With the convenience and high nutrient content (not to mention delicious taste) of supplemental proteins making them a go-to muscle-builder for many, it’ s no surprise that hoards of aspiring Olympians are gaining like never before. While serious lifters get excellent results using a range of protein types – from bars, RTDs and MRPs to top of the line powders whey and casein – many still seek an ideal combination of each. Indeed, the biggest problem with protein, it seems, is deciding which proteins are best and when to include them for best results. It’s an even more perplexing problem for the bodybuilding newcomer who has less information to guide his or her buying decisions.
Each of the supplemental proteins may hold an important place in one’s muscle-building plan. To include all the different protein sources provides a well-rounded approach to gaining thick layers of mass. You’ve put in the work. Your sore muscles prove your commitment to the iron. However, all the hard work is pointless and will amount to nothing without optimal recovery. We all know that protein supplements significantly improve recovery and directly contribute to muscle growth. Now let’s look at the best of the protein options and discuss where they’ll best fit into your current training plan.
Whey is considered the gold standard in protein supplementation, and for good reason. Rapidly digested and assimilated into muscle tissue to fast-track muscle protein synthesis, whey has in recent decades become a mandatory growth-booster for all committed lifters. It remains one of the more delicious ways to nourish depleted muscles post-training. There are three different types of whey: concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate. Each is effective in its own way, the main difference between the three being the way each has been processed. While some people prefer concentrate due to its cost effectiveness, taste and higher caloric content, others prefer the isolates’ higher protein content (over 90% compared to 70-80% for concentrate), lower lactose and fat concentration, and faster absorption.
Though concentrate is often written off as an inferior form of whey, it’s still an excellent mass builder. Concentrate also contains several biologically active compounds beneficial to health and wellbeing that may otherwise b e destroyed during processing. The best form of post-workout whey remains hydrolysate: pre-digested, hydrolysate is rapidly absorbed and causes a 28-43% greater insulin spike compared with isolate. The most effective whey products will often combine different types of whey while others will go with one over the other. The key thing to re member is that whatever the type, whey protein is only as good as its manufacturing process. Stick with reputable brands for product purity and efficacy.
When to take Whey:
• Whey concentrate (or a concentrate/isolate blend): first thing upon rising or with breakfast.
• Whey isolate (along with an amino supplement): one hour before training.
• Whey hydrolysate: directly after training.
A question many new lifters ask is whether they should take casein or whey. When it comes to these two quality protein sources, there is no either/or. Just as whey concentrate offer benefits unique from isolate (and vice versa), casein offers benefits unique from all forms of whey. Derived from milk, like whey, casein provides a more abundant source of branch chained amino acids, making it an excellent muscle builder.
Casein is also regarded as one of the more anti-catabolic of proteins (it provides a sustained release of aminos to prevent muscle breakdown during training and other stressful events). One study measured muscle mass retention rates of subjects who took either casein or whey. 2 Both groups consumed a hypocaloric diet and engaged in resistance training. Both groups lost fat mass. The casein group however showed greater mean fat loss and strength gains and gained a higher total percentage of lean mass.
The researchers concluded that casein was particularly effective at maintaining muscle size. Such results could be due to casein’s slower amino acid release rate. Though absorbed quickly, like whey, casein, unlike whey, is relatively slow digesting, giving the muscles a steady supply of aminos over a longer period. For example, because it lingers in the bloodstream for up to seven hours, casein makes an ideal snack for periods preceding a sustained fast (such as bedtime or when food cannot be consumed for 4-5 hours ). Casein is also higher in calcium compared with whey. 1
But unfortunately many people are turning away from dairy pro ducts due to their connotations with excess fat gain and health problems such as cardiovascular disease. As a milk protein, casein is one dairy product that delivers massive amounts o f quality protein along with a heft y dose of calcium. Calcium is essential for bone growth, cardiovascular function and can even promote fat loss – three further reasons to include casein.
When to take Casein:
• Directly before bed; between spaced-out meals
READY-TO-DRINK SHAKES (RTDs)
Specifically formulated to provide a range of beneficial nutrients both RTDs and MRPs (Meal Replacement Proteins) do more than just boost recovery to advance fresh muscle gains. Though for serious gym dwellers these products are an excellent way to promote maximum muscle gains, a full complement of valuable vitamins and minerals in addition to fiber and beneficial fats and other nutrients also make them an excellent way to improve general health and vitality.
While RTDs can round out the nutrient balance of a full meal, or provide the basis of a high protein snack, MRPs provide a good balance of the three key macros (carbs, proteins and fats) as well as a decent supply of micros for internal health. For convenience and taste, RTDs and MRPs are among the most popular protein products on today’s market. To achieve the equivalent number of calories and balance of nutrients (as found in a good RTD or MRP) from whole foods alone would take considerable time and effort. Absorbing a ‘ self-made’ shake would also be less efficient compared with a pre-made RTD or MRP version. As an addition to a sound diet, both products, infused with aminos, can be used to support muscle gains while benefiting health.
