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Proteins

The Final Word on Protein

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Normally our diets are very high in carbohydrates and fats. When you eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar immediately raises. This causes your pancreas to secrete the hormone insulin which removes the sugar from the blood and stores it as fat. Conversely, when you eat proteins your blood sugar levels remain low. This causes the pancreas to secrete glucagon. Glucagon travels to the fat cells and extracts fat to be burned as energy.

As important as protein is, oddly, there is no nutrient more misunderstood. To begin, you should understand that a protein is simply a group of different amino acids bonded together. Different types of proteins are comprised of different amounts of individual amino acids. This might be important, depending on what goal you are trying to achieve with protein use. Youíll learn more about this later in this article.

First, let's talk in general terms about protein sources. Basically, there are five general sources of protein/amino acids:

1. Protein from whole foods such as meats, grains and vegetables .

Whole food sources are acceptable because the are widely available and they taste good. On the negative side, however, whole food proteins normally spoil quickly and may contain risky microorganisms which can make you sick or in extreme cases can even kill. Additionally, food proteins normally have high levels of fats or carbohydrates and are highly fibrous, therefore more difficult to digest. Further, depending on the specific food source, they may cause allergies or lose their potency during cooking.

2. Simple Food Concentrates.

Simple proteins concentrates are normally about 80% pure protein. The remaining 20% is made up of by-products, fats, etc. What specifically comprises the 20% depends on the protein concentrate product used. The truth is some concentrates are better than others. The important fact to remember is that 40 grams of protein concentrate only contains 80% protein, that is, about 32 grams of actual protein.

On the positive side, protein concentrates ordinarily taste good and mix well. On the negative side, allergies are still possible with their use and depending on the type and quality of the protein concentrate, it may have high levels of fat or sugar and an absence of important individual amino acids such as glutamine.

3. Intact Protein Isolates.

Intact Protein Isolates are normally about 90% pure protein. Generally, they have properties that are very similar to protein concentrates with the exception that they are inherently more pure. In other words, protein isolates are better manufactured, more expensive protein sources.

4. Protein Hydrolystates.

Protein hydrolystates which are often referred to as peptide or short protein chain aminos. A protein hydrolystate is normally just an isolate that is enzymatically broken down into smaller amino chains (one, two or three aminos long). Protein hydrolysates normally contain no fat or sugar, are hypoallergenic, are very "friendly" digestively and possess the fastest amino uptake of any protein source. On the negative side, they are normally not as pleasant tasting as plain isolates, as the enzyme hydrolystate process normally leaves the isolate with a more bitter taste.

5. Single Free Form Amino Acids

Single free form aminos which are manufactured through fermentation by microorganisms in large biological chambers. These can be manufactured as pharmaceutical grade pure injectables but are very costly, taste terrible, have poor mixability, high digestive irritability and are absorbed relatively slowly.

The second important characteristic of protein to consider is itís parent source. This is important as the amino composition of a protein varies with the parent source. In other words, for muscle growth, the parent protein source caseinate is more desirable than an egg source since it has more of the critical muscle amino glutamine. There are literally hundreds of different parent protein sources of varying degrees of purity. This fact alone can complicate the decision making process for a person. To make things simple, we will highlight a few of the most popular parent sources of protein.

Whey Out Front.

Whey is by far the best selling form of protein in the marketplace today. Whey is one of the two ingredients that is separated from milk (casein is the other). Years ago it was thought to be a waste product left over from the production of certain cheeses. When cheese is produced, milk is "curdled" separating the curd from the whey. The curd is cottage cheese and is predominantly casein. The whey is a sweet, liquified protein complex that contains a large amount of the milk sugar lactose as well as fat and cholesterol. When food chemists realized that whey had an abundance of important amino acids and a better protein profile than the old stand-by egg, they set out to separate the whey protein from the less desirable components of the mix. In other words, the trick was to get a pure whey based protein that was lactose and fat free. Eventually this was achieved through two processes. First, whey was microfiltured. This is a simple physical process where the whey protein was sifted through tiny mesh filters. This serves to separate the whey protein from the secondary ingredients. The second process used is called Ion Exchange. Ion Exchange is a patented and highly sophisticated process where proteins are extracted by taking advantage of the difference between their electronic charge and that of the other ingredients in the mix. Ion Exchanged, microfiltered whey is fat and lactose free and therefore very easy to digest.

Now, before going any further remember that a protein like whey can either be a concentrate (about 80% protein) or an isolate (about 90% protein). So 20 grams of whey concentrate will yield about 16 grams of pure protein while 20 grams of whey isolate will yield a more respectable 18 grams of protein.

A majority of athletes interested in increasing nitrogen retention and muscle growth take an Ion Exchanged Whey protein powder supplement. The relevant question is why? Well, first, due to itís excellent mix of aminos, its solubility and itís digestibility, whey has a very high Biological Value. Biological Value is a general measure of how well a protein is utilized by the body. In fact, whey contains the highest concentration of the branched chain amino acids (about 25%). The branched chain aminos are critical to muscle metabolism and are the first aminos used during muscle catabolism. Secondly, whey isolates contain quadrapeptides (4 amino chains) which have been shown to have analgesic effects on sore muscles (if you are really understanding this, youíll realize that if the whey is hydrolized it wonít contain these 4 chain aminos as hydrolized protein by definition contains single, di and tri amino chains). Third, whey has been shown to stimulate the natural production of Insulin-like growth factor 1, a powerful muscle building hormone.

