Summary:

  • Not all protein is equal (complete and incomplete proteins)

  • Protein has many health benefits: reduces cortisol (stress hormone), lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation and promotes fat loss and lean muscle mass GAINZ

  • Athletes/Physically active people require more protein than the average Joe

  • Increased levels of protein are linked to increases in lean muscle mass and a decrease in body fat

  • Taking digestive enzymes with protein (foods or supplements) increases protein absorption

  • Food sensitivities and allergies can impact the absorption of protein food and supplements

  • The factors that determine protein quality include amino acid profile, bioavailability and toxicity.

  • Soy is the devil, AVOID

  • Get your protein from food sources (preferably animal protein) and use the minimum amount of supplementation. Athletes/Physically active people may struggle to get daily needs from food alone

  • If supplementing with protein it's a good idea to use more than one type of protein and to cycle on a day-to-day basis, you don't want to build a food sensitivity to your protein supplements

  • The best protein supplement for athletes is the one your not taking

With all the misinformation media reports and marketing regarding workout supplements, it’s hard to know what to believe. We all know that protein is an essential macronutrient in the diet, especially for highly active individuals. The amino acids found in protein serve as building blocks for tissue, skin, hair, bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscle.  Protein is found in foods like meat, dairy, eggs, nuts, and beans.  It’s also present in plant foods in small quantities such as vegetables and grains, athough absorption rates are lower in plant foods.

Protein has been shown to reduce cortisol (stress hormone), lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and promote fat loss.  Many of these benefits are linked to the fact that protein is an appetite suppressor, increases insulin sensitivity, and contains compounds that raise antioxidant status.

Currently, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight each day (g/kg/day) [1,2], but people who exercise and train hard regularly require more protein. Most estimates for athletes suggest between 2x the current RDA or 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight each day [1]. The Harris Benedict formula can be used to calculate the protein requirements of athletes and highly active people (example: 35yr old male, 170cm, 75kg, Training 5-days per week, maintaining weight requires 280g of protein per day.  32yr old female, 162cm, 65kg, Training 5-days per week, maintaining weight requires 234g of protein per day). As an athlete, it can be hard work trying to eat enough real whole foods to meet protein demands.  Research keeps suggesting the required protein amount for optimal performance might be even higher than previously expected.

protein.jpeg

Recent research has repeatedly demonstrated the efficacy of increasing the amounts of protein in the diet to facilitate fat loss and maintain lean muscle mass. While many protein supplements have claimed to increase fat loss, this is a function of the protein, rather than the supplement itself. This means that the supplement itself does not reduce fat, but consuming more protein often aids with fat loss. In 2013, Pasiakos and colleagues published a study where participants created a 40% energy deficit (10% deficit from increased energy and 30% deficit from dietary manipulations). The 39 participants were split into three groups:

  • Group 1: Ingested protein at the current RDA

  • Group 2: Ingested protein at 2x the RDA

  • Group 3: Ingested protein at 3x the RDA (2.5g per kilogram of body weight each day (g/kg/day))

All three groups lost significant amounts of weight after the 21day study, but groups 2 and 3, who ingested the highest amounts of protein, lost significantly higher amounts of fat (approximately 64-70% of the weight loss was body fat) and maintained higher levels of lean muscle mass [6].

A 2015 Australian study reported that protein ingestion could help to increase muscle protein synthesis after completion of combined bouts of cardio intervals and resistance training, a very common prescription of exercise for people who desire to maximise fat loss [7].

It's no secret that protein, whether from animal or other sources, can help increase muscle hypertrophy, increase the chances of fat loss, and minimise muscle loss while cutting calories to get shredded.  Protein also has the most significant effect on satiety.  

Do protein supplements real stack up?

Protein supplements are a MASSIVE business; it can be an impossible task to figure out which supplement is best.  Some protein supplement companies spike their products with substances that are not included on the label, mostly bulking agents to save costs and increase margins.  

