The Power of Protein by Anthony Ricciuto
In the world of power and strength, is there any nutrient more popular than protein? Of course not! :: Protein :: is the most popular macronutrient among strength athletes and for good reason. What is it about this powerful nutrient that has everyone consuming more protein? From the lay person to the elite athlete, protein plays a major role in not only our physical health but in our performance. Protein has been researched for years but who really has the time to search through numerous studies trying to put all the data together? I am going to give you the powerlifter a quick overview of this powerful nutrient, and explain what are the best types and ways to incorporate protein in your powerlifting diet.
What is Protein?
Protein is an organic compound composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. One of the main functions of protein is to synthesize structural proteins like muscle. Protein is also responsible for synthesizing structural hormones like Insulin, Growth Hormone and Insulin Growth Factor 1. These are anabolic hormones that can influence many functions in the body including muscle growth, recovery, strength and the absorption of nutrients into your muscle cells. Your body uses protein to make structural and biochemical reactions that are required for muscle contraction, cardiovascular function and immunity from disease, just to name a few.
What does Protein Consist Of?
Protein is composed of 22 amino acids which are known as the building blocks of life. It is these building blocks from which protein molecules are created. There are two main types of amino acids, essential and non-essential. The 9 essential amino acids cannot be manufactured by the human body so they must be obtained from the foods that you consume. Some experts have now broken that down even further into another category known as conditionally essential amino acids. Scientists have found that these amino acids play a major role in performance and recovery. The amino acid index can be seen in Table 1A. There are also two types of protein. They are complete proteins and incomplete proteins. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids while the incomplete proteins are deficient in one or more. When consuming protein one must consume foods that are complete proteins since the body will not fully utilize it towards protein synthesis. It is possible to mix two incomplete proteins to make a complete protein. One example is mixing rice with beans. A list of complete and incomplete proteins can be seen in table 2A.
Basic Physiology of Amino Acids in the Body
So what happens to protein once it enters your body? There are several enzymes in the stomach such as pepsinogen, hydrochloric acid and trypsinogen. These enzymes start to breakdown the long chains of amino acids into shorter chains of amino acids. Once protein is broken down into these smaller chains, this partially digested protein enters your small intestine. Here pancreatic enzymes continue to break down these chains until they are broken down into short chain amino acids also known as polypeptides or into single amino acids. As these amino acids progress through the small intestine, they are subject to another type of enzymes which are known as peptidases. Peptidases are responsible for the break down of the polypeptides into single amino acids and chains of amino acids that are two or three long in length. These are known as dipeptides and tripeptides. Chains of amino acids that are 4 peptides in length cannot be transported across the intestinal wall and this is why they have to be further broken down before they can be absorbed. Once they are broken down into this state, they are now able to be absorbed into the bloodstream. From here they are transported to the liver to perform a specific function. They can now perform one of the following. They can be converted into another amino acid, they can be reduced into metabolites, they can be used to create and form a specific type of protein, or they can reenter the bloodstream causing them to circulate throughout our body.
Whey Protein and Anabolism: Whey was once a byproduct that was thrown away by dairy manufacturers. For the last decade whey protein has been the number one protein. Whey protein is very important for the powerlifter trying to maximize strength and muscle mass for several reasons. First we should discuss something called Biological Value. The Biological Value Scale was developed to measure the quality of a specific protein. It rates how efficiently your body uses a specific protein source. The higher the biological value, the more amino acids and nitrogen your body is retaining from the food you eat. This means there is potential for more muscle growth and strength. Egg whites used to be at the top of the scale as they rated a score of 100. Whey protein rates 106-159. A Biological Value assessment of different protein sources can be seen in chart 3A. Not only is more nitrogen retained in the body with whey protein, but it also enters the bloodstream the fastest. This is very important when you want to get amino acids and other nutrients into the bloodstream as fast as possible. One example would be directly after your workout, since you want to flood your muscles with valuable amino acids at this time to increase anabolism and prevent muscle breakdown. Whey protein is also high in Branch Chain Amino Acids as well as glutamine. Whey is known as the anabolic protein since it increases protein synthesis the best. Even as good as whey gets, you must educate yourself when purchasing whey protein. Not all wheys are created equal. There are three major types of whey. They are whey concentrate, whey isolate and whey hydroslate. The concentrated version of whey is usually between 50-80 percent protein. The isolated version separates whey from lactose, ash, fats and carbs so that you receive a 90-97 percent protein. The best types are either ion exchange or cross flow micro filtered whey isolate. Of course the isolate is more expensive since you are getting more protein per gram of powder. Whey hydroslate is the most expensive but for a reason. It is partially digested and is already broken down into di and tri peptides before it even hits your stomach. This means that it will enter the bloodstream the fastest and is most responsible for producing anabolism when taken directly after your workouts. The best type would be a whey hydroslate 520. This stands for a molecular weight of 520 Daltons. I know this science stuff can get sickening but you will thank me latter when you see major improvements in your total.