I have been on an ongoing quest to make smart choices that optimize the quality of my health and the health of those around me for the past 25 years. As a result, I’m continually researching the latest information to meet this objective. Over the years research has been unclear on the topic of protein. I’m often asked by athletes and friends; what is the best kind of protein, how much should I take a day, is animal protein better than soy protein, is Whey protein the best, what’s the difference between Whey Isolate and Whey Concentrate?
As with all research related to the human body, if you rely on a narrow scope of data points you may find that eating something that can have a positive effect in one area, may have a negative effect somewhere else. You may find that the quantity will have either a positive or negative effect or the timing of when you eat a particular food, may impact your athletic performance. I recently experienced an issue that was the result of not doing my full due diligence and I want to share with you my observations and conclusion so you can avoid making the same mistake, which could have serious health consequences over a long period of time.
A little Background
It may seem like common sense that if you don't use your muscles, they'll eventually atrophy, yet so many people fail to apply this information in their daily lives. The older you get, the faster your muscles will atrophy if you're not regularly engaging in the appropriate exercise. Additionally, older muscles do not respond well to sudden or intense bouts of exercise, so the key to avoiding sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) is to challenge your muscles with intense exercise on a regular basis throughout your life—and it's never too late to start. As the super star actor Will Smith says, “Don’t get ready; Be ready”.
Protein is essential for healthy muscle growth and maintenance, but as you age, your body becomes increasingly less able to utilize the protein in your food for building muscle, which makes the following information all the more important. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a group of researchers set out to find which protein was the best for muscle protein accretion, and would therefore help stave off sarcopenia (Loss of muscle mass with age) that may be caused by a reduction of muscle protein synthetic response to food intake. As an avid cyclist, a loss of muscle mass as I age will have serious consequences on my performance, and the last thing I want is to be dropping in a bike race because I no longer have the strength to keep up with all those young guys. Three groups of older men were fed a meal-like amount of whey, casein, and casein hydrolysate proteins. Their protein ingestion was combined with an intravenous tracer which was used to assess digestion and absorption, and their muscle synthesis rates were also calculated from the ingested tracer. The study concluded that:
"Whey protein stimulates postprandial muscle protein accretion more effectively than do casein and casein hydrolysate in older men. This effect is attributed to a combination of whey's faster digestion and absorption kinetics and higher leucine content."
So what did this meant to me? Whey Protein is the best, so I rushed out to my local health food store and purchased one of those giant tubs of Whey Protein. I got the Isolate variety, because the sales person told me so. She said, Whey Protein Isolate was the best because it is more a "higher quality Protein" and contained less fat (Hmmm? Less fat = good, or so I thought). Note to self: always understand the reason why a sales person recommends anything before buying it). So for the next month and a half, I added this to my morning whole fruit berry smoothie. Life was good, or so I thought.
We’ll get back to my story in a minute…..
Is Strength Training Sufficient to Prevent Age-Related Muscle Loss?
Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, begins affecting people in their mid 20’s, initially at a rate of 1% loss of muscle mass per year, with accelerated rates as age advances and the muscle mass is replaced with fat.
- Hormonal changes
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Free Radicals
- Oxidative Stress damage
- Insulin resistance
- Acidic Diet
It's a major challenge that many go through, especially the elderly, and as I just mentioned, regular exercise is essential to counteract this muscle loss. However, it's important to realize that simply lifting weights will not result in gaining muscle mass. Additionally, if you are involved in prolonged exercises like aerobics or running, you will not have the hormonal influences to build muscle either, even if you lift weights. It's important to understand that in order to effectively build and maintain muscle you need to incorporate short bursts of high intensity interval exercises that elevates your heart rate above your Anaerobic Threshold. This kind of exercise allows your body to produce human growth hormone (HGH) naturally. Yea, the same stuff that athletes take to cheat in their sport, however they take it in the form of a synthetic drug. HGH is also known as "the fitness hormone," and is essential for healthy aging, fitness, and yes, muscle building.
Additionally, you need to supply your muscles with the appropriate fuel at the appropriate time to provide them with the proper building blocks to produce new muscle tissue. This is where my whey protein comes back into play. Through my research, I found you should consume the whey about 30 minutes before your workout to help increase both fat burning and muscle building and within an hour or two after you exercise. Taking Whey before you workout will stop the catabolic process in your muscle and promote protein synthesis towards recovery and growth. There is ONLY a two hour window after exercise that allows your body to fully use the proteins you ingest for optimizing muscle repair and growth, so it is important to get the timing right. One of the reasons whey protein works so well is that it is a protein that assimilates very quickly, and will get to your muscles within 10-15 minutes of swallowing it, supplying your muscles with the right food at the right time. Because meat based proteins take hours to digest, they are ineffective and produce minor results. A study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise showed the amino acids found in high quality whey protein activate certain cellular mechanisms, including a mechanism called mTORC-1, which in turn promotes muscle protein synthesis, boost thyroid, and also protect against declining testosterone levels after exercise.