Before I answer this question, I want to make it clear that I do not promote the use of a protein shake as a breakfast, lunch or dinner meal replacement, or protien bars for that matter (they are generally full of crap).  I would recommend using a protein shake post training or to increase protein intake on top of healthy eating. You should source as much of your protein from real whole food as there are many other essential micronutrients found in food that is not found in protein supplements (Vitamin B12, Iron, Zinc, Magnesium, etc…).

Whey is considered the most superior protein source due to it having an ideal amino acid profile, particularly leucine, and it being easily digestible (but is it?).

How much are you absorbing?

What if you aren’t absorbing all – or even half – of your protein from food or your supplements?  According to a 2008 study [8], it takes 1.5 hours for viscous liquids (e.g. whey protein) to pass through the section of the gut that can absorb it, and the maximum rate that whey protein can be absorbed is about 8-10 grams per hour.  Many coaches and supplement brands recommend you take higher dosages than 10g, but that's merely a lot of protein (and money) going down the toilet!

The study went further to test the digestion rate of whey alone and the digestion rate of whey + digestive enzymes (in this case, Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus oryzae).

  • Straight pure whey had a 30% increase in total amino acid levels after 4 hours.

  • Whey + 2.5 grams of enzymes** had a 110% increase in amino acid levels

  • Whey +  5 grams of enzymes** had a 127% increase in amino acid levels

**Another interesting finding was that less nitrogen was excreted when the whey also had enzymes.  Less nitrogen excreted means a more positive nitrogen balance, which means a more anabolic environment in the body.

It might be a surprise to you, but many people suffer food allergies or intolerances to protein supplement like whey.  I know because I’m one of them. Many consider lactose as the issue, but most high-quality whey produce have the lactose removed, and it's not the problem. I often send clients for food sensitivity testing (IgG), and 90% of them come back with dairy, especially whey.  

Some of them notice bloating or gas after consuming whey, or they may feel flu-like symptoms: lethargy, low energy,  brain fog.  They may feel no side effects at all, but that does not mean they are not sensitive to whey, there can be unnoticed impacts. Food sensitivity symptoms are not healthy and should not be brushed aside. Instead, they should be dealt with and eliminated.  The more whey you consume the higher the chances of building a food intolerance or sensitivity. Those who take whey more than three times a week should certainly get tested as this can interrupt absorption and therefore the whole point of taking whey is destroyed. 

DairySensitivity.jpeg

While casein protein has been implicated in more cases of milk protein problems than whey, both milk proteins can cause similar issues. This is because, in some individuals, casein and whey can cause an excessive inflammatory immune response.  If this is the case, it's pointless taking whey or casein as a supplement as it is doing more damage than good.

If you consistently get gassy and bloated or stuffy and mucousy after having a supplemental protein product, it may be time to switch the type of protein you are using. If supplementing with protein it's a good idea to use more than one type of protein and to cycle them on a day-to-day basis as not to build a food sensitivity

Before comparing proteins, you should know what you’re comparing. The factors that determine protein quality include:

  • Amino Acid Profile: Complete proteins (animal proteins) contain all essential amino acids, whereas incomplete protein ( mainly plant proteins) are lacking in one or more essential amino acids.

  • Bioavailability: No matter how much protein a food has, if you can't digest and absorb it, it won't benefit you.

  • Toxicity: Some proteins are more likely than others to cause an immune response or allergic reaction.

"The best proteins are those that contain all essential amino acids in a bioavailable form and have a low potential for toxicity." [13]

There are several ways to measure protein quality, and each measure has its strengths and weaknesses. The most widely accepted standards of how your body uses different types of protein are:

  • Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER) is based on the weight gain of a test subject (typically a rat) divided by its intake of a particular food protein during the test period. The problem is that the effect of a given protein on growth in rats doesn't necessarily correlate with the effects on humans.

