What Is The Best Protein Supplement for Me?

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Many of us have been told the benefits of eating protein in the past.  Protein is one of the big three macronutrients along with Fats and Carbohydrates.  You’re probably aware that dietary protein provides the necessary components for muscle repair and tissue regeneration.  Despite our knowledge and understanding of the benefits of protein many of us still fall short of getting adequate protein on a daily basis. Protein supplementation can help to round out your nutrition and fill in any gaps.

Now, when you think about protein supplementation you may be conjuring up images of muscle-bound meatheads mixing powders in shaker bottles while calling each other “bro” at the gym.  The truth is that protein is essential for recovery and helps maintain lean tissue and body composition.  So you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to benefit from taking a supplement.  Read on to see a further break down of the different verities of protein supplements that are out there.

 

Whey Protein

Whey is the liquid material created as a by-product of cheese production.  The Whey then undergoes a process to isolate the globular proteins and this becomes the powder that can be flavored, packaged and purchased.  It is a fast absorbing form of protein making it ideal for post workout and recovery and is usually much lower in lactose than regular milk products meaning easier digestion.  Since it is a milk-based protein some brands may contain hormones and additives from the milk cow’s food supply.  Go with a Grass Fed Whey option whenever possible even if it means spending a little more.

Rice Protein

Rice protein is a vegetarian alternative to whey.  Rice protein comes from treating brown rice with enzymes that cause carbohydrates to separate from proteins.  The protein powder is than flavored and packaged for use in smoothies or on its own just like more common whey proteins.  Rice protein tends to have a very distinct flavor that can be difficult to cover even with added flavors.  Check your ingredients label to avoid artificial chemicals, sweeteners, and additives.

 

Pea Protein

Extracted from the yellow pea, this protein option has an amino acid profile similar to legumes.  This can also be a good alternative to whey.  On the downside it tends to have a slightly gritty or sandy texture.  Often times some type of oil will be mixed with the protein powder to give a smoother texture.  As always check the ingredient label to see what type of oils are being added to the protein.

Beef Protein Isolate

Ever heard of gelatin?  It’s the throwaway parts of the cow, essentially joints, ligaments, hide, ears, and any other parts left over after the butcher is finished.  Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?  It might sound gross and bizarre but gelatin is usually the primary ingredient in most Beef Proteins.  They take the gelatin, turn it into a powder, add creatine and BCAA’s along with flavoring and PRESTO: Beef Protein Isolate.  Considering the origin of this protein source not being the highest quality to begin with, you’d be better off eating 6-8 oz. of sirloin.

Soy Protein

Here you have the isolated protein from soybeans.  It is made from soybean meal that has been dehulled and defatted.  I’ve written before about the potentially negative side effects of soy protein including increased estrogen levels, hormonal imbalances, and possible increased risk for some types of cancer in women.  I recommend staying away from this form all together.  Although soy is extremely common in most packaged protein bars, some whey powders will include a soy/whey blend to cut costs.  Be careful and always read the labels.

 

Overall, whey protein tends to be the most popular of protein powder supplements due to it being a high quality, complete, and fast absorbing protein.  If you are sensitive to whey or have GI distress as a result of taking then I am partial to pea and rice alternatives.  As always go with the highest quality possible.  If using whey select a grass fed option.  When using vegetarian protein go with organic as much as possible.  Check your labels.  This may sound redundant but most protein supplements contain a laundry list of artificial chemicals, preservatives, and additives.  If you can’t pronounce it you probably shouldn’t be eating it.

If you are looking for a recommended brand, I personally am partial to Thorne Research Products.  They are a reputable company with high purity standards.

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How Much Protein Do I Need?

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This is a common question that I get asked almost everyday.  Protein intake varies depending on the individual and a plethora of other factors such as age, activity level, type of activity, and how much lean mass you have.  Individuals with higher activity levels or who engage in intense, heavy lifting and/or high volume endurance training or who have a high amount of lean mass obviously need to eat more protein.  All individuals need to intake a minimum amount of protein for normal bodily needs and functions.

A general rule of thumb is to intake protein based on body weight.  The majority of textbooks and research that I have come across state that individuals need anywhere from .37-.50 grams/lb of body weight.  Since I am a 130 lbs (129.9 lbs to be exact) I need to intake anywhere from 48-65g of protein per day just to maintain normal health and function.  This method is not exact at all, however, due to the fact that it does not take into consideration activity level or lean body mass.

Why is it important to consider lean body mass?

A more specific method of calculating how much protein you need is using your lean body mass.  Lean body mass is defined as all the tissue in your body other than fat (bones, muscles, water, organs).  Lean body mass requires more protein because, unlike fat mass, it is metabolically active.  To calculate this you need to have your body fat measured either through bio-electrical impedance or skin folds calipers.  Once you know your body fat you can calculate how much lean tissue you have.  I am 130 lbs and 15.4% body fat.  This means that of the 130 lbs that I currently weigh I am storing 20.02lbs of fat and the other 109.98 lbs are lean mass.  This is the number you will use to calculate your protein needs based off activity level.

