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8 questions about protein

8 Fragen zum Thema Protein

This article is intended to serve three purposes:

The first purpose is a kind of refresher course for experienced exercisers. Sure, deep down you'll already know everything presented here, but since it's been a long time since you first read about it, you may have forgotten some of the reasoning behind it. The second purpose is to provide information to readers who have only just moved on from the magazines you find on newsstands. Perhaps these readers have been reading nothing but "Muscle and Fitness" and similar magazines for the past few years and thus know quite little about the science underlying the sport - except perhaps for the "science" of glute training by former Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman. Last but not least, this article is also intended for complete beginners who have accidentally landed on this site and initially thought they had landed on a strange planet of weight-training scientists who occasionally use surfer slang. By reading this article, newcomers can slowly acclimatize to the sophisticated atmosphere without being immediately dazzled.

If the saying is true and I am what I eat, then I am a mass monster of protein powder, chicken breast, raw salmon, hard boiled eggs, turkey burgers and the occasional steak. Instead of hair, I have strips of beef jerky on my head. Instead of hands, I have pork knuckles. My butt? Two pieces of grade A sirloin steak. Yes, protein is my passion, my comrade. Even though fat and carbs are also important, they are often just side effects of my foraging. It's the protein content that drives every meal I make - every choice from the menu and every reach into the fridge or pantry.

If it doesn't contain a useful amount of protein, then it won't have the pleasure of making acquaintance with my digestive tract. I'm sure this is similar for pretty much all other strength athletes and bodybuilders. Protein is king, but like many kings before it, it is misunderstood and rumors abound. Hence this article that answers 8 of the most frequently asked questions about protein.

How much protein can I eat at once?

Read any of those bodybuilding or fitness magazines (the difference between these two categories of magazines is that bodybuilding magazines target those who look like they work out, while fitness magazines target those who don't look like they work out) and you'll see the one "truth" regarding nutrition that has stood the test of time "You can only digest 30 grams of protein per meal." Eat more protein at once and you'll overload your poor digestive system. Your guts will rebel and the extra protein will be spit back out like a crumpled bill from a bitchy Coke machine. It's an absolute - like the speed of light.

The problem, however, is that there is absolutely no scientific data to suggest that this 30 gram limit really exists. Where this figure comes from is a question that no one can answer conclusively.

The truth is that no one knows where this limit really lies - it could be 30 grams or it could be 60 or 80 or even 100 or more grams - and whether such a limit exists at all. Much probably depends on things like time of passage through the digestive tract (generally, the slower the better), length of the digestive tract and perhaps even enzyme efficiency.

However, based on what most of us have seen and experienced, there is no reason to believe that your body would have problems coping with quantities of up to 60 grams per meal - especially if those 60 grams are consumed in liquid form (making the protein easier to digest than a large piece of beef).

Are protein bars good sources of protein?

Well, they could be if the manufacturers put a little more effort and intelligence into their products, but unfortunately many do not. Most of us grab a protein bar when we're on the go and lugging around a shaker bottle would be impractical. There are many choices for snacks and our choice is usually most influenced by how much protein such a snack provides. In fact, a real competition has developed around the amount of protein in grams, with each company trying to outdo the others to pack as much protein as possible into their bars.

First there was the 10 gram bar, then the 20 gram bar, then the 30 gram bar and finally even the 40 and 50 gram bars. Soon there will be bars on the market that come with one of those things that used to be used to press gunpowder into the barrel of a cannon.

The problem here is that it is not so easy to pack more and more protein into a bar. This protein acts like sawdust in that it soaks up moisture, often resulting in a bar that resembles what you'd find in a careless dog owner's backyard after a few days in the sun. So to get around this problem, bar manufacturers have started putting gelatin in their bars. This provides moisture and is recognized by food authorities as a source of protein.

Unfortunately, gelatine consists of an incomplete protein that neither contributes to protein synthesis nor prevents protein breakdown and, apart from a generally poor amino acid balance, is completely lacking in one essential amino acid (methionine). So if you look at the list of ingredients of your favorite protein bar and see gelatin in second, third or even fourth place on the list of ingredients, there is a high probability that this bar contains 20 to 30% or more of the protein it contains in the form of worthless gelatin.

Should I use a time-release protein before bedtime?