  • Net protein utilisation (NPU) is the ratio of amino acids converted to proteins to the ratio of amino acids supplied. Another way to think of it is the amount of protein that food makes available to your body based on digestibility and the amino acid composition. This test is influenced by the essential amino acids in the body and limiting amino acids in the food. NPU is limited in its usefulness because it does not take into account several key factors that influence how protein is digested and absorbed.

  • Biological value (BV) is a measure of the proportion of absorbed protein from food that becomes incorporated into the proteins of the body. Think of it as how well the protein can be used for synthesising new proteins. Nitrogen retention is monitored. This entry from the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine notes that; "The biological value does not take into consideration several key factors that influence the digestion of protein and interaction with other foods before absorption. BV has the same limitations as NPU.

  • Protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) created by Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations World Health Organisation. This method combines the amino acid profile of the protein (complete or incomplete) with the true digestibility of the protein (how much is typically absorbed). PDCAAS values are expressed on a scale of 0 to 1, with 1 being the highest score. This method has been the prefered method since 1989

The amino acid profile of the protein source is also an important aspect to consider. A complete protein will contain the full range of essential amino acids (amino acids you have to get from your diet), or it will contain essential amino acids that are difficult to get from dietary sources.

A complete amino acid profile means that every amino acid makes an appearance. It doesn’t mean it has the amounts you need. The amino acids link up and synthesise proteins in the body only when they have the right partners. If an essential amino acid is available in small amounts, that amino acid limits the amount of protein you can synthesise in the body. Collagen helps balance out these proportions, which we’ll talk about in a minute.  

Most protein powders have their strengths and weaknesses.

Protein Type: BeefIso
BV: 80
NPU: 73
PDCAAS: 0

Beef IsolateBeef protein is a high-quality protein source if it comes from the right part of the animal.  Hydrolyzed beef protein isolate, hydrolyzed gelatin may sound fancy, but what exactly are they? Hydrolyzed Beef Protein Isolate is also known as collagen. Collagen is not a complete protein source and is high in glycine, proline, arginine, and hydroxyproline.  Gut bacteria turns collagen peptides into butyric acid which is good for digestion.

BeefIso is low in leucine (3.3g per 100g compared to whey 10.7g per 100g) and low in essential amino acids in general with only around 21%.  The real kicker is that the PDCAAS of collagen and Gelatin is zero due to the fact that it is lacking in tryptophan.

Supportive research exists for both beef and whey protein with some of the initial work with beef protein being completed in 2007 that demonstrated beef protein could instigate a robust increase in muscle protein synthesis [4]. A recent 2015 investigation directly compared the ingestion of beef protein to whey protein ingestion and first concluded that while both beef protein and whey protein increased muscle protein synthesis, whey protein exhibited an even greater anabolic response [5].

A separate 2015 study [3] compared the consumption of Beef Protein Isolate (BeefISO™), Whey Protein isolate or maltodextrin (placebo). Subjects trained five days per week (3 resistance training, two cardio) for eight weeks as a part of a daily undulating periodized resistance-training program. Two servings (46g) of protein were consumed immediately following exercise or at a similar time of day on off days.  Dual-emission X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) was used to determine changes in body composition. Maximum strength was assessed by one-rep-max (1RM) for bench press (upper body) and deadlift (lower body).

Both BeefISO™ (5.7%) and Whey Protein (4.7%) lead to a significant increase in lean body mass compared with baseline.  Both BeefISO™ (10.8%) and Whey Protein (8.3%) lead to substantial fat loss compared to baseline.  There was no significant difference in strength gains associated with either of the supplements in this study.

Protein Type: HydroBEEF
BV: 80
NPU: 73
PDCAAS: 0.92

HydeoBeef protein is a good option if whey and pea protein cause digestive issues or if you want some variety. HydroBEEF is a new type of protein that is derived from an infusion process of grass-fed beef with no added hormones. The manufacturing process is completely chemical free and done in such a way that preserves critical nutrients, peptides, amino acids, nucleotide fractions, vitamins and minerals. HydroBEEF is over 97% pure protein, is packed with branched chain amino acids, which are critical for recovery and has a nitrogen score over 100 (higher than whey) making it very easily digestible. I can not find any reference to the amino acid balance in HydroBeef as the time of writing this blog, which leaves me wondering?

