supplements really better than protein foods? Before attempting
to answer this question, I should first preface it by mentioning
that I do not sell supplements, nor am I associated with any supplement
company, so youre getting an honest and unbiased opinion.
Don't get me wrong; I am not anti-supplement by any means. It
would simply be more accurate to say that I am "pro-food."
There are a lot of good supplements on the market, and I've used
many of them, including a multi vitamin, creatine and essential
fatty acid (EFA) supplements such as Flaxseed oil. Protein powders
and meal replacements can also be indispensable if you don't have
time to eat every three hours. However, protein supplements are
not the master key to your success, real food is!
Did you ever
notice how articles about protein in certain bodybuilding magazines
are seldom objective? Instead, they all seem to be slanted towards
hyping some "revolutionary" new product. Did you ever
wonder why? In my opinion, most articles on protein supplements
are nothing more than thinly disguised advertisements (some very
thinly). Sometimes they give you a very persuasive-sounding argument,
replete with dozens of references from scientific studies (mostly
done on rodents, of course). They even give you an 800 number
at the end of the article to order. (How convenient!)
manufacturers throw around fancy words like cross flow microfiltration,
oligopeptides, ion-exchange, protein efficiency ratio, biological
value, nitrogen retention and glycomacropeptides, it sure sounds
convincing, especially when scores of scientific references are
cited. But don't forget that the supplement industry is big business
and most magazines are the supplement industry. Lyle McDonald,
author of "The Ketogenic Diet," hit the nail on the
head when he wrote "Unfortunately, the obsession that bodybuilders
have with protein has made them susceptible to all kinds of marketing
hype. Like most aspects of bodybuilding (and the supplement industry
in general), the issue of protein is driven more by marketing
hype than physiological reality and marketing types know how to
push a bodybuilders button when it comes to protein "
"experts" (read: people who sell supplements), state
that there are distinct advantages of protein supplements (powders
and amino acid tablets) over whole foods. For example, they argue
that whey, a by-product of the cheese-making process, is a higher
quality protein than most whole food sources. There are many different
methods of determining protein quality, including biological value
(BV), protein efficiency ratio (PER), Net Protein Utilization
(NPU), chemical score, and protein digestibility corrected amino
acid score (PDCAAS). If you have ever seen advertisements for
protein powders and supplements, you have undoubtedly heard of
one or more of these measures of protein quality.
BV is one
of the most commonly used and is arguably, the best measure of
a protein's quality. BV is based on how much of the protein consumed
is actually absorbed and utilized by the body. The higher the
amount of protein (nitrogen) that is actually retained, the greater
the BV. If a protein has a BV of 100, it means that all of the
protein absorbed has been utilized with none lost. Whole eggs
score the highest of all foods with a BV of 100, while beans have
a BV of only 49.
is certainly an important issue, but it is one that has been enormously
overstated and even distorted for marketing purposes. Whey protein
is truly an excellent protein with a biological value at or near
100. Many advertisements list whey as having a BV between 104
and 157, but if you look in any nutrition textbook it will tell
you that it is impossible to have a BV over 100. In "Advanced
Nutrition and Human Metabolism," BV is defined as "a
measure of nitrogen retained for growth and/or maintenance that
is expressed as a percentage of nitrogen absorbed."
When a protein
supplement is listed as having a BV over 100, the company has
intentionally manipulated the number for marketing purposes or
unintentionally confused BV with another method of rating protein
quality. Certain whey proponents claim that whey is "superior
to whole egg" so the percentage sign on BV had to be dropped
and the scale extended beyond 100. It was noted by bodybuilding
writer Jerry Branium in IRONMAN magazine that in a study where
the BV of whey was reported to be 157, the author confused BV
with chemical score. Chemical score is a comparison of the amino
acid pattern in an ideal reference protein to a test protein and
therefore the number can exceed 100. 157 was actually the chemical
score and not the BV.
