firefighter fitness training

Protein Supplementation

This article on Protein Supplementation is meant as an expansion of our “Which is the Best Protein?” article as well as an assistance to understanding the results obtained from our Protein Calculator. Please read the complete article, including our disclaimers, before embarking on any modifications to your protein intake.

Protein supplementation for people who workout hard is very important in regards to seeing and maintaining results. It plays a part in pretty much every aspect of your bodily function. Protein is vital to the growth and repair of muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, skin, eyes, and even the creation of antibodies responsible to fight off infections, the clotting of your blood and as a source of energy for everyday activities (amongst numerous other things it does!). In regards to working out, most people’s questions about protein relate to when they should take it, how much they should take, and what kind they require.

The consensus in the workout community seems to be that you should consume your protein within half-an-hour of working out. We take a scoop or two of protein as soon as we get home with a large cup of water. The reason we take additional protein is we believe we fall into a class of athletes called ‘Strength and Power’ athletes. This means we work out hard, challenge ourselves, and put a lot of stress on our muscles – requiring more protein than a regular diet can offer us (without needing to eat an extra steak with every meal…). According to Dr. Jay Hoffman and his authoritative review article entitled “Protein – Which is the Best?” (published in the September 2004 issue of the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine) – ‘Strength and Power’ athletes, in order to maximize protein synthesis, meet protein requirements, and maintain a positive nitrogen balance, should consume anywhere between 1.4 and 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. In my case, this works out to approximately 135 grams per day. On days that I perform a lot of powerlifts – I take more than this. The only way I can obtain this much protein without resorting to eating a lot of meat, all day long, is to obtain it from an extra protein source – my choice being whey protein. I add it to smoothies at lunch and take a scoop (or two) of it right after working out.

In the same research article, as its title implies, Dr. Jay Hoffman also reviews the best protein source by ranking them according to a ‘protein rating scale’. This scale is based on several components such as Protein Efficiency Ratio (the effectiveness of a protein through the measurement of animal growth), Biological Value (measures protein quality by calculating the nitrogen used for tissue formation divided by the nitrogen absorbed from food), Net Protein Utilization (Net protein utilization is similar to the biological value except that it involves a direct measure of retention of absorbed nitrogen), and Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (protein quality determined by expressing the content of the first limiting essential amino acid of the test protein as a percentage of the content of the same amino acid content in a reference pattern of essential amino acids). Needless to say Dr. Jay Hoffman has created one of the most thoroughly researched analyses on what type of protein is best – pure and simple! He concludes that “In athletes supplementing their diets with additional protein, casein has been shown to provide the greatest benefit for increases in protein synthesis for a prolonged duration. However, whey protein has a greater initial benefit for protein synthesis. These differences are related to their rates of absorption. It is likely a combination of the two could be beneficial, or smaller but more frequent ingestion of whey protein could prove to be of more value.” The conclusion, as interpreted by myself, is that animal protein is the best (using the results of the protein rating scale only), but if you are vegetarian (such as my wife), soy isolate protein seems to be extremely beneficial as well.

Numerous people have suggested over the years that an increase in protein can have negative health effects. Like much of the information out there, this has not panned out, yet keeps being repeated over and over again for some reason. Several of the primary concerns were regarding high protein intake and metabolic disease risk, impaired renal function, as well as cardiovascular disease. In each of these cases, there are landmark studies that refute these claims. A 2003 study entitled “A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity” concludes that while the risks associated with metabolic disease (metabolic ketosis > releasing ketone bodies > increasing metabolic acidosis > coma and death ensuing…) are greater in the short term (3 months) while in the long term, 6 months and beyond, the body returns to a regular baseline state and the risk is no longer exists. A 2000 study entitled “Do regular high protein diets have potential health risks on kidney function in athletes?” demonstrates that bodybuilders consuming large amounts of protein – 2.8g per kg of body weight – showed absolutely no negative results in kidney tests. That’s one full gram (greater than 50%) more than what we consume per kg of bodyweight. In regards to cardiovascular disease and higher protein intake, two research articles, Hu et al., (1999) and Jenkins et al., (2001) actually show an inverse relationship between protein intake and cardiovascular disease and a decrease in fat content in the blood profiles of people consuming higher amounts of proteins. Obarzanek et al., (1996) even demonstrates that the consumption of higher amounts of protein resulted in lower blood pressure levels. The one medical reason why people should actually consume less protein is if they have an existing kidney disease, where a lowering of the protein content is thought to reduce the progression of renal disease (according to Brenner et al., 1996).

As with everything else that we claim in our eBook or on our website, and in anyone’s eBook or website for that matter, we don’t want you to take anything from us at face-value. Do your own research and review the articles I have referenced above. Before considering protein supplementation, talk with your healthcare professional to ensure you do not have any underlying conditions that would contraindicate an increase in protein. We’re not doctors or scientists – remember that!

General References:

Foster, G.D., Wyatt, H.R., Hill, J.O., McGuckin B.G., Brill C., Mohammed B.S., Szapary P.O., Rader D.J., Edman J.S. and Klein S. (2003) A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. The New England Journal of Medicine 348, 2082-2090.

Hoffman, Jay R., Falvo, Michael J., Protein – Which is Best?, Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 2004; 3:118-130

Hu, F.B., Stampfer, M.J., Manson, J.E., Rimm, E., Colditz, G.A., Speizer, F.E., Hennekens, C.H. and Willett, W.C. Dietary protein and risk of ischemic heart disease in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999 70, 221-227.

Jenkins D.J.A., Kendall C.W.C., Vidgen E., Augustin L.S.A., van Erk M., Geelen A., Parker T., Faulkner D., Vuksan V., Josse R.G., Leiter L.A. and Connelly P.W. High protein diets in hyperlipidemia: effect of wheat gluten on serum lipids, uric acid and renal function. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001, 74, 57-63.

Obarzanek, E., Velletri, P.A. and Cutler, J.A. Dietary protein and blood pressure. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1996, 275, 1598-1603.

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