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Protein, Muscle and Anabolism

A Roundtable Discussion on Everything You Need to Know About Protein

A group of respected nutrition experts came together recently to discuss protein’s capacity to promote growth. On the panel:

Robert Marshall, Ph.D., founder of Premier Research Labs and a specialist in protein sourcing and processing.
Carlon Colker, M.D., CEO and medical director of Peak Wellness and an expert in medical nutrition and protein research.
John Parrillo, founder of Parrillo Performance and a specialist in sports nutrition and protein product manufacturing.
Gerard Dente, founder of MHP (Maximum Human Performance) and an expert in sports nutrition and product formulations.
Anthony Raissen, founder of Responsive Nutrition and a specialist in sports-nutrition marketing and future trends.

Protein is an organic compound that is a building block for all living cells and tissues. Made from amino acids, it’s the main ingredient in connective tissues and muscles. What makes protein different from carbs or fat molecules is the attachment of a nitrogen atom to the carbon skeleton of the molecule. The nitrogen measure indicates how much protein the body has used or wasted.

Research shows that dietary protein profoundly influences muscular development and overall performance. Nevertheless, much confusion and disagreement surround the actual capacity of different kinds of protein sources to satisfy the body’s metabolic needs and promote muscle growth.

Our roundtable addresses various important issues and questions:

‘ How much protein is required per day for effective muscle gain.
‘ How to choose a protein product.
‘ Standards for evaluating protein quality.
‘ The ideal composition of protein products.

The protein experts don’t always agree with one another. Still, their thoughts, opinions and suggestions can broaden your knowledge and help you make choices that will enhance your muscle-building efforts.

What is a good protein?

RM: A good protein is one that’s biologically complete when you eat it. It should have all essential amino acids, and it should not contain cross-linked peptides or damaged amino acids.

CC: Animal-based proteins are, in my opinion, the best sources of good protein, which are highest in essential amino acids.

JP: If you’re a bodybuilder, a good protein is one that will help you build lean mass without gaining fat. We use special high-quality proteins that contain the right amino acids. A good protein should be processed under low temperature to preserve the integrity of the amino acids.

GD: Good protein has a high BV [biological value] and amino score [level of essential amino acids]. From a sports-nutrition standpoint, a good protein must also contain a sufficient amount of conditionally essential amino acids, such as glutamine and branched-chain amino acids [BCAAs].

What is a bad protein?

RM: A bad protein is incomplete, one that’s missing one of the eight essential amino acids. Protein can become bad when it’s cross-linked or damaged due to processing. In real life, however, even good sources of protein, such as meat and fish, can be partly degraded when exposed to high heat during cooking. When cooked at high heat, protein loses essential amino acids such as lysine, and as a result what started out as a complete protein food becomes deficient.

GD: A bad protein is one that has a low BV and a poor amino score and therefore cannot be effectively utilized by the body. Can you really say that beans, which are incomplete proteins, are bad proteins?

RM: Not really, but to get the most out of beans, one should eat them with rice. Only then will they become a good protein.

AR: Deficient proteins such as beans aren’t necessarily bad proteins. In fact, beans are a great source of amino acids and have a lower rate of degradation than all animal proteins. Combining beans with other protein sources, such as grains, meats or eggs, can yield excellent biological value.

What is cross-linked, or damaged, protein?

CC: To be biologically active, proteins must appear in certain configurations. Otherwise the body can’t use them, and instead they may be deposited in the tissues, adversely affecting tissue function. Incorrect processing, exposure to high heat and long storage are just a few examples of what can adversely affect protein integrity.

What’s the true meaning of the term ‘denatured protein’?

CC: Denatured protein is protein in which the structure is changed: Cooked eggs are a good example of denatured protein. The egg goes from a liquid to a solid consistency. Denatured does not mean damaged.

AR: Denaturing is a process whereby protein loses its natural configuration due to exposure to acidity [low pH] or high heat. Denatured protein does not always mean damaged protein. In fact, to be digested, protein must first be denatured in the stomach.

The good news is that denatured proteins can ‘snap back’ to their original configuration when used in muscle tissues.

Can the body take a good protein and either damage or waste it?

CC: Yes. Overconsumption of simple sugars may cause glycolization, a process in which proteins bind to sugars and to each other in the cross-linking process and thereby lose their integrity and ability to be properly taken up by the body. Glycolization is often associated with aging, and the typical symptoms of glycolization are leathery skin, soggy muscles and eye damage, such as cataracts.

