Sunday, 9 October 2011

What You Need To Know About Supplements - Protein Powder

This week’s blog is on MY personal preference and what I suggest to my clients in the way of supplements. I will go as in depth as I can in regards to why to use what and when and the different applications etc. Quite simply, not all the supplements I will talk about will apply to everyone or their individual needs and schedule etc.  In the coming weeks will talk about what I class as a dietary supplements (protein powder, essential fatty acids/EFA's, multi-vitamin/mineral)  and then what I class as a performance supplements (creatine, caffenine, beta alanine, l-tyrosine, branch chain amino acids/bcaa and essential amino acids/eaa) . In reality they are ALL dietary supplements but for the contents of this it will broken into the two categories.

Now before I get started, whole food is greater than supplements! Supplements are OPTIONAL and by no means are they essential. They are simply there to cover any dietary deficiencies and therefore ensure daily nutritional requirements are met. They are nothing special.  What gets results is having a COMPLETE diet - meaning your overall nutrition (and to a lesser extent your training) is what determines your body composition.
Without further ado, here is my personal take on protein powders!

Protein Powder (Dietary Supplement) – I use a protein powder for a couple of reasons. Firstly it is to make my food prep a little easier, secondly, to cut down on food costs and thirdly because I enjoy the taste. Now who doesn’t like the taste of a milk shake?

What I mean by making food prep a little easier and cut down on cost is I don’t have to buy and cook another 300 odd gram piece of meat! I consume a large amount of meat per day (around 1.3kgs per day) and the shake simply makes it easier to get the next 60 odd grams of protein in plus it is more cost effective. I could quite easily eat that piece of meat but the convenience of the shake just makes it that little bit easier.

Look at it from a cost point of view: red meat (in bulk) costs approximately $9.00/kg and contains approximately 220 grams of protein/kg. That equals 4.09 cents/gram of protein. Protein Powder (WPI in 5kg bulk buy) costs $28.00/kg and contains 858 grams of protein/kg. That equals 3.26 cents/gram of protein. That would be even cheaper if compared to a WPC. A 5kg buy at $20.00/kg contains 780 grams of protein/kg. That equals 2.56 cents/gram protein.

Not only does the cost add up and is a big factor in why protein powder are beneficial but there are other benefits which I will get into during the article.  

Before I go on, I must make mention of the fact that it will be pretty much exclusively be talking about dairy based protein powders. I do understand that there is a population who do not consume dairy based products for a number of reasons. The most common non dairy based protein powders found are Rice Protein, Egg Albumen and Pea Protein. Their benefits and uses will not be explained within this article.

Now for the fun (technical) stuff!

Always a hot topic is types of protein Whey Protein Isolate (“WPI”) and/or Whey Protein Concentrate (“WPC”), Casein, Hydrolyzed proteins or protein blends (Whey Proteins mixed with Casein) which one is the best and when to take it etc. Well each has an argument for consumption.

In 1997 a study done (1) on ‘Fast and ‘Slow’ protein (whey and casein) changed the whole view on protein and got supplement companies excited. It tracked Amino Acids (“AAs”), and more specifically Leucine, levels in the bloodstream, whole body protein synthesis and breakdown for seven hours following the ingestion of the different protein types.

The study found that BOTH protein types showed AAs peak in the bloodstream at the 60-80 minute mark with a greater peak for whey. While after the 4 hour mark, whey was back at the baseline levelsand the casein was still elevated above baseline at the 7 hour mark.

The findings that most people jumped on, especially the supplement companies, was that it showed whey protein stimulated protein synthesis with no effect on protein breakdown. Casein had a lesser (37% lower) effect than whey but still stimulated Muscle Protein Synthesis (“MPS”) nonetheless. Casein had a significant effect on inhibiting Muscle Protein Breakdown (“MPB”) (1).

So now you know where the ‘anabolic’ part came from in regards to whey and ‘anti-catabolic’ tag for casein. So as per normal, this is where supplement companies take things to the extreme and promote whey for around training and casein before bed.

The thing that tends to be overlooked in the study results is how much protein is retained in the body. Protein retention was HIGHER in the casein group and that whey was found to have a HIGHER amino acid oxidation rate.