All this sounded great and I thought I was on the right track for my athletics and long term health, however during the month and a half since starting on this program of adding Whey Protein Isolate to my diet, I noticed my internal pH began to drop and become very acidic. At the beginning I thought this was because I wasn’t eating enough fruits and vegetables. Or there may have been a residual effect from the red wine (very acidic) from the weekend. So I adjusted my diet and eat even more fruits and vegetables and cut out wine with no success. In fact, my internal pH continued to drop from its usual 7.0 to 7.4, to a very acidic 5.0 to 4.5! An increase of 100 to 1000 times in my acidity! This kind of acidic level is consistent with most people that eat a typical North American diet full of junk foods and soda pop. Needless to say, I was quite concerned. An acidic internal system has many serious health consequences, which I’ll speak to in a moment.
Beware: Most Whey Proteins Are NOT Good For You
There's no shortage of whey products on the market, but unfortunately most of them will NOT give you the health benefits associated with a high-quality whey product. First of all you want to use a whey protein concentrate. High quality whey protein concentrates also contain glutamylcysteine, the major precursor to glutathione, which is another phenomenal anti-aging nutrient. There is probably no other area of processed foods where you need to be more careful than in selecting a high quality whey supplement.
Most whey proteins are processed from ultra-pasteurized milk and many are exposed to acid processing. Heat and acid damages the protein and makes it insoluble in water. This is one of the key ways to differentiate high quality whey protein from inferior ones. But the whey manufacturers know this, and know that insoluble powders are not appealing for a variety of reasons, so they add chemical flavors and detergents to restore flavor and solubility. They put in genetically modified soy lecithin, and also dump chemical surfactants, which are used in soap, like polysorbate 80, propylene glycol, and ethoxylated mono-diglycerides along with maltodextrin, caseinates, and hydrolyzed proteins, which are really disguised MSG. They also use artificial sweeteners, like aspartame and sucralose, which are hazardous to optimal health.
Whey Protein Isolates is a Dangerous Form of Protein
If you’ve followed my blog long enough, you know I’m a huge believer of natural (organic whenever possible) whole foods that are exposed to as little processing as possible. As discussed above, all whey protein isolates are highly processed and devoid of nutritional co-factors including alkalizing minerals, naturally occurring vitamins, and lipids, which are lost in the processing. This renders them deficient and overly acidifying, hence my increased internal acidity to a dangerous level. Unlike whole protein whey concentrates which does not acidify your body due to its alkalizing minerals, whey protein isolates are over acidifying, thereby making them a liability to your health. If chronically consumed (such as with bodybuilders, athletes like myself, or the average person wanting to maintain muscle mass), it can acidify your body and over time lead to metabolic acidosis with consequences that include wasting of muscle and bone tissues, total metabolic shut down, and increased vulnerability to degenerative disease.
Additionally once the fat has been removed from whey protein isolate, you lose some of the most important components of its properties, such as phospholipids, phosphatidylserine and CLA. All of the IgG immunoglobulins, which are an excellent source of glutamine and glutamylcysteine, are also bound to the fat globule, and therefore lost in the processing of whey isolates. So the bottom line is that if you want to use whey protein, PLEASE do not use an inferior whey isolate as there is no doubt in my mind it will cause more damage to you than benefit.
And I haven’t even touched on the negative affects Soy Protein. I will save this for another day and dedicate an entire bog post to the topic of Soy, because it deserves much more than a brief explanation. But for now, believe me when I say don’t touch any Soy based protein powders.
Guidelines for High-Quality Whey Concentrate
To ensure you're getting a high-quality Whey product, make sure the whey you're buying fulfills the following requirements:
- 100% certified organic Whey Protein Concentrate
- Non-GMO ingredients
- From cows that are grass fed & pasture raised without the use of pesticides or fertilizers
- No added hormones (rBGH), steroids or antibiotics
- Certified organic flavoring
- No artificial sweeteners, if sweetened only use certified organic stevia leaf extract, or equivalent
So how have I adjusted and what is the result?
After much research and over a couple of months of self testing, I’d like to share with you my pre and post exercise regime. I found an excellent product made by Progressive Organics that meets all the key criteria mentioned above in this post and I prepare the following smoothie….and I must admit, it’s as delicious and it is good for you!
- 1 scoop (30g) Progressive Organics 100% Organic Whey Protein Concentrate (Organic Cocoa flavor)
- 4 ice cubes
- 4 strawberries
- 1 peeled orange
- 2 oz YouthJuice
Blend for a minute or two on high and you’ll have a nutritious and delicious drink that will maintain your muscle mass, while ensuring a healthy internal pH.
Enjoy the Ride …. Rob