Protein Supplements

About Protein

To understand the significance of protein intake to weight training individuals it will be helpful to get a little technical and start at the source of everything: What exactly is protein? and, What impact does it have on us?

Definition of Protein:

Protein is a formation of complex, organic macromolecules consisting of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulphur. It is composed of one or more chains of amino acids. Proteins are fundamental components of all living cells and substances that include enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. These are all extremely important and are required for the normal function of an organism. Protein is essential in the diet of animals for the growth and repair of tissue and can be obtained from foods such as meat, fish, eggs, milk, and legumes. In recent times it has been developed into more potent forms in bodybuilding supplements that are widely used to facilitate intense training.

Definition of Amino Acids:

Chemically, an Amino Acid is an organic compound containing an amino group, a carboxylic acid group, and any of a variety of side groups with a similar chemical signature. They can link together, by peptide bonds, to form proteins or, can function as chemical messengers and as intermediates in metabolism (a conversion to other useful substances). They are the building blocks of protein at its most basic form. There are 20 types of amino acids, 8 of which are essential. This means that they must be attained from food as they cannot be sourced from the body like the non-essential amino acids can.

Definition of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs):

The Amino Acids Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine are called “Branched Chain” because they have a different molecular structure to their brethren. They are 3 of the 8 “Essential” amino acids and are supplemented into diets in an effort to keep the body in an anabolic state (a positive state of growth). The reason they are called BCAA’s is because their structure indicates that they “branch” off another atom instead of forming a straight line in the usual pattern. This tends to make them more versatile and more useful, especially for intense weight training.

BCAA supplementation can assist skeletal muscle growth and maintenance, enhance fat loss, aid energy stores, increase protein synthesis and inhibit the breakdown of proteins. There has also been some indication of increased anabolic hormone release. For weight training and athletic purposes it is desirable to keep your body in a state of positive nitrogen balance which means that you are never lacking in usable protein for growth and maintenance. Ingestion of BCAAs can help this.

Another important BCAA characteristic is the available metabolic conversion to useful energy in times of physical stress from extended exercise activity. There is a process called the Alanine-Glucose Cycle whereby a BCAA is released from muscle cells and is broken down into nitrogen and carbon. The nitrogen unit forms an Amino Acid called Alanine. This in turn is used to form a glucose unit which is immediately utilized for energy production. The carbon molecule is directly burnt as fuel. Thus the blood sugar levels are maintained sustaining energy production and vitality.

Measurements of Protein Quality

Biological Value (BV):

The Biological Value (BV) of a Protein is a number that indicates how well the body can absorb and utilize a protein source. The higher the Biological Value of the protein source you take, the more nitrogen your body can absorb, use, and retain. This means that proteins with the highest BV promote the most lean muscle gains. Whey protein should have the highest BV value rating at 100 while its bodybuilding supplement derivatives apparently rate even higher. It should be noted that these ratings of over 100 BV are still a matter of contention because the method suggests that a score of 100 is an absolute maximum. To me this indicates that the entire rating scale needs to be altered so that all protein sources are put into a realistic perspective. However, for this article, we will assume that all whey products are rated somewhere between 100 (for basic whey protein) and 159 (for the most pure whey protein isolate). It has been said that the process of measuring BV is over-simplified and that ratings of over 100 are not realistic but you can still use these measurements as general guidelines.

Protein Efficiency Rating (PER):

The protein efficiency ratio determines the effectiveness of a protein through the measurement of animal growth (normally in rats). This technique requires the ingestion of a test protein then the measurement of a subjects weight gain in grams per gram of protein consumed. The calculated value is then compared to casein which has a standard value of 2.7. If the value exceeds 2.7 it is considered to be an excellent protein source. Because this test is performed on rats it does not necessarily draw a parallel with humans. It is merely a general guideline.

Net Protein Utilization (NPU):

Net protein utilization is a similar test to biological value (BV) except that it involves a direct measure of retention of the absorbed nitrogen. NPU and BV both measure the same parameter of nitrogen retention but the difference is that BV is computed from the nitrogen absorbed and NPU is attained from nitrogen ingested.

Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS):

PDCAAS is based on the amino acid requirements of humans. A protein scoring of 1.0 means that the tested protein source meets all the essential amino acid requirements of humans according to the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). This rating is thought of as the best and most useful but it does not factor in digestibility.

Percentage Protein (%P):

The percentage of a protein source that is actual protein.

Available Protein Source Values:

Protein BV PER NPU PDCAAS %P Whey 100 3.2 92 1.13 25 WPC 104 3.4 99 1.15 30-80 WPI 159 90+ Casein 78 2.7 76 1.18 BovCol 3 1.0 49-65 Egg 94 3.8 96 1.17 13 (whole egg) -70 (concentrate) Soy 74 2 61 0.96 38 (whole beans) �" 90 (isolate)


I have included the above science lesson to make this article a little more involved and interesting. I’d like to encourage you to think about what you are putting into your body and what impact it has on you. Some of it was probably a little hard to understand but it should help you to comprehend the importance of the role of protein to us crazy weight trainers.

In the next section I will discuss the main types of protein used in the diverse world of supplements. Because there is so much choice out there I feel there is a need to clarify the meaning of all these major players. Trends, advertising and bad advice can have a massive negative effect on your health (and your wallet). You need to be informed and sensible to make decisions with your nutrition that will ensure your goals are reached quickly and safely.

Joey Sheather is the head trainer at Global Weight Training, which provides step-by-step instructions on how to get into shape in the shortest possible time. For more information, visit Online Personal Trainer.

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