We once thought that time-release proteins would change the world of bodybuilding. Our theory was that by using these products before bed, you could escape the whole "two steps forward, one step back" tango that normally takes place during sleep. The 6 - 8 hours you spend asleep at night is the longest period of the day during which you don't eat anything - and especially not protein. Let's say you were a good bodybuilder and ate some protein before bed. That's great, but after about 4 hours your body will start to use stored nutrients for energy. Your body will start to draw on glycogen stores from your liver and muscles to meet its glucose and amino acid needs - and this will continue until you get up and eat breakfast.

So, in our naivety, we thought that a time-release protein that would supply the body with amino acids throughout the night would be a great idea. Well, we were guilty of one-dimensional thinking. Instead of looking beyond the horizon, we've only seen a small part of the whole picture. And that's why many manufacturers have tried to develop a time-released protein using a liposomal technology. Eventually we managed to do that, but once we did, we realized that we had something that was actually unnecessary.

Something we hadn't considered changed our way of thinking. Let's say you give someone intravenous amino acids over an extended period of maybe 6 hours. Well, the rate of protein synthesis will increase from the 30 minute mark to the two hour mark. After that, the protein synthesis rate will drop back to baseline. Translation: Keeping your protein intake constantly elevated will not lead to an increased protein synthesis rate. However, if you eat a portion of protein at time zero and then another portion 4 hours later, you will get a strong increase in protein synthesis twice.

Second translation: You need large, phasic protein surges every few hours to maximize protein synthesis.

While it would be nice to have a protein supplement that releases a large amount of protein every 4 hours after consumption like a protein time bomb, this is currently beyond what is possible with today's technologies. So what's a protein lover to do? Well, you really only have one option and that is to drink a protein shake before going to bed and wake up about four hours later and drink another protein shake.

But if that's too cumbersome or pedantic for you, then you can eat some slow-digesting protein like cottage cheese before bed or drink a protein shake consisting of casein and whey protein. Both will achieve the same thing as the slow-release proteins on the market, but at a much lower price.

How much protein should you eat?

The German Nutrition Society says that you only need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This recommendation also applies to grasshoppers, toasters and tree stumps. As you've probably already guessed, we don't agree with this recommendation. Here's why: by definition, these recommendations apply to roughly 95% of the population. With over 80 million people in Germany, that means there are probably a whole lot of people who need more protein - a lot more - and most of those people are labeled athletes.

However, the German Nutrition Society and other official bodies seem to have had something of a divine inspiration recently and have since grudgingly admitted that athletes might need a bit more protein. They have widened the scale slightly and now recommend that endurance athletes consume between 1.2 and 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and strength athletes between 1.4 and 1.75 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

Now, that's not bad, but those of us who have been around a little longer have generally observed that profound things happen when you increase your protein intake to 3 to 4.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Muscle bellies get rounder, fat loss increases, stock prices rise and rain showers disappear. Okay, the last two points are of course not meant seriously, but the first two are.

Are there any studies that support these significantly higher recommendations? No. The closest thing to these values are some Romanian studies that suggest that 3.5 to 4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight might work well for shot-putters. Other studies, such as those conducted by Tarnopolsky, suggest that endurance athletes - but not bodybuilders - need about 1.7 times the officially recommended daily protein intake.

Keep in mind, however, that what scientists call "bodybuilding" is the same as what you or I would call warm-up training. In other words, the three sets of bench presses that scientists often use as a training program do not correspond exactly to what most of us do in the gym, which means that such studies will not lead to any realistic results.

Regardless, once you observe over and over again that increased protein intake leads to bigger and stronger muscles, you will almost inevitably come to the conclusion that more - at least up to a point - is better. Our general recommendation for normal phases of training is at least 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and 3.5 to 4.5 grams per kilogram of body weight during heavy training phases when you want to make rapid progress.

Should I eat soy protein?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration seems to think you should. They allow the following statement on soy products:

"25 grams of soy protein per day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease."

Unfortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't know - or doesn't dare tell us because of the financial interests of influential soy manufacturers - that soy is probably not all that great when consumed in amounts of 35 grams or more per day. The statement on the effects of soy on health should perhaps read more like this: "25 grams of soy protein per day as part of a generally modest lifestyle can lead to an underactive thyroid, increased estrogen levels, reduced sperm count, testicular cell death and reduced testosterone levels."

Oh yeah, what about that claim about reducing the risk of heart attack? At least one study has shown that soy can lower HDL (good cholesterol) levels and increase lipoprotein levels (lipoprotein levels are considered an indicator of increased risk of heart disease) in healthy men. The main culprit for this is most likely the isoflavones found in soy protein: Daidzein and genistein. And I can't imagine any company making the complicated and expensive attempt to remove these isoflavones from their product. If a company did, the product would probably be so expensive that no one would buy it. Apart from that, soy protein can't hold a candle to proteins like whey protein or casein in terms of anabolic properties. If you are a woman who has already gone through the menopause, then you can eat soy protein without worrying too much about it. Everyone else should stay away from it.