To support the whey vs casein results, more recent studies (4,19) found that ingesting either whey protein or casein results in muscle anabolism! Yes peak AA levels were higher in the whey protein group, as also found in the Boirie study (1), but the end results in this study showed a positive result for overall nitrogen retention in the casein group.

Digressing for a second and to expand a little, to achieve a positive net protein balance there must be a greater Muscle Protein Synthesis that Muscle Protein Breakdown (2,6). MPS is still stimulated at least 24 hours later (7) and MPS was stimulated at a protein intake of 1.5g/kg but not a lower intake (8).

In ‘Dietary Protein to Support Anabolism with Resistance Exercise in Young Men’ (6) it explains the following:-

“Resistance exercise is fundamentally anabolic and as such stimulates the process of skeletal muscle protein synthesis (MPS) in an absolute sense and relative to skeletal muscle protein breakdown (MPB). However, the net effect of resistance exercise is to shift net protein balance (NPB = MPS − MPB) to a more positive value; however, in the absence of feeding NPB remains negative. Feeding stimulates MPS to an extent where NPB becomes positive, for a transient time. When combined, resistance exercise and feeding synergistically interact to result in NPB being greater than with feeding alone. This feeding- and exercise-induced stimulation of NPB is what, albeit slowly, results in muscle hypertrophy”. 

A side note is that insulin concentrations have an effect on inhibiting MPB. With that in mind, it could be assumed that casein keeps insulin concentration above baseline or at least at a level that inhibits MPS. In addition to that, casein may inhibit MPB due to the higher rate of nitrogen retenion (6). 

Whey also has an effect on on insulinemia after ingestion. MPB is still not inhibited greatly, if at all (1), regardless of the higher peak levels of AAs in the bloodstream (1) or the fact that  insulin concentrations are not significantly different between whey and casein (1).  Other findings have shown whey  may stimulate a higher level of insulinemia (3). That leads to the belief that the greater rate of AA oxidation/lower overall nitrogen retention with whey could be the limiting factor for inhibiting MPB.

I just want to touch on ‘protein timing’ for a moment. Protein synthesis is stimulated via exercise for at least 24 hours (31). With feeding also stimulating MPS (6) it should come to no surprise that the timing of protein-supplementation ingestion, both before and after exercise or morning and evening, does not provide any added benefit to strength, power, or body-composition changes (32). Of course timing might/will be more important for athletes (for example a tri-athletes) who are doing multiple sessions of exercise in the one day. Those athletes may have limited time between sessions to consume their required nutrients so timing becomes more important but that is not the in scope of this article.

Since the Boirie study (1) there has been a number of other studies done which take a more in depth look into protein powder types and functionability in both post-prandial (fed) state and pre-prandial (fasted) state. The differing states do have an effect to a certain degree on protein synthesis and protein breakdown (6).

When whey is ingested mimicking casein digestion the results mirror those of casein (3). A single 30 gram dose of casein was compared with 13 individual doses totaling 30 grams (also compared was a single 30 gram dose of whey protein and a single 30 gram dose of free from AAs) and over the 7 hour period. Plasma insulin and amino acid concentrations, protein utilization and MPB were similar between both the casein and the numerous dosages of whey over the time period. In short, whey acted like a ‘slow’ digesting protein (casein).Another situation is when whey or casein are consumed in a mixed meal, the difference in amino acid release and metabolic function become more closely aligned yet still showing their ‘usual’ digestion and protein balance propertiesas previously explained (8).

More recently there has been studies done on mixed/blended protein sources (whey combined with casein) and whether they will offer the benefits of both the individual protein types and offer a superior outcome when compared to either whey or casein (13).

A mix of whey protein (40 grams) and casein (8 grams) showed greater gains in body mass and fat free mass over a 10 week period than compared with whey (40 grams), BCAA’s (3 grams) and L-Glutamine (5 grams) or placebo (12).

Another interesting finding is that milk (low fat) showed greater hypertrophy gains than that of a fast digesting protein source of soy protein (14). To build on those findings, whole milk showed greater utilization of available amino acids over fat free milk and afat-free milk isocaloric solution equal to the whole milk (15).

