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Ultimate Bodybuilding Protein

Ultimate Bodybuilding Protein

The Ideal Form of Protein
by Luke R. Bucci, PhD, CCN C(ASCP) CNS.


It has been said that during the last decade science has revealed more sports nutrition breakthroughs than in the previous 100 years. For athletes in the know, this is their secret weapon, the place where brains and brawn come together to go beyond genetic potential. This article will focus on the state of the art for protein, the most revered macronutrient for athletic recovery and growth.


What Forms of Protein Intake are Available?


Today, we have four ways to get protein or amino acids into the bloodstream. Lets review the list before we go on.

Whole Food Proteins: The oldest method for getting your daily dose of protein comes from Mother Nature. The protein sources in this group are supplied from intact or whole foods such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy products or vegetables. Not so long ago this was the only way to get protein into our diets until the advent of protein supplements, which are now readily available.

Protein Supplements: These supplements contain purified forms of native proteins such as Whey, Egg or Soy, with the degree of purification being quite different from product to product. The varying degrees of purification go from protein concentrates (lower grade) to isolates, which are much higher in quality. In any case most protein supplements are usually low in fat and add only moderate amounts of carbohydrate, a welcome feature for athletes who want to stay lean.

Free Form Amino Acids: Due to their unique properties, the use of pharmaceutical grade (pure and sterile) free form amino acids to support muscle repair and growth would work best by being injected into the bloodstream. Feeding people this way is called parenteral feeding, or total parenteral nutrition (TPN). TPN was a great medical advance because it feeds people who otherwise could not eat. Most of the scientific research done on free amino acids has revealed that they work best taken on an empty stomach. When free amino acids are taken without interference from other proteins they can be utilized to elicit specific responses.

Protein Hydrolysates: Protein can be hydrolyzed (broken into smaller pieces) by enzymes, producing small chains of amino acids called peptides. This process mimics our own digestive actions thus making it an ideal way to process protein. Keep in mind that protein quality must always be considered, regardless of which form is ingested. Also, one can mix all of the forms together in unlimited ways. Table One gives some pros and cons for each form of getting amino acids into the bloodstream.


Step One: How is Protein Absorbed, Really?


Scientists and doctors realized in the late 60s and early 70s that protein is not completely broken down to single (free) amino acids inside the small intestine (gut), and then the single amino acids absorbed by the gut and simply transferred to the bloodstream. Rather, proteins are chopped into small pieces in the stomach and gut by acid and enzymes. When the pieces get between four and six amino acids long (small Oligopeptides), enzymes on the surface of gut cells quickly chop them up into even smaller peptides (either two or three amino acids long) and single amino acids. These little pieces (one, two or three amino acids long) are taken inside gut cells. Anything larger simply does not get into gut cells in significant amounts. The pieces that are two amino acids long (dipeptides) and three amino acids long (tripeptides) are then chopped into single amino acids inside the gut cells by hordes of enzymes. Chopping di- and tripeptides into single amino acids is practically instantaneous after being taken up into gut cells. The single amino acids are then rapidly dumped into the bloodstream.


The Magic of Small Peptides


Why would our gut want to absorb di- and tripeptides instead of single amino acids? The answer is easy - economy of effort. To absorb anything from inside the intestine to the inside of gut cells, membranes must be crossed. This means receptors must be used to take in substances into gut cells. Gut cells are loaded with receptors that grab nutrients very selectively. No receptor, no absorption. Gut cells have receptors for single amino acids, but they have even more receptors for dipeptides and tripeptides.

Receptors are like subway turnstiles - only one molecule at a time can pass through. Because di-and tripeptides are small enough to pass through receptors as fast as single amino acids, our bodies have figured out that by absorbing a tripeptide, it can get three amino acids for the cost of one. It is then very easy to have lots of peptidase enzymes inside the gut cells that rapidly chop the tripeptide into single amino acids, which are pushed out of intestinal cells into the bloodstream as single amino acids. Cells throughout the body (especially muscle cells) can then pick and choose what single amino acids they want.

This means that instead of having a bunch of single amino acids queuing up to go through a limited number of intestinal turnstiles, di- and tripeptides push through two or three people at a time. The net result is 2-3 times more people (amino acids) on the subway (bloodstream) in the same time period as if people went through the turnstiles one at a time. Efficiency is the key.