and strength athletes already consume more than enough protein
(an understatement if there ever was one), so the importance of
BV to these athletes who are already consuming copious amounts
of protein has been overplayed. Even though whey has a higher
BV than chicken breast, fish or milk protein, if the total quantity
of protein you consume is sufficient, then it is not likely that
substituting whey for food proteins will result in any additional
choose a whole protein food or a protein supplement isnt
as important as some would like you to believe. For the purposes
of developing muscle, the only guidelines for protein that you
must follow are: (1) consume a source of complete protein with
every meal, (2) eat at frequent intervals approximately three
hours apart (about six times per day) and (3) consume a minimum
of .8 grams to 1 gram per pound of body weight. There are times
when it would be beneficial to consume more than one gram per
pound of body weight, but that will have to be the subject of
protein does have a high BV, it probably offers the most benefits
when you are dieting on very low calories. When your energy intake
and correspondingly, your protein intake, are reduced, whey protein
could help you get greater utilzation of the smaller amount of
protein that you are taking in. In other words, choosing proteins
of the highest quality is more of an issue when you are dieting
than when you are focusing on mass gains when total calories and
protein are being consumed in abundant amounts. Whey protein also
provides a way to get high quality protein without the fat, which
is also important when dieting.
It has been
suggested that whey may have other advantages besides high protein
quality, although they are frequently overstated. These benefits
include enhanced immunity, increased antioxidant activity and
quick absorption. Several studies in "Clinical and Investigative
Science" by Dr. Gerard Bounous of Montreal have shown that
whey protein provides anti carcinogenic properties, protection
from infections, and other enhanced immune responses. Whey protein
was also been shown to raise levels of Glutathione, an important
antioxidant that can offer protection from free radical oxidative
damage. While such findings are very promising, all these studies,
which are frequently quoted in whey protein advertisements, were
performed on mice, so it is unclear how well the results extrapolate
benefit of whey protein is its fast absorption rate. Although
there isnt any evidence that protein supplements digest
more efficiently than whole foods (as is often claimed), they
are definitely digested faster. This is most important after a
training session when the rates of protein synthesis and glycogen
re-synthesis are increased. This is the reason it is often recommended
that a liquid meal containing protein and a high glycemic carbohydrate
be consumed immediately post-workout and that whey is the ideal
protein for this purpose. Even in considering post-workout nutrition,
there is still little proof that a liquid protein-carb complex
will actually produce better muscular growth than whole foods,
as long as complete whole food protein foods and complex carbohydrates
are consumed immediately after the training session and every
three waking hours for a period of 24 hours thereafter.
protein absorption rates, the discussion of fast acting versus
slow acting proteins seems to be the latest hot topic these days
in bodybuilding circles. The interest was sparked by studies in
1997 and 1998 that examined the differences between the absorption
rates of whey versus casein. The researchers concluded that whey
was a fast acting protein and was considered to be more "anabolic"
while casein was slower acting and was considered to be more "anti-catabolic.
" It was further hypothesized that consuming a combination
of these two types of proteins could lead to greater muscle growth.
These findings have prompted the supplement companies to market
an entirely new category of protein supplements; casein and whey
mixes. The problem with drawing such conclusions so quickly is
that these studies looked at the speed of whey and casein absorption
in subjects who had fasted for 10 hours before being fed the protein.
Any suppositions drawn from this information are probably irrelevant
if you are eating mixed whole food meals every three hours. Obviously,
more research is needed.
fascination with various rates of protein absorption could be
compared to the interest in the glycemic index. The glycemic index
is a scale that measures the rate at which the body converts various
carbohydrate foods into blood glucose. The higher the glycemic
index, the faster the food is converted to glucose and the larger
the insulin response. Therefore it is said that high glycemic
foods should be avoided in favor of low glycemic index foods.
The error in relying solely on the glycemic index as your only
criteria for choosing carbohydrates is that the index is based
on consuming a carbohydrate food by itself in a fasted state.
are consumed in mixed meals that contain protein and a little
fat, the glycemic index loses some of its significance because
the protein and fat slow the absorption of the carbohydrate. Thats
why the glycemic index is really much ado about nothing and the
same could probably be said for the casein and whey argument.