Protein Type: Casein
BV: 77
NPU: 76
PDCAAS: 1.0

Casin is a dairy protein that is slowly digested, it not very appropriate post workout.  Casein often causes food sensitivities.  It's generally more expensive and not recommended as a quality protein source.

Protein Type: Egg
BV: 100
NPU: 94
PDCAAS: 1.0

Eggs are arguably the most allergenic of all proteins.  It's just not worth the risk, it can destroy your guts.

Protein Type: Soy
BV: 74
NPU: 61
PDCAAS: 0.91* (Not the case when phytates have not been removed) 

Soy protein is not a useful alternative. It is high in allergens (some 28 different proteins present in soy have been found to bind to IgE antibodies). Soy also blocks the absorption of essential minerals such as calcium unless the phytates have been removed, and soy contains high levels of phytoestrogens, which although beneficial in moderate amounts, can be counter-productive in large quantities.  It contains phytoestrogens, which bind with hormone receptors, altering levels of testosterone and oestrogen.

Soy is toxic to humans (in all forms), and research suggests that soy protein isolate decreases muscle strength, lowers testosterone, and increases cortisol when consumed post-workout. Soy is the most popular GMO crop on the planet with more than 94% of soy in the US coming from GMO seeds.  GMO soy is Roundup ready, meaning it responds exceptionally well when sprayed with the pesticide Roundup, which has been classified as a carcinogenic by the World Health Organisation.

In the 1990s, soy was genetically modified to survive “extreme” amounts of the broad-spectrum herbicide glyphosate[10][11]. Researchers have identified strong associations between glyphosate and cancer [12], so you want to avoid it at all costs. 

Protein Type: Whey
BV: 104
NPU: 92
PDCAAS: 1.0

Whey concentrate - the least processes and has the least available protein (70-85%) with the remainder being cabs and fat. Whey Isolate - goes through further processing to increase the available protein to 95%. Hydrolyzed Whey - is predigested by enzymes, breaking protein into smaller peptides.  This allows the protein to enter the bloodstream rapidly.  

Listen to what’s aligned with your personal goals and your gut.  If you’re training strictly for disease-prevention and long-term health, Organic Grass Fed Raw Dairy is your best bet, and if you’re preparing for strictly physique improvements, Whey Hydrosylate (or a BCAA supplement) will suffice.

Protein Type: Hemp
BV: 87
NPU: ?
PDCAAS: .46 (.63 if hulled)

As a complete food, hemp seed is excellent, one of the super foods, but as a protein supplement, less so. Straight ground hemp seed is only about 30% protein. Even in concentrated form, it will just push to around 50% protein. Although the proteins in hemp (edestin and albumin) are great immune builders, they are less useful as muscle builders.

Protein Type: Pea
BV: 65
NPU: 91
PDCAAS: .89

No saturated fat or cholesterol, highly digestible, hypo-allergenic, economical. Rich in lysine, arginine and glutamine. 100% plant-based. Unusually high in essential branch-chain amino acids (including leucine).  There isn’t much research on pea protein, so it's a hard one to categorise.   Pea protein is known to be satiating, and is high in antioxidants, making it beneficial against inflammation, particularly the GI tract.  However, pea protein contains phytic acid that blocks the absorption of other nutrients in the diet. Pea protein also includes lectins that trigger inflammation and autoimmune response.

Protein Type: Rice
BV: 75
NPU: 76
PDCAAS: .50

Standard cooked rice has a protein content of only 5%-7%. To make concentrated rice protein, whole brown rice is ground into flour, then mixed with water. Natural enzymes are then added sequentially to break down and separate out the carbohydrates and fibres from the protein portion of the slurry. Since the process is enzyme based, the temperature must be kept low to preserve the enzyme activity levels. Rice protein is high in the amino acids cysteine and methionine but tends to be low in lysine, which negatively impacts its bioavailability.