In ‘An Objective Comparison of Chocolate Milk and Surge Recovery’ review (16) it compared a typical commercially available chocolate milk and a formulated ‘post workout’ product containing the core ingredients of hydrolyzed whey protein isolate, dextrose, maltodextrin and sucralose. In all the categories scrutinized the chocolate milk was superior or at least equal in all instances. 

Interesting Facts:  human breast milk (in late lactation) is 60% whey and 40% casein while cow’s milk is 20% whey and 80% casein and mare’s milk is 50-50.

Whey’s lactoferrin protein AA profile is closely aligned to that of human’s lactoferrin AA profile (17). Casein and whey have differing amino acid profiles (24).

Whey and casein contain a number of (differing) peptide fractions. Whey’s peptide fractions includeß-Lactoglobulin, α-Lactalbumin, GMP (Glycomacropeptide), BSA (Bovine Serum Albumin), Immunoglobulins and Lactoferrin among some other minor components (22).  Casein contains α-, ß-, and κ- caseins (23).  They can affect a number of hormonal functions (20) and have shown a wide range of immune enhancing abilities (17) among other complex health boosting properties (23). 

Next the satiety and appetite effects of whey and casein should be looked at. Afterinitial ingestion whey protein has the greatest effect on satiety and appetite reduction regardless of it being a pre-loaded liquid meal containing carbohydrates and fats before a buffet meal(10) or alone before a pizza meal (9).

Of all the dietary and molecular characteristicsin whey proteins (high peaking AAs, insulin response, peptide fractions and AA profile) possibly the biggest factor in whey having an increase on short term satiety is the Glycomacropeptide (GMP) content (20). Sixty minutes after a 45 grams serve of whey protein containing 15% GMP, the whey had a more profound effect on appetite when compared to soy protein or egg albumin at a pizza meal (9).  To counter that was a whey protein with <5% GMP did not affect appetite more than casein but at the 150 minute mark casein had suppressed food intake more than whey (9).

Casein seems to activate similar albeit less pronounced, hormonal responses with regards to insulin, ghrelin, GLP-1 (1,4,9,21) to that of whey. One primary factor in that is the fact that casein forms a clot or gel like substance in the stomach caused by the ability to absorb substantial amounts of water (11). For those two reasons combined,it aids in dietary satiety over longer periods of time (21).

The differing filtration process I.E.  Hydrolyzed, Anion Exchange, Ion Exchange and Micro/Ultra Filtration (Table 1) can have an effect on the makeup of the protein fractions, overall protein and other macronutrient content (18).  This can alter some of the nutritional immune boosting properties found in whey (9,17). Hydrolyzed protein (either whey or casein) has an increased peak in AA levels, insulin response over their intact counterparts and therefore shows a greater effect on INITIAL protein synthesis (25,26,27,28).  The downfall is that the protein synthesis was favoring the splanchnic dietary nitrogen uptake over its peripheral anabolic use (30).  Put simply there is a greater protein synthesis with the digestive system, therefore less MPS and lower overall whole body nitrogen retention. 

Surprisingly there is no significant difference between hydrolyzed protein and intact protein in gastric empting or AA appearance in the bloodstream (29).

Typical Microfraction Composition of Different Whey Protein Isolates
Cation Exchange WPI
Anion Exchange WPI
Micro-filtered WPI
Immunoglobulin G
Bovine Serum Albumen

After all that, one final word! 

Both whey and casein have put forward a strong case for consumption. There are numerous positives (and negatives) for both and going on all the evidence, it is hard to look past having a protein powder that is a combination of whey and casein (50-50/60-40 blend would be optimal IMO).

Little Miss Muffet was onto something all those years ago eating her curds (casein) and whey!

References –


  1. where do you find these whey and casein blend proteins in Australia? No one seems to sell a 50/50 whey/casein protein powder?

  2. Blake, there are a few whey casein blends, but weather or not they are 50/50 or there about's it difficult to tell. Most companies will not disclose the ratio simply due to the fact that other companies may 'copy' the formula.
    For the most part a product that contains only whey and casein will be superior (IMO) to any others. Check out this link for a blend -

  3. Thanx for ur post, ya i read somewhere Protein Powders are beneficial. They provide your body with protein that the food you eat may not be providing. buy i wann know, is Protein Powders benificial for body building ???