It's just the latest in a long string of new angles that supplement
companies use to promote their protein: free-form vs peptides,
concentrate vs isolate, ion exchange vs microfiltration, soy vs
whey, casein and whey mix vs pure whey and so on. Every year,
you can count on some new twist on the protein story to appear.
Certainly there are going to be advances in nutrition science,
but all too often these "new discoveries" amount to
nothing more than marketing hype.
amino acid pills? Amino acids pills are simply predigested protein.
Proponents of amino acid supplementation claim that because the
amino's are predigested, the body will absorb them better, leading
to greater improvements in strength and muscle mass. It sounds
logical, but this is a gross underestimation of the body's capacities
and actually the reverse is true: The human digestive system was
designed to efficiently process whole foods; it was not designed
to digest pills and powders all day long. Amino's are absorbed
more rapidly in the intestine when they are in the more complex
di and tri-peptide molecules.
gets better use of the aminos as protein foods are broken down
and the amino's are absorbed at just the right rate for your body's
needs. In "Exercise Physiology; Energy Nutrition and Human
Performance," authors Katch and McArdle state that "Amino
acid supplementation in any form has not been shown by adequate
experimental design and methodology to increase muscle mass or
significantly improve muscular strength, power, or endurance."
consuming predigested protein when you are seeking fat loss is
not necessarily advantageous because it shortchanges you of the
thermic effects of real food. Whole foods have a major advantage
over protein supplements; they stimulate the metabolism more.
This is known as the "thermic effect of food." Protein
has the highest thermic effect of any food. Including a whole
protein food with every meal can speed up your metabolic rate
as much as 30% because of the energy necessary to digest, process,
and absorb it. This means that out of 100 calories of a protein
food such as chicken breast, the net amount of calories left over
after processing it is 70. In this respect, the fact that protein
foods digest slower than amino acid tablets is actually an advantage.
A final argument
against amino acid supplements is the cost. Amino's are simply
not cost effective. If you dont believe it, pick up a bottle
and do the math yourself. One popular brand of "free form
and peptide bonded amino acids" contains 150 1000mg. tablets
per bottle and costs $19.95. 1000 mg. of amino acids equals 1
gram of protein, so the entire bottle contains 150 grams of protein.
$19.95 divided by 150 grams is 13.3 cents per gram. Let's compare
that to chicken breast. I can buy chicken breast from my local
supermarket for $2.99 a pound. According to Corinne Netzers
"Complete Book of Food Counts," there are 8.8 grams
of protein in each ounce of chicken, so one pound of chicken (16
oz) has about 140 grams of protein. $2.99 divided by 140 grams
equals 2.1 cents per gram. The amino acids cost more than six
times what the chicken breast does! I dont know about you,
but Ill stick with the chicken breast.
advantage of protein supplements is not that they can build more
muscle than chicken or egg whites or any other whole food protein,
the biggest advantage is convenience. It is easier to drink a
protein shake than it is to buy, prepare, cook and eat poultry,
fish or egg whites. Consuming small, frequent meals is the optimal
way to eat, regardless of whether your goal is fat loss or muscle
gain. To keep your body constantly in positive nitrogen balance,
you must consume a complete protein every three hours. For many
people, eating this often is nearly impossible. That's when a
high quality protein supplement is the most helpful.
convenience, the truth about protein supplements is that they
offer few advantages over protein foods. There is no scientific
evidence that you can't meet all of your protein needs for muscle
growth through food. As long as you eat every three hours and
you eat a complete protein such as eggs, lean meat or lowfat dairy
products with every meal, it is not necessary to consume any protein
supplements to get outstanding results. Whey protein does have
some interesting and useful properties and supplementing with
a couple scoops each day is not a bad idea, especially if you
are on a low calorie diet for fat loss or when you're using a
post workout shake instead of a meal. Aside from that, focus on
real food and dont believe the hype.
Venuto is a natural bodybuilder and author of the #1 best selling
e-book, "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle, which teaches
you how to burn fat without drugs or supplements using the little-known
secrets of the world's best bodybuilders and fitness models. Learn
how to get rid of stubborn fat and turbo-charge your metabolism
by visiting: www.burnthefat.com.