When to take RTDs:
• RTDs: between meals to provide more protein and calories; post-training (when supplying 25g of protein or more) to commence muscle growth.
• MRPs: two per day (in addition to four whole foods meals) – one midmorning and one between dinner and supper (when gaining weight) or first thing in the morning and as part of a post- workout meal (when dieting).
Providing a blend of proteins (whey, casein and milk) along with fiber, micronutrients and with under-4g of carbs, a good protein bar will satisfy those sweet tooth cravings while lending quality nutrients to enhance muscle size and strength. Unfortunately for the consumer, many protein bars are simply glorified candy. Ultra high in insulin-spiking carbs, additives and bad fats, the ‘ nutrient’ content of many protein bars negates the 20 or so grams of protein each supplies. This has given what started out as a delicious way to supply quality proteins a bad rap and has caused many to seek other protein options.
A good protein bar however can be a nutrient-rich, convenient and flavorsome choice when looking to cut or build. While few protein bars truly deliver the wholesome nutrition a hard-working bodybuilder needs there are some obvious exceptions. Look for a bar that contains at least 20g of a whey/casein/milk blend, is low in sugar, contains organic ingredients, is non-GMO, is rich in healthy fats (virgin coconut oil and almond butter being superior choices) and fiber (apple pectin and quinoa powder topping the list) and which includes probiotics for optimal digestion.
When to take Protein Bars:
• Between meals as a high protein snack to increase body weight; and in addition to 1-2 daily meals to boost the protein content and nutrient balance of these meals.
POWER PROTEINS FOR REAL RESULTS
As most who have experienced excellent muscle building progress will tell you, few gains can be achieved without adequate protein. Yet inadequate protein consumption remains a problem for many otherwise dedicated trainees. To gain more mass, mo re protein is needed than many may think. Forget the one gram per pound of bodyweight mandate. Fully fleshing out those biceps requires around 1.5g, or more, per pound of bodyweight. I’ve personally found this to be the case for both myself and the many clients I train. Once protein is increased, gains occur. Very simple!
Getting all the protein we need (around 250g a day for a 170lb person) can be a difficult task. While whole foods are mandatory for muscle building, supplements are also crucially important. For ease of digestion and convenience and to ensure quality and the proper ration of amino acids, supplemental proteins are becoming more and more popular among serious lifters. But a problem has remained: which supplements are best and when should these be taking for maximum effect? Armed with the above advice you can now be more discerning w hen it comes to protein products. Include those listed above in conjunction with a we ll-balanced diet and watch your gains skyrocket. And, as quality is of the utmost importance , always choose a reputable brand.
About the author
David Robson is a prolific health and fitness author with a particular interest in how training, nutrition and mindset can assist bodybuilding progress, David Robson, a personal trainer and health educator, also walks the walk as a seasoned bodybuilding competitor. David, a Tae Kwon Do black belt, and second place-finisher at the 1997 World Natural Bodybuilding Championships, has competed internationally in both Tae Kwon Do and bodybuilding.
In addition, David, who holds separate degrees in psychology, journalism, teaching, and sports performance, is Founder and Director of Advanced Personal Training New Zealand (ATPNZ), a company set up to educate people on how to become fitter, healthier, and better-performing in their day-to-day life, and as athletes.
Charity work forms a large part of David’s life. As Founder and President of the New Zealand Wheelchair Bodybuilding Federation (NZWBBF) and Founder and Director of Fit Futures Charitable Trust, David provides sporting and fitness training opportunities for people with physical disabilities.
David also provides online coaching for fitness and bodybuilding results.
Contacted David at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Education (partial history)
-University of Waikato: Bachelor of Sport and Leisure Studies (BSpLS). 2002
-University of Waikato: Graduate Diploma in Social Science – Psychology (GradDipSocSc). 2003
-Golden Key International Honour Society (inducted member). 2001
-Wintec: National Diploma in Journalism. 2004
-Wintec: Graduate Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (with Merit). 2011
-Network: Fitness Leader certification. 1996
1. Astrup, A. et al. (2005). Effect of Short-Term High Dietary Calcium Intake on 24-h Energy Expenditure, Fat Oxidation, and Fecal Fat Excretion. International Journal of Obesity. 29, 292-301. (casein calcium.)
2. Demling, R. & DeSanti, L. (2000) Effect of a Hypocaloric Diet, Increased Protein Intake and Resistance Training on Lean Mass Gains and Fat Mass Lo ss in Overweight Police Officers. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism. 44:21-29 (casein versus whey.