Protein and Performance: What You Need To Know
Protein supplementation is synonymous with strength training and bodybuilding.
Any serious lifter knows the benefits of having a high amount of protein in their diet - especially if they want to develop muscle size and strength. Any athlete will attest much of their success to their diet and supplementation.
And they would be correct. The simple fact to understand is that if you train at high intensities, with high resistance, your body is urging you to eat more concentrated nutrients.
It's not that a well balanced diet would not be able to meet the demands of exercise.
Supplementing protein works as a concentrated form of nutrients - providing your body with a quick and easily accessible source of energy.
Trouble is, there are several different types of protein ranging from fast absorbing, to slow and each comes in different yields of amino acids.
How do we determine which blend or type is best for your specific goal?
First, let's break down what protein is and how it works.
What is Protein?
Protein is one of our three macronutrient groups. Along with Fat and carbohydrates, they provide the bulk of calories in our diet, provide energy and help our body to function on a daily basis.
On a fundamental level, protein is the nutrient that helps repair tissue. Cellular structures like muscle cells, hair, skin, nails, bones and even blood - they're all made up of proteins, and an increased amount of protein can help you to recover these structures more effectively.
The most important aspect to consider about protein is that the body does not store it.
Fat and carbohydrates are stored macronutrients, which is why your body draws on them (primarily carbohydrates) as fuel throughout the day.
Apart from its caloric value, protein is not a part of any process to provide the body with energy, rather intake of protein can be almost strictly used to repair tissue - especially muscle tissue.
Protein is not described as an energy yielding macronutrient because its metabolised form (amino acids) are not used or stored as fuel, rather as repair tools and hormone balancers. In contrast, metabolized carbohydrates (glycogen) and metabolized fats (glycerol) are stored and readily used to fuel muscular contraction and other internal mechanisms.
Protein is from a class of nitrogenous organic compounds that are eventually metabolised and broken down into amino acids - these amino acids then go to work in specific areas of the body, healing, promoting strength adaptations, balancing hormones, promoting sleep and much more.
How Does Protein Work to Promote Strength and Build Muscle?
Protein is the building blocks of success in the gym. Not only have high protein diets been shown to decrease recovery time, but emerging research is now showing that pre-sleep protein can promote weight loss and even directly stimulate muscle growth while you sleep.
All protein you eat, from any source will eventually be broken down and metabolised into amino acids - these are the real worker bees.
Amino acids vary in roles throughout the body, but the most important driver of success are essential amino acids - these cannot be made by the body.
Protein Builds Strength by:
- Stimulating muscle protein synthesis
- Promoting deeper sleep
- Promoting gains in lean muscle and weight loss
The most important factor to consider is the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis - a precursor to the recovery of muscle.
Each time you eat a high concentration of protein (especially when L-Leucine is present) you will see a spike in the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis - essential for growth and muscular adaptation.
Optimizing and regulating the time at which you stimulate muscle protein synthesis through your diet and supplementation of protein can be the easiest way to see strength progressions.
The Many Forms of Dietary Protein
Depending on your specific goal you may want to invest yourself into independant/specific types of protein, or even a matrix of proteins.
We now know that all protein is broken down into amino acids, but not all proteins digest at the same rate.
Some proteins digest faster than others - this is why it's important to understand which is best for you.
Generally regarded as the king of all proteins, whey isolates digest rapidly, have a high concentration on amino acids and have one of the greatest effects on muscle protein synthesis.
Whey is a byproduct of milk products, a gold nugget left in the process of acquiring milk. Lactose intolerance may want to avoid whey isolates.
Due to the rapid digestion, high concentration of amino acids and low cost, whey isolates are one of the best choices for a post workout protein shake.
An emerging product in the fitness industry for a reason. Unlike its whey counterparts, micellar casein digests at a much slower rate.
In some cases it can take up to 6 hours to fully digest a serving of casein based protein.
Due to its slow digestion, casein is believed to release its amino acids at a constant and consistent rate throughout its digestion - perfect for a pre-sleep protein shake to sustain your muscles with ongoing amino acids while you sleep.
Besides, emerging science is showing that pre-sleep ingestion of protein could actually be the best time to take protein - especially if your goals are strictly focussed on strength and muscle and not catered towards weight loss.
Benefits of Micellar Casein:
- Slow digestion
- Great spectrum of amino acids
- Higher caloric value
- Moderately priced
Now that the plant-based lifestyle is becoming more popular, people are looking for alternatives to milk-based proteins. Pea protein serves as one of the best sources of protein, both in amino acid spectrum and bioavailability - only beaten by pumpkin seeds (for real, pumpkin seeds have a massive spectrum of amino acids).
Pea protein is perfect for anyone looking to avoid milk-based proteins but the concentration of protein per serving cannot compete with whey or casein based proteins.
One of the most overlooked types of protein found in supplements today. Egg based proteins not only contain a great spectrum of amino acids, but they are also lactose free and digest at a near perfect rate.
When it comes to digestion rates, egg proteins fall almost right in the middle between fast absorbing whey and slow absorbing casein.
Benefits of Egg Protein:
- Good spectrum of amino acids
- Low cost
- Moderate absorption rate
- Lactose free
The best of all worlds come in the form of protein blends. Many athletes will use a protein blend as both a post-workout shake and an anytime meal replacement.
Blends generally have a higher caloric value, and the blend of all types of protein provides a constant supply of amino acids throughout the day - perfect for athletes who are on a cutting program in a caloric deficit.
One of our best selling products, Promix contains a five stage blend of beef, whey, rice, protein peptides and casein to provide your muscle with a constant surge of recovery and performance in the gym.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Simply put, this is dependant on your goal and bodyweight. You can use the chart below to calculate your protein requirements.
(220 lbs)100 kg
(180 lbs) 80 kg
(130 lbs) 60 kg
As a general rule of thumb, anyone looking to build muscle should consume 0.8-1.2g/lbs of bodyweight.
A diet that is excessively high in protein can put stress on the liver, kidney, cause constipation, renal failure, heart disease and more.
The Missing Link: Goal Focussed Protein Ingestion
Many people over supplement with protein which can cause internal issues and could limit your potential for strength.
There is always too much of a good thing.
The best way to look at your protein requirements is dependant on your personal goals. If you have goals of optimally building strength (powerlifter), you might be better off with lower levels of protein and higher carbohydrates.
In contrast, if your goals are to build lean muscle and lose weight (optimal body composition) your protein requirements will be higher.
Earlier in the article we touched on protein not being an energy forming macronutrient. This is why powerlifters will increase carbohydrates over protein.
When optimal strength is the goal and weight is not a concern, high carbohydrate and moderate protein is best.
High protein diets have not only been shown to increase the development of lean muscle tissue, but also induce weight loss. Many high performance competitors who are preparing to get on stage will increase their protein intake, drop carbohydrates and only consume minimal fat in order to prepare their body.
Since protein is not stored, your body utilizes the calories, recovers soft tissue and leaves no excess weight behind.
Keep in mind that the lack of carbs and fat will put a damper on your performance in the gym.
You train hard and expect the results to show, but if you are not providing your body with all the nutrients it needs the results won't show.
Irrespective of the type of goal you have, protein intake is essential on any workout program or lifestyle. Protein is the only macronutrient that is not stored by the body or provide a energy deposit, meaning you need to eat it every day - preferably at consistent times.
Use the protein chart above to ensure you are obtaining the correct amount of protein and the corresponding amino acids.
For optimal results try to consume your protein depending on your goal.