs that many bodybuilders prepare for protein meals. The following are just a few high quality protein snacks that I enjoy to add a variety into my diet:
SciFit Beef Stix:
SciFit Beef Stix are a high quality fat free snack that 15 grams of protein and only 1 gram of carbohydrates.
The product is made from beef raised without antibiotics or added hormones, and there is no MSG added. They are convenient, ready made and carry well. Just throw them in your gym bag and off you go!
Stallone High Protein Pudding:
StalloneHigh Protein Pudding is a ready-to-eat protein pudding that is shelf stable and only needs refrigeration after you open it. It contains 20 grams of high quality protein from lactose-free calcium caseinate (milk derived) and soy protein isolate.
This product contains 3-5 times more protein per serving than other high protein puddings and only 2 g of carbohydrates or less and has only 2 grams of fat.
StalloneHigh Protein Pudding is a healthy snack that contains no lactose, hydrogenated oils, trans-fats, sugar or sugar alcohols. The product comes in 4 different flavors (Milk Chocolate Banana Cream, Lemon Cream, and Vanilla Creame).
Ideal Food Solutions Pudding:
Ideal Pudding contains 33 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat and 6 grams of fiber. Because this product contains NO glutens or sugar alcohols it is easy on the stomach.
Only sucralose - Splenda - made from natural sugar. Unlike Stallone High Protein Pudding which is ready-to-eat Ideal Pudding is a powder that you mix with cold water and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, however the best consistency and flavor is achieved when refrigerated over night).
The protein blend is a micro ultra filtered whey protein concentrate and a milk protein.
Vitalstate Wolverines Turkey Nuggets:
This high protein turkey snack contains 39 grams of protein, and only 6 grams of carbohydrates and 6 grams of fat. It has no preservatives, hormones erythorbate, MSG, or nitrates.
Protos Foods OStrim:
OStrim is a low fat, high-protein meat stick made from a combination of Ostrich, a highly nutritious red meat, and the leanest beef available. The product contains 13 grams of, is 96% fat free (less than 1.5 grams) with less than 3 grams of carbohydrates and less than 1 gram of sugar.
OStrim Meat Sticks require no refrigeration, are shelf-stable and offered in single serving packaging for convenience and portability. Perfect for the high protein, low carb dieter who desires a nutritious snack.
Ostrich compares very favorably nutritionally with other meats as shown on the following Nutritional Value Comparison chart.
|Nutritional Value Comparison|
|1.5 Ounce/42-Gram Serving
Source: USDA Handbook 8, Nutrition Composition of Foods
The goal for anyone wishing to optimize muscle building and minimize the storage of excess calories as body fat is to eat as perfectly as possible so that the body is provided a steady stream of nutrients, and so that blood sugar levels also remain steady.
One of the most important ways to accomplish this goal besides eating high quality, low fat foods is to eat small multiple meals (every 2 to 3 hours). Successful bodybuilders know that by eating at least six evenly spaced meals throughout the day, they provide their muscles with a steady stream of nutrients, keeping their body in an anabolic environment (as indicated by a positive nitrogen balance).
Most importantly eating smaller more frequent meals is very important when it comes to protein consumption because proteins cannot be stored in the body like carbohydrates can (carbohydrates can be stored in the liver as glycogen and used up to days later when needed).
Since there is only a very small amount of amino acid in the bloodstream, to maintain an anabolic (muscle building) environment complete proteins must be eaten with every meal. It is the acute and large increase in the amount of amino acids in the blood that causes protein synthesis rates to increase as well as a decrease in protein breakdown.
Maintaining a positive nitrogen balance will prevent the body from dipping into its own muscle tissue (catabolism) to get nutrients it needs (like protein). This is why it is important to eat five to six protein-containing meals per day (one about every two to three hours) each containing around 30-40-grams of protein, to maintain a positive nitrogen balance (which occurs from the breakdown of amino acids).
Eating small evenly spaced meals keeps insulin levels stable, a requirement for proper fat metabolism and proper growth. Eating this way is also easier on the digestive system and it is also more efficient. Studies have shown that eating frequent smaller meals will raise the metabolic rate, burn more calories and result in less body fat storage.
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