Protein is by far the single most important supplement/nutrient you can consume in your quest for size and strength. Just the mere mention of it, however, gives most doctors and dieticians an anxiety attack. I'm sure you've heard much of the unfounded nonsense. "All you need is food; supplements aren't necessary." "Too much protein can lead to kidney and liver problems." "An average person can only absorb 30 to 40 grams of protein at one sitting." "Vegetable protein is just as good as meat, fish or milk protein." "Eating more protein will make you fat." And so on and so on. There is not one reputable, reliable study to support any of these previous statements, and I cannot tell you how tired I am of dealing with this groundless garbage.
Protein repairs and maintains everything in our bodies from hormones to muscles to bones. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are nine essential amino acids, essential meaning we have to ingest these for survival because our bodies cannot manufacture them. Many researchers now believe we have many other amino acids that should be considered "conditionally essential," because of their significance and our inefficiency at producing them. These include: glutamine, arginine, cysteine, taurine, glycine, tyrosine and proline.
If your protein intake or quality is low, your body will get the essential amino acids it needs from its most abundant storage system, muscle tissue. Knowing this explains why strict vegetarians, especially vegans, have a lower percentage of muscle than dairy, meat and fish-eating humans and a harder time building muscle or strength in the gym. The quality of protein inherent to a vegetarian diet, especially a vegan diet, is dismal at best, and a few studies have shown vegan males have less testosterone then their meat-eating counterparts. This is especially true if soy is part of their diet. What else should you expect consuming food inferior to human physiology?
We have been led to believe that soy is a health food. However, there are 288 records under soy in the United States Food and Drug Administration's Poisonous Plant Database, which contains references to scientific literature describing studies of the toxic properties and effects of plants and plant parts (1). The deleterious effects that soy has on our bodies are caused by several different substances. We're going to go over just a few of the worst because many supplement companies still include soy protein as a main ingredient in their products -- the health and pocket books of their customers are being thrown to the side. Maximum Human Performance (MHO) claims their soy protein isolate-based Parabolic-SR is the biggest breakthrough ever in protein supplementation – that it has set new standards in protein quality and bioavailability. This is an outrageously irresponsible statement considering the anti-nutrients present in soy protein and how soy protein is produced.
One of the substances contained in soybeans, which remains in soy products like protein, is goitrogens. These are naturally occurring and interfere with the function of the thyroid gland. Goitrogens get their name from the term "goiter," which means enlargement of the thyroid gland (2). The ingestion of 30 grams of soy protein per day – about three tablespoons – has been shown to disrupt and slow thyroid function. Thyroid disease is rampant in Asian societies and is increasing in the U.S. (3).
Other foods that contain goitrogens include: broccoli, cabbage, mustard, peanuts, turnips, brussel sprouts and others. However, unlike soy, cooking or fermentation easily neutralizes the goitrogens in these foods. Heat, pressure or alkaline solutions used to process soy neither deactivates nor removes goitrogens from soy end products (3). They are virtually in all soy foods; the highest concentration being in products that are not fermented like tofu, modern soy sauce, baby formula, and -- you guessed it -- protein.
Another nasty substance contained in soy protein and other products, that can inflict damage upon our bodies, are phytoestrogens. Isoflavones are examples of phytoestrogens, and are in many plants, with the highest concentration being in soybeans. Phytoestrogens, although not hormones, are very similar and can bind to estrogen receptor sites and have been shown to cause negative effects.
The ability of phytoestrogens to decrease testosterone has been shown in several studies (4, 5, 6). In fact, as long ago as 164 B.C., monks included tofu in their diet as an aid to spiritual enlightenment and abstinence. They found the more tofu they consumed the lower their libido.
Do yourself a favor and read the ingredients labels of protein. Do not succumb to the soy industry's ad campaigns, and some in the supplement industry that claim soy protein is on equal ground with protein derived from milk. It's not even close. The only reason companies use this garbage is simply because it's inexpensive, not because of its quality.
Outside of the deleterious effects of the anti-nutrients discussed above, soy fails as a protein source because it is "incomplete." It is incomplete in the sense that it does not contain essential amino acids in the desired proportions. In fact, several aminos contained in soy protein are very low, like the sulfur-based methionine. It only takes a shortfall of one amino acid to slow or even halt protein synthesis. Also, soy is one the most processed foods on the planet. This is a necessary evil of the high heat, high pressure and chemical treatment soybeans need if they are to be digestible and palatable. Unfortunately for soy proponents, the processing degrades some of the beneficial aminos contained by changing them from the usable L-form to the potentially toxic D-form. Testing procedures used to rate proteins do not make this distinction.
