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Anabolic Drive: Plasma Protein Packs a Punch

Plasma, as you’ll recall from your boring high-school biology class, is the clear yellowish fluid of your blood. It contains very important proteins that have some fairly dramatic effects.

Before you get too grossed out at the thought of the thick red stuff coagulating in your throat, let me clarify. I'm actually talking about spray-dried plasma, which, by the way, contains some pretty powerful growth-promoting proteins.1 Plasma, as you'll recall from your boring high-school biology class, is the clear yellowish fluid of your blood. It contains very important proteins that have some fairly dramatic effects.

Obviously, apart from sticking a cow with an arrow and drinking blood straight out of its neck, it might be tough to get these plasma proteins. But that hasn't stopped fearless bands of scientists from giving the stuff to pigs, mice and, believe it or not, malnourished children.2,3 For instance, scientists at Baylor College of Medicine compared the effects of supplementing young pigs with animal plasma or soy protein. They put 14-day-old pigs on a diet that contained either soy or animal plasma protein, specifically spray-dried plasma derived from pig and cow blood. The study lasted 24 days.

So did the old adage that protein is just protein prove true? Duh'of course not. Using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, a very advanced technique for measuring body composition, the researchers found that the lean tissue mass in the plasma-fed pigs was 16 percent greater than in the pigs that got soy protein. Also, protein efficiency, which is a measure of how much weight you gain per amount of protein consumed, was better in the plasma-fed pigs. The scientists didn't quite know why the plasma proteins had that effect. Suffice it to say, not all proteins are created equal. Plasma protein (and probably a host of other proteins) is likely superior to soy.

Now, before you go out and raid your local slaughterhouse in search of plasma protein, you're probably wondering whether it's safe. Oddly enough, spray-dried pig and cow blood plasma was fed to malnourished Peruvian children, and there were no adverse effects. Plasma protein may be a feasible protein source for pigs, mice and, yes, humans.

Hunter-gatherer diets. You've heard of the caveman diet and its variations, including the hunter-gatherer diet and the Paleolithic diet. Some aptly describe the diet as eating only what you can kill, which means plenty of animal meat, but it also includes corn, broccoli and potatoes. It does not include bread, cakes, cookies, pasta or white rice. Basically, anything that's processed ain't part of the caveman diet.

You've no doubt heard from the doom-and-gloom crowd how bad the diet is for your heart, blood cholesterol, blah, blah, blah. Such pedestrian thinking just bores me.

Anyhow, here's how the caveman diet differs from our modern-day food choices.

According to a recent scientific publication, animal food actually accounted for the majority of dietary energy in hunter-gatherer societies (about 65 percent) while plant-based foods accounted for 35 percent.

Early man got most of his carbs from fruits and veggies, not grains'and he definitely did not consume the processed junk known as table sugar, sugar alcohols, refined flour and so on.

Protein is estimated to have provided 19 to 35 percent of the dietary energy of early man. Much of that came from wild animals, not domesticated pigs and cows, so it probably had a bit less fat.

Fat intake, paradoxically, is estimated to have been between 28 and 58 percent of total calories; however, the caveman's diet likely had relatively high levels of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids and a lower ratio of omega-6'to'omega-3 fatty acids. That would have reduced cardiovascular disease risk.

Also, cavemen had a generally higher intake of vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. And to top it off, they probably were a helluva lot more active.

What does this mean to the modern bodybuilder? Oddly enough, a bodybuilder's diet is about as close to a caveman's as you'll see in modern society. Avoiding or limiting processed foods is emphasized; lean protein sources are a must; veggies and whole unprocessed carbs are important.

Bottom line: Eat fewer unprocessed foods; your health will be better, and you'll make lean-body-mass gains more easily.

1 Jiang, R., et al. (2000). Dietary plasma protein is used more efficiently than extruded soy protein for lean tissue growth in early-weaned pigs. J Nutr. 130:2016-2019.
2 Thompson, J.E., et al. (1995). Effects of spray-dried porcine plasma protein on growth traits and nitrogen and energy balance in mice. J Anim Sci. 73:2340-2346.
3 Lembcke, J.L., et al. (1997). Acceptability, safety and digestibility of spray-dried bovine serum added to diets of recovering malnourished children. J Ped Gastro and Nutr. 25:381-384.
4 Cordain, L., et al. (2002). The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: meat-based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr. 56 Suppl 1:S42-52.

Editor's note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., CSCS, earned his doctorate at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He is a co-editor (with Jeffrey R. Stout, Ph.D.) of and contributor to Sports Supplements (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins), Sports Supplement Encyclopedia (Nutricia), Supplements for Strength-Power Athletes (Human Kinetics) and Supplements for Endurance Athletes (Human Kinetics). For more information visit IM

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