Why is activity level important?

During activity and exercise we stress the skeletal muscle of our body.  In fact we actually damage the tissue by causing small micro-tears in the contractile proteins.  Skeletal muscle is comprised mostly of protein and we need dietary protein to repair and rebuild existing skeletal muscle or even build new muscle mass if this is part of your goal.  Use the amount of lean tissue you have to calculate protein requirements:

Sedentary – multiple lean body mass by .5

Light activity (e.g. walking) – multiply by .6

Moderate (30 minutes of vigorous activity 3 days per week) – .7

Active (1 hour per day 5 days per week) – .8

Very Active (10 hours of vigorous activity per week – .9

Athlete – multiply by 1.0

Since I have 109.98 lbs of lean body mass and I am considered to be Very Active during a normal week of exercise and daily activity I need to be eating roughly 99g of protein per day.  This is more than double the minimum 48g of protein recommended prior to considering lean body mass and activity.  So you can see why it is extremely important to take these additional factors into consideration to ensure that you are getting adequate protein. Lack of protein can leave your body unable to repair and recover from exercise.  Rather than constantly being consumed with counting grams of protein, focus on adding protein to every meal and snack.  In taking even a small amount of protein will help to reach the levels you need for your body on a daily basis.

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The Skinny on Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish oils and omega-3s are all the rage these days. They are one of the most common supplements out there. Many people take them because they have heard that there are many health benefits but few people truly know what those benefits are or how to take fish oils effectively. So to make your life easier here is a breakdown on what to take and why to take it.

What are Omega-3 fatty acids?

Fish oils come from fatty or oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. It is the tissue of the fatty fish that contains the Omega-3 fatty acid. The two key ingredients in the Omega-3 fatty acids are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Fish do not actually produce EPA. They obtain it from the algae they eat. EPA is more beneficial for adults while DHA is more important for children and youngsters.

What are the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids?

There are many health benefits to Omega-3 fatty acids. Although studies have been mixed there is a general trend towards improvements in HDL (good cholesterol) and triglycerides, reduced risk for prostate cancer, decreased symptoms of post-natal (postpartum) depression, reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, improved memory and other mental health benefits including help with behavioral problems such as ADHD. Omega-3 fatty acids are also referred to as a natural anti-inflammatory. They can be credited with helping to ease joint pain and cope with soreness from intense or strenuous workouts. These benefits are more antidote and vary from person to person.

How much is enough?

To ensure you are taking enough you should aim for at least 2000mg/day of combined EPA and DHA. You want your fish oil supplement to be slightly higher in EPA than DHA due to it being more beneficial to adults. This usually means taking more than one capsule per day. You need to be taking four capsules daily (two in the morning and two in evening).

The Excuse List:

I eat plenty of fish in my diet. I should be good, right?

Wrong. The majority of fatty or oily fish are farm raised these days. The amount and type of Omega-3 fatty acids in wild fish is dependent on the algae in the fish’s diet. Farm raised fish are fed an unnatural diet of plants, grains, and fish meal which can leave them deficient in fatty acids. Farm raised fish are usually crammed into small living quarters where disease can easily spread requiring fish farms to rely heavily on antibiotics.

What about fish burps?

True, some fish oils can leave you with nasty tasting and smelling fish burps for several hours after taking them. Some brands have made an effort to combat this by combining a small amount of peppermint oil (or other minty oil). Plus, good quality fish oil generally won’t make you burp.

What is a good brand/type of fish oil to take?

When it comes to fish oils there are hundreds on the market today. Keep in mind that the FDA does not regulate the supplement industry. Many manufacturers attempting to make a quick buck off this health trend offer sub-par products that can be lacking the active ingredients you are looking for. Many studies have been done showing that the majority of brands on the market do not contain the levels of EPA and DHA they claim on the package labeling. To protect yourself and ensure you are getting the benefits you should take a high quality product that is made by a reputable company. Researching each individual product can be exhausting and time consuming. Rather than researching each product you should research the company making the product. If you find that a company is reputable then you can generally trust all the products that they make. I personally turn to companies such as Thorne and Douglas Labs for all my supplements. These are both companies that offer “pharmaceutical grade” supplements.

Be prepared to invest in your health.

Taking a higher quality supplement will no doubt be more expensive than taking a lesser product. But you will be getting just that: a lesser product. Do not give in to the temptation to save a buck because you will actually be wasting money in the long run by taking something that doesn’t actually benefit you. Spend your money where it counts and invest in your health.

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