An entire article can be written on protein quality, efficiency and bioavailability ratings, so I'm not going to touch on it here. I will however, recommend reading "The Whole Soy Story" by Kaayla Daniel. This book will not only open your eyes to soy's failure as a protein source but to soy products in general.
Now that I've convinced you not to include soy protein in your diet, let's discuss getting adequate amounts of quality protein. Consciously consuming a diet low in protein has no benefits; is not based on good science, and merely a matter of ignorance. There are two things that begin with the letter "P" that I would never cut back on; one is protein; the other ends in "Y." Having said that, how much protein should one consume? The International Society of Sports Nutrition, in a 2007 position statement, concluded that bodybuilders and strength/power athletes require just under a gram of protein per pound per day (7). That's consistent with my recommendation of 1 gram per pound of lean body weight. However, if you train intensely (which is how you should train) empirical data suggests you may need upwards of 1.5 grams per pound. Have no fear; this extra protein will not make you fat.
Protein, in and of itself, has little to do with getting fat -- protein consumption is inversely related to fat accumulation. The more protein you eat, the more fat you burn as fuel. Protein consumption is directly related to thermogenesis and satiety through multiple mechanisms (8, 9, 10). It's what you eat, more than how much you eat that will determine how lean, strong and muscular you will get.
A calorie is not a calorie. The assertion that macronutrients are all processed the same between individuals is just foolish. This is the basis for the calorie theory. A calorie of a carbohydrate does not equate to a calorie of a protein when being metabolized in our bodies. Protein calories are not likely to be stored as fat, when compared to carbs, because protein requires more energy to metabolize and assimilate, and has numerous functions. Carbs are simply an energy source, and if not used as fuel, they are stored as fat without much effort. As an added bonus, protein helps to stimulate the secretion of glucagon, which helps mitigate the fat storage effects of insulin.
Protein consumption is not only good for overall health, it's essential to building muscular size and strength. If you do not consume enough quality protein -- and I stress quality -- you will not only put a halt to your efforts to have a leaner, more muscular body, you can actually lose some of the muscle you're working so hard to get.
Also known as milk protein isolate (MPI) or milk protein concentrate (MPC); micellar casein (MC)is derived from skim milk. It's low in fat and lactose. MC is the natural undenatured form of casein – separated by ultrafiltration – without the use of chemicals or heat.
MC provides one of the most impressive profiles that's rich in muscle-building amino acids. Because of its coagulating properties, MC has a slow rate of digestion, meaning the body absorbs a steady stream of amino acids over a long period. This not only gives the user enhanced satiety, but leads to MC's anti-catabolic properties.
MC contains a high level of glutamine, which is a key amino during times of physical and emotional stress. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in muscle tissue and is essential for a properly functioning gastrointestinal tract.
Timing: Because of MC's slow rate of digestion, consuming it before bed is most advantageous due to the length of time without food. No other protein can compare to MC when it comes to delivering essential amino acids over a prolonged period of time allowing for recovery.
MC's role as an anti-catabolic is indisputable and unopposed by any other protein. However, in order to build size and strength, one needs to create an anabolic environment as well as decrease catabolism. Whey protein is known for its fast delivery of amino acids into the blood stream, eliciting an anabolic effect. It would be most beneficial to use a whey-MC mix throughout the day with the exception of pre or post workout.
BOVINE SERUM CONCENTRATE
Hydrolyzed beef plasma made into bovine serum and concentrated to contain at least 40 percent immunoglobulin is the gold standard of proteins. Bovine serum concentrate (BSC) has three times the level of anabolic growth factors as whey. Immunoglobulin is now being used on AIDS and cancer patients, and malnourished children to support protein absorption.
It's the immunoglobulin in breast milk that increases protein absorption needed for a baby's rapid growth rate. BSC will increase muscle growth in adults via increased protein absorption, directly affecting the amino acid influx into the blood stream.
BSC offers an unmatched ability to promote health and muscular growth compared to other protein sources. It's of the highest quality, very expensive, and is rarely used by supplement companies.
