Protein is one of the three macronutrients your body needs for energy. The other two are carbohydrates and fats.
Protein is a series of amino acids. Amino acids are the body’s key source of nitrogen. A positive nitrogen balance allows the body to grow and repair muscles, so your body needs protein to promote muscle growth and maintain lean muscle mass.
Protein supplements can help athletes and bodybuilders achieve the necessary daily intake of protein.
Types of protein supplements
There are three key types of protein supplement:
1) Whey Protein
Whey protein contains those amino acids essential for muscle building – leucine, isoleucine and valine – which it rapidly delivers to the body.
There are four main types of whey protein supplements to consider:
Whey protein isolate – At around 90-98% pure protein, this is the purest form of whey protein. It contains less fat or lactose than whey protein concentrate, and also has a lower amino acids profile. A good choice for weightlifters who are watching their weight.
Whey protein concentrate – Composed of around 70-85% protein content, whey concentrate contains more fat and lactose, but is packed full of amino acids and whey peptides. It’s also cheaper than whey isolate and a good option for those trying to bulk or gain weight.
Hydrolysed whey protein – This form is pre-digested in a laboratory setting, which gives it the advantage of being ready for immediate delivery to the muscles. With such a fast absorption rate, it is used during workout and post-workout.
Whey protein blends – a blend will contain a mix of whey concentrates and whey isolates. This is a middle of the road option for those who are maintaining weight rather than bulking or cutting, and who want a quality supplement that’s also cost effective.
2) Micellar casein protein
Micellar casein protein is isolated from milk, and is around 70% protein. It takes much longer to digest than whey protein. Its slow absorption prolongs the period for which the body receives a supply of amino acids. It encourages the burning of carbohydrates for energy, making it a popular choice for those wishing to gain weight.
3) Protein blends
Protein blends are a combination of the above protein sources. If you are looking for a supplement that offers both fast digesting (for immediate energy use) and slow digesting properties (for prolonged positive nitrogen balance), then a blend can be a cost effective choice.
Reasons to take a protein supplement
The average body requires a proper nitrogen balance to carry out muscle maintenance, but it will need additional nitrogen when muscle growth and repair is required. Adding protein via food can be costly and time consuming. Supplements are relatively cheap and convenient.
Weight cutters: protein speeds up the metabolism and aids dieting by encouraging the body to burn fat for fuel.
Weight gainers: there are special weight gainer protein supplements, a mixture of protein and carbohydrates.
Bodybuilders: protein is vital if you want to build muscle.
Athletes: protein provides extra energy, and repairs muscle.
The benefits of protein
Ten effects of protein:
1. Acts as a source of energy when carbs are not available
2. Helps the body burn fat for fuel
3. Preserves muscle tissue during dieting or cutting
4. Builds and maintains hormone levels
5. Keeps pH levels balanced
6. Regulates the balance of fluid in the body
7. Keeps the body’s immune system functioning properly
8. Boosts metabolism
9. Regulates growth hormone levels
10. Helps lower insulin levels in the blood
How much protein to take
The recommended daily allowance for adult protein intake is 55 g. For bodybuilders and endurance athletes this can rise to between 80 g and 160 g depending on body weight and level of training. Use our protein calculator to check your individual protein requirements to gauge how much supplementation your diet requires.
When to take protein
On waking: the body has fasted overnight so a fast digesting protein will quickly restore a positive nitrogen balance. An additional slow acting protein will keep you topped up until your next protein meal.
Pre-workout: a slow digesting protein powder maintains a positive nitrogen balance throughout a workout.
Post-workout: a fast acting protein helps speed recovery, a slow acting protein will see you through to your next meal.
Overnight: your body is starving, so slow digesting micellar casein will maximise your nitrogen balance during this period.
Anybody considering hard training needs to make sure they get enough protein to enable their body to cope with the repair, maintenance and growth of muscle cells. Correct protein consumption is key to developing fitness.