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In order to see the best gains possible from your training program, proper nutrition is essential. Some would say nutrition is as much as 90% responsible for your ultimate results. Regardless of the actual percentage, your best results mean knowing what you need in terms of the proper intake of calories, the proper ratio of macro nutrients - protein, carbs, and fats - and the proper timing of these macro nutrients. This also means understanding and maintaining a positive nitrogen balance (which we'll talk about shortly).

The nutrients in food are broken down into the three types of macro-nutrients mentioned above. Macro-nutrients means nutrients we need in large amounts. Micro-nutrients are vitamins and minerals - micro meaning we need these in small amounts. Each type of nutrient performs specific functions in the body, but interacts with other nutrients to carry out those functions. This article will focus on what many would consider the most important macro-nutrient for bodybuilders: protein.

The word protein was named by the Dutch chemist Geradus Mulder in 1838 and comes from the Greek word "protos" which means "of prime importance". Your body, after water, is largely made up of protein. Protein is used by the body to build, repair and maintain muscle tissue. Protein is comprised of amino acids, usually referred to as the "building blocks of protein". There are approximately 20 amino acids, 9 of which are considered essential because the body cannot make them, they must be supplied by the diet. They are: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Valine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine and Tryptophan. The remaining non-essential aminos are: Alanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Aspartic Acid, Cysteine, Glutamic acid, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine and Tyrosine.

Protein is essential for growth and the building of new tissue as well as the repair of broken down tissue - like what happens when you work out. When you hear the term "positive nitrogen balance", it refers to being in a state of having enough protein available for the needs of the body and the needs of building muscle. What does nitrogen have to do with protein and how does it apply to the bodybuilder? According to Tabors Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, nitrogen is "one of the important elements in all proteins, nitrogen is essential for tissue building." More important to bodybuilders is that nitrogen is a direct measurement of protein levels in the body. Does anybody out there remember the old Joe Weider nitro test sticks back in the 90's? They were pee strips you used to test your nitrogen balance whenever you wanted - pretty innovative for that time period, don't you think? Anyway, for the most part we are told to eat sufficient protein to maintain a positive nitrogen balance because your body is actually in an anabolic or building up phase in this state, where a negative nitrogen balance, from lack of adequate protein, indicates a catabolic or tearing down state. This is why protein ( and eating enough through out the day) is so important: lack of adequate protein, and your body begins to break down muscle tissue to meet the demands. Our bodies constantly assemble, break down and use proteins (in the form of amino acids, the building blocks of protein), in fact there are literally thousands of different protein combinations used by the body, each one has a specific function determined by it's combination ( or amino acid sequence). So we can see the importance of adequate protein in our diets.

Protein isn't just found in meat, chicken, fish eggs and milk. There is also protein in vegetables, beans, legumes, and grains. However, the protein in these foods is not considered "complete" because it lacks one or more of the essential amino acids. Generally speaking, proteins from vegetable sources are lower in quality. As a bodybuilder, you want only high quality protein – the higher the quality, the better the absorption. Many grains and legumes contain substantial amounts of protein, but none provide all of the essential amino acids. It has been often pointed out that combining two incomplete sources of vegetable protein such as rice and beans provides you with the full complement of essential amino acids. This may be true, but there's a difference between simply meeting your minimum amino acid requirements for health and taking in the optimal quality of protein for building muscle. Combining complementary vegetable sources of protein won't do it for the bodybuilder.

As far as protein intake, most modern authorities suggest 1 to 1.5 grams per lb. of body weight, at least. For a 200lb man, that works out to be 200 – 300 grams of protein per day. So to take in that much protein, timing and intake becomes critical. Besides taking in high quality protein from food (lean beef, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs),the best way to keep your protein intake at the proper levels are through the use of protein powders. Whey protein remains the number one powder on the market because of it's high quality, but casein proteins are making a comeback, largely because of their longer lasting effects in the body: whey is typically touted as a fast digesting protein, milk as a slow digesting protein. The other part of getting the most out of your protein intake and thereby maintaining a positive nitrogen balance is carb and fat intake, both are needed in reasonable amounts to insure protein synthesis. You should take in protein every 3 - 4 hours, your protein intake should be evenly divided up throughout the day over the course of 5-6 meals. This can be three main meals and 2-3 high protein snacks or shakes.

Other than that, there are some critical times to take in protein - first thing in the morning, with some simple carbohydrates because you have not eaten since the evening before and your body is in a catabolic state, you should also be sure to take in a protein shake with fast carbs - like fruit - about 1 hour before you train and you should take in a similar shake after you train - this should be, by the way, 40-60 grams of protein and about the same in carbs. You can get your required intake form the use of an intra workout drink, something I am a big believer in and have talked about in several of my recent articles. Finally, you should have a small protein shake or meal before bed, because during the night you typically fall into a catabolic state. So with this article you now have a basic understanding of protein and it's importance to the bodybuilder.

If you have any questions or comments, you can always email me at sb5660@windstream.net

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