GD: The body can waste good protein. If you take in too much per serving, the body will suffer from loss of nitrogen, increased ammonia and an overall increase in metabolic stress on the liver.

What can be done to prevent this kind of damage?

GD: The first thing that should be done is to decrease the amount or slow down the rate of absorption of protein consumed per meal. To naturally slow down the absorption process and prevent protein waste, you can try to incorporate slow-releasing proteins, such as soy or casein, with fast-releasing proteins, such as whey. That way you can increase protein intake while minimizing protein waste.

AR: To avoid protein waste, I highly recommend increasing calorie consumption from carbs or fat. That clearly increases the BV of the protein as well as its capacity to be utilized for growth.

The current methods of protein evaluations are the BV and the PDCAAS (protein digestibility corrected amino acid score). How accurate are they in real-life situations?

JP: The PDCAAS gives both whey and soy the same score of one. I don’t believe that this reflects the real-life situation. I think the more accurate valuation of protein comes from the PER [protein efficiency ratio] method, which evaluates protein efficiency. According to that method, whey is far superior to soy when it comes to net protein utilization.

GD: PDCAAS is the most accurate method for evaluating protein quality. However, it’s important to understand that in real life, in order to reach maximum assimilation, protein must be mixed with carbs and fat, and if consumed in large amounts, must be absorbed relatively slowly.

AR: Protein BV is a chart that doesn’t reflect real life. Protein BV is initially tested when the protein is in its raw state’when most protein foods, including inferior proteins, are at their highest BV.

BV testing is usually done using very small amounts of protein per bodyweight. It’s been established that the higher the amount of protein per serving, the lower the actual BV will be. In real life the amount of protein consumed per serving is usually far more than the initial amount used for testing, which means the actual protein BV is much lower than the chart reports.

What is the best amount of protein per serving per meal that you need for maximum BV?

RM: In my opinion, somewhere around 12 and 17 grams. Above that the body has difficulty using it in a single meal.

CC: To be fully utilized, protein should be eaten in small amounts per serving’in my opinion somewhere in the area of 15 to 20 grams per meal. However, after an intense workout, as a recovery meal, I recommend increasing protein intake, as well as increasing calorie intake from carbs and fat.

JP: As much as you want. I’m not very concerned with protein waste; however, people should divide their protein intake equally into many meals during the day and make sure that they’re also eating carbs in order to spike their insulin to support protein use for anabolic purposes.

GD: A few variables affect the amount of protein required per serving: for instance, the intensity and length of training, the athlete’s muscle mass’all of which positively affect the amount of protein required per serving. Also, the type of protein and the meal composition itself can affect the amount of protein required. Getting good-quality protein supported by carbs and fat will reduce the amount of protein needed per serving.

AR: Protein reaches maximum BV when consumed in small amounts, such as 100 to 200 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. For an athlete or a bodybuilder whose bodyweight is somewhere between 160 and 200 pounds, the amount of protein required to maintain maximum BV is between 10 and 15 grams per serving. As absurd as it may sound, 30 grams of protein per serving would not use much more protein than 15 grams.

Protein can lose up to 80 percent of its BV and utilization when eaten in large amounts. That said, even a large amount of protein per serving can maintain high BV and high net use if supported with high calories coming from fat and carbs.

I know it’s confusing, but unless eaten in small amounts per serving, protein can never reach its highest BV without proper support of carbs or fat. For anabolic purposes, it’s better to eat many small protein meals than a few large ones.

So then does too much protein per serving cause protein waste?

RM: Yes, almost always. Almost every meal you eat out has too much protein.

GD: Absolutely, yes.

OH: Allow me to disagree. I feel that protein intake per meal can be as high as 100 grams, which is equivalent to about a pound of meat, as long as the protein is supported with a lot of calories coming from carbs and fat. High-calorie intake profoundly increases protein BV and utilization. Bodybuilders who eat a large amount of protein per serving should try to avoid low-carb lowfat protein products to prevent protein waste. In other words, as unpopular as it may sound, for the purpose of growth, meat and potatoes work better than meat alone.

How much protein per day per bodyweight is required for effective muscle gain?

CC: I think it’s difficult to define the ideal ratio of protein intake to bodyweight. It’s difficult to gain muscle, however, if you eat less than one gram per pound of bodyweight.

JP: For the purpose of muscle gain you must create a daily surplus of calories coming from carbs and fat in order to spare protein for growth. The amount of protein varies per person. As a rule of thumb, though, bodybuilders should start with a minimum of 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and gradually increase that amount. Through checks and balances each individual will find an optimum amount of protein necessary for growth.