Timing: BSC has a larger protein structure than whey or casein, and a slow rate of digestion that is crucial to its bioactivity. Ideally, plasma protein should be combined with a whey protein because it positively affects protein utilization and amino acid uptake.
Calcium and sodium caseinate (CSC) are pure protein products that have the same basic profile as MC. Much lower quality and less expensive proteins, CSC are denatured being produced through a chemical process. Like soy, CSC rates very well as a protein because protein rating systems do not differentiate between denatured products and those that remain in their natural state. Stay away from these types of protein.
When it comes to supplying large amounts of branch chained amino acids (BCAAs), whey is supreme. It's the higher proportion of the three BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine and valine – in particular leucine – that gives whey its anabolic edge.
Whey protein comes in three forms: concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate. Concentrate is the least expensive and has the lowest amount of protein per serving. This also equates to lower levels of BCAAs. Isolates are a purer form of whey protein and usually provide 95 percent or more per serving, with a higher BCAA content than concentrates. Hydrolysates are the purest and most rapidly absorbed form of whey, with the highest biological value (BV) of any protein. BV is a measure of how well nitrogen is retained after ingesting a protein source. Muscle cannot repair and build without adequate amounts of nitrogen.
Timing: Whey is digested extremely fast, resulting in a flood of amino acids into the blood steam and the muscles, almost immediately after consumption. The best time to consume whey protein is pre and post workout and upon rising from a good night's sleep.
Egg as a protein source is a throw-back favorite – bodybuilders and strength athletes relied heavily on eggs before science gave us whey and casein. Egg protein (EP) -- whole egg not egg whites -- is an excellent source of high quality protein – a BV of 100, which is better than cow's milk, beef, chicken, fish and soy. Egg whites, though not as beneficial as whole egg, have a BV of 88 – still better than all meat, fish and soy. And when price is taken into consideration, eggs are great for anyone needing to be fiscally conservative.
Timing: Faster to digest than casein, but much slower than whey, EP is a great way to get protein throughout the day. Pre and post workout, however, whey is still supreme.
SOME OF THE TOP BRANDS
WPI – whey protein isolate
WPC – whey protein concentrate
BSC – bovine serum concentrate
WPH – whey protein hydrolysate
WP – whey peptides
MPI – milk protein isolate/micellar casein
MPC – milk protein concentrate/micellar casein
MC – micellar casein
EP – egg protein isolate/egg albumin
CC – calcium caseinate
SPI – soy protein isolate
WPI as the only or main protein source:
Company: Optimum Nutrition
Retail price: 4.6lbs for $99.99
Protein source: WPI
Company: Muscle Gauge Nutrition
Retail price: 5lbs for $68.23
Protein source: WPI
4EVER WHEY ISOLATE
Company: 4Ever Fit
Retail price: 4.4lbs for $89.99
Protein source: WPI
Company: Zero Carb Isopure
Retail price: 7lbs for $129.99
Protein source: WPI
4EVER WHEY PROTEIN
Company: 4Ever Fit
Retail price: 4.4lbs for $79.99
Protein source: WPI, WPC
GOLD STANDARD 100% WHEY
Company: Optimum Nutrition
Retail price: 5lbs for $74.95
Protein source: WPI, WPC, WP
ISOBOLIC ISOLATE PROTEIN
Retail price: 4.4lbs for $79.99
Protein source: WPI, MC, EP, WPC
Micellar casein as the main ingredient:
Retail price: 4.44lbs for $99.99
Protein source: MPI, WPI, CC
Retail price: 2.47lbs for $44.95
Protein source: MC, WPC, WPI, EP
ADVANCED MUSCLE GAIN
Company: Protein Factory
Retail price: 1 pound for $14.80
Protein source: MC, EP, BSC, WF
For the highest quality proteins, try www.proteinfactory.com. Whether you want to design your own supplement or purchase one of their formulas, Protein Factory is a must for anyone serious about gaining lean mass and their health.
5. Habito, R.C., et al. "Effects of replacing meat with soybean in the diet on sex hormone concentrations in healthy adult males." Br J Nutr. 2000; 84(4), 557-563.
6. Weber, K.S., et al. "Dietary soy-phytoestrogens decrease testosterone levels…" J Endocrin. 2001; 170(3), 591-599
8. Veldhorst, M., et al. "Protein induced satiety: effects and mechanisms of different proteins." Physiological Behavior. 2008;94(2)
9. "The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review." J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(5)