When it comes to supplementing protein, you have two groups of people: those that are religious about it and those that think it’s completely unnecessary. While skipping your meals and relying entirely on a supplement isn’t the optimal idea, using a protein powder as a supplement is pivotal in boosting your performance and the results you see from training. Not to mention, when the clock is ticking and you just don’t have time to cook, grabbing a shake for the road can be a lifesaver!
Whether you’re a fan or not, I stand on the side that says having a good protein powder on hand can be useful for every aspect of performance, but the problem nowadays is finding one that’s actually effective and isn’t full of garbage ingredients that compromise your health rather than support it.
So, I’m giving you the ultimate protein powder breakdown for performance and giving you the science on why finding one that works can benefit your athletic abilities. I’m also going to give you the inside SCOOP on some of the many options you have to choose from!
WHAT ARE PROTEINS?
Proteins are the fundamental building block of our bodies. Proteins are formed from amino acids linked together via peptide bonds to form long chains. Essentially, proteins resemble a string of beads on a necklace where each bead represents a specific amino acid. And although there are only 20 individual amino acids, they link in various combinations that allow them to form thousands of different proteins in the body. All 20 amino acids are required for normal cell physiology and function – a deficiency in any one amino acid means impaired cellular function.
Proteins are classified into two major categories: essential or non-essential.
Essential amino acidsare those that your body cannot synthesize de novo from precursor amino acids or are inadequately synthesized in the body relative to needs and thereby must be provided from diet to meet optimal requirements13. They include:
** Only essential during growth and development
Non-essential amino acidsare those that can be synthesized in the body from precursor
amino acids and, although they should still be consumed through the diet, are not mandatory. These include:
In order for proteins to be formed and function, they require the presence of all 20 amino acids. Studies show that abnormal metabolism of any amino disrupts whole-body homeostasis, impairs growth, development, and can even lead to death.
The main roles of proteins in the human body include13:
Nutrient absorption and metabolism (nutrient transport, protein turnover,fat synthesisandoxidation, glucose synthesis and oxidation, amino acid synthesis and oxidation, urea and uric synthesis forammonia detoxification, efficiency of food utilization)
Cellular signaling (mTOR,cAMP, andcGMPactivation pathways, along with the generation of NO, CO, and H2S)
Growth and maintenance
Enzyme production and function (digestion, energy production, blood clotting, muscle contraction)
All of this to say that proteins, made of amino acids, are the backbone of almost all biological processes and tissues – a deficiency in protein could mean a mess of problems! Here are some of the most important processes to be concerned with as an athlete.
PROTEIN AND MUSCLE PROTEIN SYNTHESIS
One of the biggest things we hear protein linked to is muscle growth. It’s why bodybuilders and athletes go crazy for the stuff, and it’s why the common belief that “more protein means more muscle growth” exists. While dietary protein is essential for muscle growth, it’s not the be-all and end-all of it.
However, while over-consuming protein may not offer extra benefit, your body needs protein to maintain and enhance muscle protein synthesis, especially when it is rebuilding from training. Many athletes struggle with conditions like RED-S and lack nutrients whileVegan athletessometimes struggle with getting full proteins in as well! With insufficient amino acids, your body enters a more catabolic state whereby it breaks down existing muscle tissue to access amino acids. And for all the athletes out there, the last thing you want to do is compromise your muscle mass and performance because you’re not consuming adequate protein…
The reason why amino acids and protein are so crucial for muscle is that resistance training and any sort of strenuous physical activity cause microtears in muscles that require repair during periods of rest. This is the exact mechanism behind the growth of muscles in both size and strength. The amino acids derived from dietary protein are used to facilitate muscular repair and remodeling, which ultimately enhances post-exercise strength and hypertrophy-related adaptations11.
In order for protein synthesis to occur, the body needs the right resources, which means all amino acids must be present to build a functional protein. When muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown, that’s when you see gains in muscle strength and size. Studies do suggest, however, that overall net protein balance is more essential for muscle gains than anything else! Nutrient supply dictates whether you’re in an anabolic or catabolic state4; and lack of amino acids needed to build functional protein results in a negative net protein balance, while sufficient amino acids result in a positive net protein balance.
Contrary to what most health publications will tell you, the so-called “anabolic window” of opportunity isn’t the right way to plan your protein intake. Research shows that as long as you’re consuming enough amino acids throughout the day, you’re likely not interfering with muscle protein synthesis; it’s more about ensuring your amino acid pool is full and you have enough protein in your daily intake – supplement or food. So, as long as you’re eating within a few hours post-training, or before, your body has what it needs to stimulate MPS and repair those damaged tissues.
Simply put, when you increase amino acid availability, you enhance net balance at rest and even more so immediately following exercise, which results in better muscle repair and recovery12.