Protein Type: Goats Whey
BV: 104
NPU: 92
PDCAAS: 1.0

Goat’s milk is higher in vitamin A, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Research has found that goat whey forms smaller clumps in your stomach that the cow-based alternative, making it pass through the digestive tract easier and with less discomfort. 

A 2016 study [9] in the Journal of Dairy Science showed that in animal models, goat whey was as efficient as the inflammatory bowel disease medication sulfasalazine in preventing autoimmune induced inflammation in the large intestine. 

When researchers evaluated the intestinal lining, they found that the goat whey had reduced inflammatory propagators such as cyclooxygenase-2, inducible nitric oxide synthase, and matrix metalloproteinase-9.  The goat whey had also increased the expression of the inflammation suppressing cytokine, suppressor of cytokine signalling-1.

Essentially, the goat whey was helping the immune system rebalance itself in a way that would be far more profitable for the body then autoimmunity.   Note, it is still possible to have a food sensitivity to goats milk, its not always the best option.

Interestingly, goat whey protein is also rich in a dietary fibre called oligosaccharides which act as prebiotics – substances that support the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut.

Goat’s milk is less allergenic, naturally homogenised, more comfortable to digest, lactose intolerant friendly, and biochemically and thermodynamically superior to cow’s milk.  The higher concentration of whey proteins in goat's milk would seem to indicate that it can provide more nutrition than cow's milk.  

In some cases, those who have been unable to ingest cow's milk in the past have safely been able to drink goat's milk, although scientists are still not sure why. One theory is that anti-inflammatory compounds known as oligosaccharides found in goat's milk can ease digestion while inside the intestines.

The Best Protein Supplement for Athletes?

Let's be honest, real whole foods are always the best option as they contain far more nutrients than any protein powder.  Athletes can struggle to eat enough real whole food to hit their protein targets and this is where protein supplements can be handy.  The big issue I see, many athletes take the same protein day-in-and-day-out.  These processed foods can quickly cause digestive issues and food sensitivities that have impacts on digestive health and therefore absorption of protein and other nutrients.  The last thing you want is a broken gut.

The best way to prevent food sensitivities is to cycle different foods and not eat the same thing or take the same protein powder, every single day.  It might cost you a little more money to invest in 3-4 different types of protein powder, but the, in the long run, you will absorb more protein and prevent gut issues.  Variety is the spice of life!

REFERENCES:

1. Whey protein supplementation preserves postprandial myofibrillar protein synthesis during short-term energy restriction in overweight and obese adults, Hector, A. J., G. R. Marcotte et al., 2015

2. Requirements of Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats for Athletes. By Chandan K. Sen et al.

3. The effect of beef protein isolate and whey protein isolate supplements on lean mass and strength in resistance trained individuals - a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, Matthew Sharp, et al., 2015

4. Ageing does not impair the anabolic response to a protein-rich meal, Symons, et al., 2007

5. Differences in postprandial protein handling after beef compared with milk ingestion during postexercise recovery: a randomized controlled trial, Burn NA, et al, 2015

6. Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. Pasiakos,. et al, 2013

7. Protein ingestion increases myofibrillar protein synthesis after concurrent exercise. Camera et al. 2015

8. An open-label study to determine the effects of an oral proteolytic enzyme system on whey protein concentrate metabolism in healthy males, Hulius Oben,. et al, 2008

9. Goat whey ameliorates intestinal inflammation on acetic acid-induced colitis in rats, Daline Fernandes de Souza Arujo,. Et al, 2016

10. How”Extreme Levels” of Roundup in Food Became the Industry Norm, Thomas Bohn and Marek Cuhra,2014

11. Glyphosate: Why Eating Organic Really Does Matter, Dave Asprey, 2017

12. Epidemiologic studies of glyphosate and cancer: A review, Pamela J. Mink., et al, 2012

13. The Paleo Cure, Chris Kresser, 2013