Evidence For Taster Absorption of Amino Acids
From Peptides - Peptides Versus Intact Proteins


Is there any evidence that hydrolysates (peptides) are better than food proteins or intact proteins for getting amino acids into the bloodstream? Yes, so much so that it is now considered dogma. Hospitals routinely use hydrolysate products from pharmaceutical companies as the primary amino acid source for feeding patients in hospitals. A large and consistent body of literature has shown that at higher levels of total amino acid intake (obviously bodybuilders are at the high end) hydrolysates are absorbed faster than either intact proteins or free form amino acids. Usually hydrolysates get into the bloodstream about twice as fast as intact proteins or free form amino acid mixtures in normal humans. This coincides perfectly with the subway turnstile analogy.

Let's skip the animal and hospitalized human studies, and look at research that more closely applies to bodybuilders. Ten years ago, Grimble and coworkers from the Department of Gastroenterology and nutrition in Central Middlesex Hospital in London, United Kingdom, looked at absorption of amino acids from intact egg protein and different degrees of hydrolysis in 12 normal humans. Best uptake came from the hydrolysates richest in di-and tripeptides. These results clearly show that a small peptide hydrolysate is preferred to a partial hydrolysate or intact protein for getting amino acids into the bloodstream faster in humans.

A recent study by Collin-Vidal from the Human Nutrition Laboratory of the University of Clermont at Auvergne in France fed 12 normal volunteers either carbohydrates / lipids alone or with whole casein or casein peptides continuously by a nasogastric tube. Leucine metabolism was measured as a marker of protein metabolism by a leucine tracer. Similar to bodybuilders, these subjects were in positive leucine balance and were already eating a high intake of leucine. Subjects showed higher leucine levels in the bloodstream, more protein synthesis and more leucine oxidation with the hydrolysate, indicating more leucine got into muscles and other tissues. Since the subjects were not exercising, extra leucine was broken down (oxidized for energy) instead of being used to build muscle. The moral of the story is that if these subjects were exercising, then more of the leucine would have been targeted to building muscle and not broken down. The net result is that more leucine got to tissues (including muscles) with the hydrolysate.

An overwhelming amount of literature has reported the superiority of hydrolysates over equivalent compositions of free form amino acids for getting amino acids into the bloodstream faster. As an example, a report by Silk from Middlesex Hospital in London using normal humans will be examined. First, absorption of amino acids was greater from hydrolysates of casein or lactalbumin (whey) than from equivalent free form amino acid mixtures. In fact 11 out of 16 amino acids measured where absorbed significantly better, including leucine, valine and glutamine. In fact, glutamine absorption was doubled by hydrolysates.

Also of importance is the quantitative or total amount of amino acids getting into the bloodstream. figure 2 shows how a fish protein hydrolysate got more amino acids into the bloodstream faster than an equivalent free form amino acid mixture again, the importance of this fact will be seen later in this article.

Another important point is that hydrolysates can get more amino acids into the bloodstream faster into normal, healthy volunteers than an equivalent free form amino acid mixture when intakes are high. what does this mean in real life? According to a study by Hegarty from st. bartholomew's hospital in london, england, whey protein hydrolysate (lactalbumin) and an identical composition of free form amino acids were equivalent in uptake until 12 grams of total amino acids were given. Over 12 grams of intake, uptake of every amino acid from the hydrolysate was equal to or superior to the free form amino acid mixture. again, a doubling of glutamine uptake was found. this is very important for bodybuilders, because 12 grams is a measly amount of amino acids compared to typical intakes of 50 grams of amino acids per meal. Thus, at high intakes of protein, hydrolysates get absorbed better than intact proteins or free form amino acid mixtures.

It is easy to relate these results to real life. Free form amino acid receptors on gut cells can keep up with peptide receptors until a certain level of total amino acids are reached (about 12 grams per feeding), then the subway turnstile effect comes into play for hydrolysates, showing their superiority for amino acid absorption at real-life levels of supplementation.


Why is Faster Amino Acid Absorption Better tor Bodybuilders?


Why all the fuss about getting more amino acids into the bloodstream faster? The answer is simple - more amino acids in the bloodstream (especially with insulin) means more amino acids in muscle means more muscle protein synthesis means more growth/recovery/repair.