For the above reasons, not to mention the millions of dollars of advertising (most somewhat deceptive), whey has become the best selling protein product in the marketplace. Certainly it is a decent choice for protein gourmets, however, it lacks many of the highly desirable properties that soy protein possesses, especially for women.

Soy: The Bean Is Queen.

Soy is an ingredient that comes from the soybean. Recently, elite athletes and active women all over the globe have begun trading in their whey based protein powders in favor of soy protein powders. Soy has many advantages for athletes and for active women. First, soy is extremely rich in the muscle critical five amino acid cluster (the 3 branched chain aminos, glutamine and arginine) that will help to develop lean tissue. In fact, nearly 35% of soy protein is made up of these aminos as compared to 18% in whey protein or 16% in beef.

Second , soy protein can be a key to increasing health as it is extremely rich in phytoestrogens and isoflavones. Phytoestrogens are plant chemicals resembling estrogen which have been proven to assist women of all ages in numerous positive ways including reducing the risk of crippling osteoporosis and reducing the liklihood of PMS, irregular menstruation and difficulties during menopause. Further, the isoflavones contained in soy have been proven in double blind scientific studies to lower the risk of hypertension, lower total cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol that sticks to artery walls) and battle mutagenic cell process and various forms of cancer. These results have been demonstrated on doses as low as 47 grams daily.

Third, soy is highly digestable and has a scores a perfect 1.0 in scienceís best, current protein quality standard test known as the Protein Digestability Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS).

Casein: The Forgotten Milk Protein.

Remember when we talked about whey we mentioned that casein was the "other" component produced from milk in the cheese making process. In fact, casein is really just cottage cheese with a higher amount of the milk sugar lactose and the mineral calcium. If you are wondering why you shouldnít just be reaching for defatted cottage cheese rather than mixing up those shakes, well, really, itís not a bad idea except cottage cheese has a terrible tendency to spoil quickly carrying it around in your gym bag. Honestly, although casein gets virtually no attention these days it really isnít a bad source of protein. If I had the choice between a whey concentrate and a casein isolate; I would definitely choose the casein isolate. Why? Well, first casein has a whopping 20.5% glutamine content. Glutamine is a very important amino acid that can help spare muscle mass during intense training or severe dieting. Second, casein is a more body stimulating amino. Huh? What the heck does that mean? Simple. The amino acid tyrosine is responsible for increasing the levels of excitatory neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. Conversely, tryptophan is a sleep promoting amino responsible for increasing serotinin levels in the brain and lowering stimulatory processes. The ratio of tyrosin to tryptophin in casein is the highest of any protein, almost 5 to 1.

The real knock against casein is that natural casein sources tend to contain moderate to high levels of the milk sugar lactose. Although this isnít necessarily a terrible thing, many people are lactose intolerante or suffer from digestive irregularities if they eat products containing too much lactose. Again, casein is not a bad choice for protein but is not nearly as good for women as is soy.

Milk Source Protein: The Cousins Whey and Casein Meet.

A milk protein source is really just a mixture whey and casein, the natural proteins occurring in milk. Logically, it stands to reason that this is a very good protein source incorporating the positive points of both whey and casein but still lacking the tremendously positive health benefits of soy protein.

Egg Protein: The Old King Takes it's Rightful Place in the Frying Pan.

For decades egg was judged to be the single most superior source of protein. Let me explain why. During the time it reigned supreme, there was very little human research being done on individual protein sources. Most of the protein source work being completed was accomplished on the more cooperative test subject, Mr. Lab Rat. So, as the conclusions piled up pointing to egg as being king, most people ignored the fact that the work was being compiled in rodents rather than humans. In retrospect it is actually quite funny. For years, the "Gold Standard" by which protein was judged was a little equation known as the Protein Efficiency Ratio or PER for short. The PER was based totally on rodent research! Thatís right rodents. Think about that. Even a completely clueless dolt could have figured that a mammal whose body is completely and heavily covered in a specific type of flexible protein; that is keratin, more commonly known as hair, might very well have dramatically different protein processing needs than a two legged hundred and twenty plus pound mammal who only has sparse amounts of hair located on their bodies. But did that stop people from proclaiming the PER as tops? You bet it didnít. Nutritional marketeers/mousecateers went overboard proclaiming the egg to be king of all proteins based on the PER ratio. Donít get me wrong, I am not trying to invite the wrath of the world chicken farmers against me. I love eggs. Real eggs taste great and have a very nice amino acid mix. Of all the whole food proteins available, I think eggs are the best. If I had to add one whole food protein source daily into my diet I would choose egg whites before milk, cottage cheese or even the dieters favorite pet, the chicken breast. I just know they are better coming from a shell than from a can. For use as a powdered protein supplement, compared to other sources such as soy, casein or whey, eggs isolates taste terrible, are absurdly expensive and donít offer the functional body shaping value that the other products possess.

Milk and Egg Proteins: An Old Reliable Alternative.

Milk and Egg proteins are nothing more than mixes of caseinate and egg. They have been around for years and are an alternative if you like the sound of the name or you have an extra opened container on your shelf. Really though, they offer less value for your body than soy products or casein and whey mixtures.

A third and final important characteristic of protein is how it is delivered to the body. There are amino tablets, amino capsules, protein powders and liquid protein.