Which is better: casein or whey protein

Now, casein often wins head-to-head races in research studies, but it probably doesn't matter that much whether you're eating casein or whey protein to support your muscle building efforts. I'm of the opinion that if you took 10 clones and trained and lived the same way for a year, you wouldn't see much difference if the only difference was which protein they used.

However, I will admit that studies have shown that consuming casein leads to more protein retention than consuming whey protein. Casein also prevents protein breakdown to a certain extent better than whey protein. When you consume casein, it obviously forms a gel-like mass in your stomach, which means that your body takes longer to absorb the protein, ensuring a fairly long-lasting constant flow of amino acids into your bloodstream.

In contrast, the gastric passage of whey protein is much faster, which leads to an increase in the rate of protein synthesis without altering protein breakdown. Various studies have also shown that casein leads to superior gains in strength compared to whey protein. In addition, casein contains the highest amount of glutamine of any protein source commonly consumed by strength athletes. However, whey protein still has its raison d'être. As mentioned earlier, whey protein is quickly digested and causes a rapid increase in protein synthesis rates, making it the ideal protein source to consume immediately after training. The best advice we can give is to use both casein and whey protein as part of your bodybuilding efforts.

There are so many types of whey protein. Which one is the best?

The average whey protein consumer will likely encounter three different types of whey protein, which differ from each other in how the protein has been processed.

The first of these types is whey protein hydrolysate. Hydrolysate is a protein in which long chains of amino acids have been broken down into either small groups of amino acids or single, free amino acids. When you eat any protein, it will eventually be hydrolyzed in your digestive tract by the appropriate digestive enzymes, as your body cannot absorb complete protein molecules through the gut, only free amino acids or peptides (protein building blocks) consisting of a maximum of 2 to 3 amino acids. If you consume your protein in hydrolyzed form, this means that your digestive tract has been relieved of a lot of work. For this reason, these types of proteins are absorbed by your body much faster than non-hydrolyzed proteins. The second type of whey protein you will find on the market are whey protein isolates and concentrates. Whey protein isolates and concentrates are made from whey using ceramic filters. The end product is a high quality protein that has not been exposed to heat during processing and therefore still has its full immune system supporting properties. The primary difference between isolates and concentrates is a difference in protein, lactose and fat content based on the exact manufacturing process. While whey protein concentrates can contain between 60 and 75% protein and up to 20% carbohydrate, particularly high quality isolates can contain close to 90% protein and less than 5% carbohydrate. The third type of whey protein found on the market is called ion-exchanged whey protein. This is a whey protein that is produced by changing the chemical charges of the protein. Chemicals are used to achieve this, which results in the protein being slightly chemically altered or denatured compared to its natural state, but the end product is the purest of all whey proteins with the highest protein content and the lowest fat and carbohydrate content.

Does it matter what type of whey protein you use?

Probably not, except during the post-workout phase. This is the period when a fast and easily digestible protein such as a whey protein hydrolysate is beneficial.

I keep hearing from supposed nutrition experts that excessive protein consumption can lead to serious health problems. Is this true?

We hear this kind of thing all the time from college freshmen who are just taking their first nutrition class. Most of these claims have something to do with high protein consumption supposedly damaging the kidneys. However, this conclusion is the result of misguided logic. While it is true that a high protein diet is not healthy for people suffering from kidney disease, there is no reason to conclude that the same high protein intake could damage the kidneys of healthy men and women. Think about it this way: if high-protein diets were really damaging to the kidneys, shouldn't we see a higher incidence of kidney damage in athletes who started training with weights and eating a high-protein diet in their fifties, sixties and seventies? This is not the case. High-protein diets are also said to result in calcium being leached from the bones. This is true. However, consuming a single glass of milk per day (or taking an equivalent amount of calcium from other sources) would already provide enough calcium to replace the amount of calcium lost from a high-protein diet.

And last but not least, it is claimed that a high-protein diet correlates with the incidence of heart disease. This may have been true in the days before protein powders existed and strength athletes had to rely solely on large amounts of animal protein, which is often high in saturated fat, but this is no longer the case. There are probably many more frequently asked questions about protein, but we think we've covered the most important ones.

By TC Luoma

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