We already know that protein needs of weightlifters are double those of other athletes and sedentary people. We also know that after lifting weights, amino acid transport, protein synthesis and protein breakdown (catabolism) are all increased in muscles. We also know that amino acids, not carbohydrates, fat or insulin, are responsible for increased anabolism (more protein synthesis and less protein breakdown) in humans after eating. In other words, muscles are hungry for amino acids, which they can only get from the bloodstream, right after a workout (within 30 minutes).This happens to be the window where hydrolysates are superior to proteins or free form amino acid mixtures.

Before we get too focused on protein, keep in mind that right after a weight training workout, a combination of protein and carbohydrate outperformed both protein alone and carbohydrate alone for increasing insulin and growth hormone levels. Thus, even an ideal hydrolysate would have better effects when consumed with simple carbohydrates since carbohydrates are absorbed by different receptors on gut cells, there is little or no competition with amino acids and peptides for absorption.


Why Rapid Glutamine Uptake by Hydroysates is so Important?


Muscle cell content of glutamine is now thought to be the major influence on muscle protein synthesis. In other words, more muscle glutamine, more muscle protein synthesis, more muscle. research clearly shows that glutamine levels in the bloodstream are dramatically raised by feeding small peptide hydrolysates compared to amino acid mixtures and intact proteins. Supplying glutamine may indirectly prevent the immune system, gut and brain (other major users of glutamine) from signaling muscles to break down protein to feed them. Net result is more glutamine for muscles.

Fortunately, a glutamine peptide has been developed commercially that is 30% glutamine in the form of small peptides, which we now know are better absorbed than an equal amount of free glutamine. Derived from wheat gluten, glutamine peptide is hydrolyzed suffidently to virtually remove any possible antigenicity, a typical advantage of hydrolysates over intact proteins. thus, getting glutamine to muscles has never been easier.


What an Ideal protein (amino acid) Supplement should look like?


Why not cut to the chase and sell a mixture of 20% free form amino acids, 80 % di- and tripeptides, just like our gut absorbs? This type of hydrolysate is recently available in commercial amounts, and is being used in medical situations, mostly via nasogastric tube feedings. wouldn't this be an ideal supplement? No, for several real-life reasons. one is cost. a serving (25 grams of amino acids) would have a raw material cost (before packaging, shipping and profit) of $3-5. Second, it would taste really terrible, a fact which is no probjem if you have a nasogastric tube, but a big, real-life problem if you have to eat the stuff every day. Flavoring is essential for compliance. Third, you actually want some carbohydrate, as discussed earlier (this also helps the taste). Fourth, small peptides (up to six amino acids long) are just are effective as di- and tripeptides because of gut cell membrane (brush border) oligopeptidases. Fifth, intact proteins help flavot stability and mixability (when instantized or agglomerated), and still have potent anabolic effects on protein synthesis.

A product profile of an ideal source of amino acids for feeding muscles after workouts should look like this:

Over 50% of total amino acids from small peptides (hydrolysates)
Rich-quality protein and hydrolysate sources (whey, casein, egg, soy all qualify)
glutamine rich (preferably from glutamine peptide)

Some high glycemic carbohydrate (maltodextrin, glucose)

Creatine and other single amino acids are optional

Good ispersability with a spoon or shaking for easy mixing and portability

Low viscosity and good flavoring for long-term use and compliance

Advantages of such a product are more than supplying the most important amino acids most efficiently to hungry muscles. hidden advantages include being able to ingest the supplement immediately after a grueling workout without getting bloated, and not suppressing appetite so you can eat a full meal sooner after ingesting the ideal protein supplement.

There is no question that protein (amino acids) is the single most important nutrient for muscular hypertrophy it is clear that efficient delivery of amino acids to muscles as soon as possible after workouts improves the anabolic hormonal milieu, muscle protein synthesis, and reduces muscle catabolism. all these effects are part of the normal response to resistance training.

In the quest for the ultimate protein, consumers have been bombarded with choices, hype and hearsay. why not give the body what it has already told us it needs, as verified by scientific studies in normal humans and weightlifters? This means a supplement rich in small peptides (over 50%) from high-quality protein sources, with emphasis on glutamine peptides, combined with some carbohydrate and made practical by easy mixability and good flavor. such a product now exists,

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