GD: You need a different amount of protein per day. As a general rule, out of the total daily calorie intake 35 percent should come from protein. From my experience, athletes and bodybuilders get best results by incorporating frequent protein meals into their schedules. The exact amount of protein per day, however, depends on the individual’s lean body mass, lifestyle and workout regimen. Finally, a proper ratio of carbs, protein and fats, as well as a slow-releasing protein, will prevent protein waste and therefore reduce the overall amount of protein required per day. More is not always better.

OH: In my opinion, cycling between days of high protein and low protein is one of the most efficient ways to get maximum protein use from food. On low-protein days the body activates a biological mechanism that inhibits muscle breakdown. On high-protein days the body will take advantage of the previous low-protein day to maximize protein use.
[Note: When you decrease protein intake, you need to compensate with an increase in carb or fat fuel to spare proteins for anabolic functions.]

What are the best complete protein foods’ones that sufficiently provide all eight essential amino acids?

RM: Eggs, low-temperature-processed meats or fish and, to a lesser extent, certain cheeses could be excellent.

CC: Whey-protein isolate is best for anabolic purposes. Red meat, fish and eggs are excellent. Dairy is also a great source of protein; however, excessive intake of dairy products may cause fat gain for some people.
Note that nonorganic chicken and turkey may have an estrogenic effect on the body because of the hormones and other chemicals the animals eat.

JP: Animal proteins: red meat, fish, eggs, chicken and milk. In particular, isolate-dairy proteins derived from whey or milk are good because isolation removes lactose, fat and impurities, which is better for gaining lean mass.

Is animal food superior generally to plant food?

RM: I don’t think so.

JP: I think so, if it’s being used for muscle gain.

AR: Generally yes, but not always. It really depends on our choices for plant or animal food. Animal-food quality depends on how it’s been processed. Even though animal food initially has a superior amino score, it often contains chemical additives, hormones and pesticides, which adversely affect liver function and the body’s ability to use protein for the buildup of tissues.

Plant foods are relatively more chemical free and stable than animal foods. In real life certain combinations of plant foods can yield better results than badly handled animal foods.

Animal protein often contains hormone and pesticide residue. How does that affect the human body?

RM: I think the primary effect of pesticides is estrogenic. Pesticides have an estrogenlike effect on the body, which leads to retention of excessive bodyfat and reduction of testosterone levels.

CC: Be very careful of pesticides. They may not inhibit muscle gain, but over time they can make you fat because they mimic estrogen in the body. Many pesticides are also believed to be carcinogenic.

JP: The food supply is basically clean enough that you don’t have to worry about that, in my opinion.

GD: Pesticides have negative effects, from the hormonal perspective. I don’t make myself crazy with that, but I use common sense. As a bodybuilder, you must eat a lot of protein without being overly concerned about whether it’s organic.

What’s the best dairy-protein food?

RM: I think it’s whey-protein concentrate and colostrum.

CC: Whey isolate and ricotta cheese, which provide whey protein in its freshest and most integral form.

JP: I don’t feel any are necessarily superior. All isolated dairy proteins are good protein sources, whether whey, milk or casein.

GD: Whey concentrate, lowfat cottage cheese, ricotta cheese.

What’s the best method of cooking meals in order to maintain protein integrity?

RM: If we keep cooking times short and under 212 degrees Fahrenheit, we minimize the damage to the proteins. Certain proteins, however, such as whey and cheese, will have significant loss of lysine and other critical amino acids.

JP: When it comes to the body’s protein use, I don’t think that the method of cooking changes anything. Let’s not split hairs. The so-called healthy raw food is not necessarily superior to cooked food. In fact, meats are better digested when cooked.

GD: As a champion bodybuilder, I’ve long been aware of the fact that cooking at low temperature preserves a lot of the integrity of the protein and amino acids, in particular for individuals who are interested in maximizing protein use for muscle gain.

AR: Cooking foods in their natural juices or in sauces, such as with stews or soups, will prevent overheating and degradation of amino acids. Nevertheless, it’s always good to enhance your cooked protein with such raw protein foods as nuts, seeds, sushi, yogurt and good-quality whey.
Note: We’ll have part two of this roundtable discussion next month.

Editor’s note: Ori Hofmekler is the author of the books The Warrior Diet and Maximum Muscle & Minimum Fat, published by Dragon Door Publications ( For more information or for a consultation, contact him at [email protected], or by phone at (866) WAR-DIET. IM

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