Knowing the facts behind protein

Gavin Van De Walle

Casein, soy and whey, oh my.  From elite athletes to the average gym goer choose to supplement their body with protein powders – and for good reasons. People understand consuming protein helps to repair your damaged muscles and stimulate new muscle protein synthesis – muscle growth – but the knowledge usually ends there. This can lead to several questions. What type of protein is best to consume after resistance training? How much should I consume after a workout? When is the optimal time to consume protein? 

Walk into any supplement/nutrition store and you will have what seems like 100 different protein powders to choose from. With so many choices, which type of protein is superior for stimulating muscle protein synthesis? A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology took the three most common protein supplements – whey hydrosolate, casein, soy protein isolate – and set out to determine which was more effective in stimulating muscle protein synthesis both at rest and following exercise. The whey protein hydrolsyate was crowned the king. This is due to the peak leucine – a branched chain amino acid – concentrations in the whey protein powder.

The phrase, “more is always better,” is certainly not applicable to whey protein powder. A 2014 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests just that. Researchers had young men weighing approximately 180 pounds ingest either 0, 10, 20, or 40 grams of whey protein isolate after resistance training. The authors of the study determined 20 grams of whey protein is sufficient for maximal muscle protein synthesis in both exercised and rested young men. When the men consume more than 20 grams of whey protein powder, amino acid oxidation and ureagenesis was stimulated – scientific for amino acids that are not used. Of course, for those who have more muscle mass it may be necessary to consume more protein in order to maximize muscle protein synthesis. 

Chances are you have heard of the infamous 30-minute “anabolic window.” The concept entails that you must consume protein within 30-minutes post exercise or your muscles will not benefit. The Sport Science Exchange looked at several chronic studies – which suggest the “window” during which protein should be consumed is likely less than two hours following resistance training. Doing so supports greater gains in lean body mass in younger individuals. Thus, as long as a rapidly digested whey protein powder is consumed within an hour or two following your resistance training, you have nothing to worry about. 

For the maintenance and building of muscle mass, the Sports Science Exchange recommends protein intakes to be in the range of 1.4-1.6 grams per kilogram of bodyweight a day. In order to reach the recommend range, athletes should consume protein at each meal. 

Always remember, whey protein powders are there to supplement the diet – they cannot make up for a poor diet. Food has a much greater impact on your performance in the gym or on the field.