What's the best supplemental form of protein for you? It depends on your needs. If you've been paying close attention to product labels, then you've probably noticed they contain multiple protein sources. Regardless of your supplement savvy, unless you have a graduate degree in sports nutrition, you probably wonder what all the protein jargon means. After all, what's the difference between an ion exchange whey protein isolate and an ultrafiltered milk protein concentrate? Read on, and you'll learn everything you need to know to make the best protein-supplement choices.
The majority of protein powders on the market today contain some form of protein derived from cow's milk. Whether the protein powder in your blender contains whole milk protein, casein or whey protein, it came from Bessie's udder. Protein is separated from lactose and fat in milk via a gentle filtration process that leaves both the casein and whey components intact, as well as the many other beneficial fractions. Whole milk proteins provide the benefits of both whey and casein proteins.
This is the major protein component of milk (about 80%) and it exists as micelles (globules). There are three major caseins--alpha, beta and kappa--that differ by their size. These caseins are easily digested and are often isolated for cheese production. Casein is a slower-absorbed protein that provides a steady trickle of amino acids to muscle cells for several hours, helping inhibit muscle-protein breakdown.
The other major part of milk protein is whey (about 20%). Unlike casein, whey proteins are soluble in liquid and have many different benefits besides muscle growth. Whey is a fast-digesting protein with a high branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) content that quickly delivers these BCAAs to muscle cells. Due to its fast action and its high BCAA content, whey protein is an excellent choice to take immediately before and after your workouts.
Here's a list of some significant whey proteins and their important properties.
The largest protein fraction of whey, it's rich in BCAAs.
A low-molecular-weight peptide fraction of whey that is easily digested, allowing faster absorption and uptake by muscles.
Actually a fraction of casein that is often found in whey, it stimulates the release of CCK--a hormone that signals to the brain that you are full--which helps to reduce appetite.
Fractions of whey that strengthen the immune system.
* Bovine serum albumin peptides
The fractions of whey that are rich in the precursors for glutathione (one of the body's most important antioxidants).
* Lactoferrin and lactoperoxidase
Minor protein fractions that have antimicrobial properties.
UNDERSTAND YOUR PROTEIN PRODUCT
One of the biggest challenges for you as a bodybuilder is understanding what you're buying. Here's a glossary to let you know what's in a product. These are the phrases that you'll find on the ingredients label of protein supplements. Remember that ingredients on labels are listed in order of concentration.
* Whole milk protein (WMP)
Made by filtration of whole milk to remove much of the carbs and fat. This process leaves the biologically valuable fractions that help promote a healthy immune system and aid the recovery from strenuous exercise.
* Milk protein concentrate (MPC)
This has a protein content around 80% and contains both the whey and the casein fractions of milk. Typically, it's very low (around 5%) in lactose content. Ultrafiltration, the preferred method used to produce MPC, employs varying degrees of pressure to force the liquid portion of the milk through a porous membrane that only allows water, minerals and organic molecules to pass through. The bigger protein molecules cannot pass and are collected from the membrane for further processing that results in a powdered protein. Because it provides both fast- (whey) and slow-digesting (casein) protein, MPC is a good choice any time of day, especially between meals and before bed.
* Milk protein isolate (MPI)
Made by precipitating whey proteins and casein from skim milk. The MPI is then washed to remove impurities, providing greater than 85% protein and virtually no lactose or fat.
* Whey protein concentrate (WPC)
The most basic of the whey proteins, this high-quality complete protein contains some carbohydrates and fats. It can vary from 30-85% protein, although most products today fall within the 70-80% range, depending on the amount of filtering that is performed on the whey. The filtration process typically involves ultrafiltration, diafiltration and, sometimes, microfiltration, which usually leave much of the vital fractions in place.
* Whey protein isolate (WPI)
A purer form of whey protein (90% or higher) than concentrate, because it is processed even further via longer filtering or ion exchange (IE). This makes it a good protein to use when dieting because it has a lower carbohydrate and fat content. However, IE WPI will have lower amounts of glycomacropeptide (the CCK trigger that helps stem appetite).
* Whey protein hydrolysate (WPH)
WPH is produced when WPI is taken through one more step--hydrolysis. All whey proteins tend to be absorbed rather quickly, but WPH is absorbed the fastest of the whey proteins, making it a good choice for intraworkout or postworkout consumption. Depending on the manufacturing process, WPH can have a range of 3-50% hydrolyzed protein. A main drawback to WPH can be a bitter taste due to the smaller protein fragments.
*Caseinate (as either calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate or potassium caseinate)
Caseinate contains greater than 90% protein and is the most soluble form of casein--allowing it to mix easily in fluid, making it a top choice by manufacturers of protein powders. It is formed by the reaction of casein with an alkaline substance such as calcium, sodium or potassium. This raises the mineral content of the product. If you're trying to avoid sodium (such as during a shredding phase), read labels carefully and consider avoiding products with high amounts of sodium caseinate. Alternatively, if you want to boost your calcium intake, products that are high in calcium caseinate will give you extra.
* Micellar casein (MC)
MC is made by separating the casein portion of milk from the lactose, fat and whey by microfiltration. This form of casein is not denatured (meaning the protein isn't altered), unlike the other forms, which are often treated with heat or acid. As the name implies, MC can still form micelles upon rehydration with fluid, which makes it much slower digesting than the other casein proteins. The protein drink you take before bed should contain a good deal of MC, to prevent your body from going catabolic during your nighttime fast.
* Hydrolyzed casein protein (HCP)
This protein is formed by the hydrolysis of casein. Unlike the other caseins, particularly MC, HCP is rapidly digested--at a rate similar to WPH.
Without adequate intake, you won't build optimum muscle. Determining what types of protein work best for you and when you should ingest them for maximum impact are critical steps toward realizing your physique goals.
Experiment based on the information provided in this article and your unique requirements to put together a program of protein intake and supplementation that meets your daily needs and immediate goals. Once you've found the right mix, you'll reap the reward of enhanced muscle growth. That's jargon for "getting big fast."
RELATED ARTICLE: CHART YOUR PROGRESS
Here's a menu for what you should take and when, based on a few specific needs and assuming you're taking two supplemental protein products per day. We've anticipated four times of day when you might choose to take these supplements. FLEX recommends taking a protein supplement as your workout meal, in preference to whole-food sources.
NEED TIMING PROTEIN SOURCE DOSE (g)