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The Power of Three

Studies show that a post-workout blend of protein sources is the best strategy for building muscle.


When it comes to muscle-building protein, whey is often valued as the protein of choice among hard-training bodybuilders, athletes, and fitness buffs alike. This hails from the fact that whey is broken down, digested, and absorbed more quickly than other types of protein. Because of the emphasis on speed that has enveloped the supplement industry and dominated the consumer mindset, whey has become the most popular protein supplement on the market. Scientists are now starting to realize, though, that speed isn’t everything.

While an emphasis on rapid absorption is warranted in some cases, such as the first few minutes post-workout, the problem here is that your muscles do not recover and rebuild themselves only in the short period after training. In fact, research shows that anabolic growth and regeneration take place over a period of six hours or more following a demanding workout. So if you are downing a whey shake when you finish working out, you might be selling your body short. Even worse, you could be creating a catabolic condition in your muscles in the period beyond 90 minutes when most whey (especially isolate) has already been absorbed and assimilated into your body.

A combination of three different proteins can provide greater benefits due to their varied digestion rates, which contribute to an extended release of amino acids into the muscle tissue. This has always made perfect sense to the guy in the gym, but now there is valid clinical data that confirms this theory in far greater capacity than ever before.


A recent landmark clinical study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology confirms that consuming a blend of fast-, medium-, and slow-digesting proteins supplies a prolonged delivery of critical amino acids to the muscles. The combination of these muscle-building proteins provides greater anabolic and anti-catabolic benefits than any other single protein supplement. This combination lengthens the post-workout anabolic window, making this an optimal blend to utilize following resistance exercise.

“This study confirms that consuming a blend of proteins—soy, whey, and casein—provides a prolonged delivery of amino acids to the muscles versus whey protein alone, making it optimal for consumption following resistance exercise,” says Blake Rasmussen, PhD, a scientist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, who helped conduct the study.

Subjects in the study consumed a formula of whey, casein, and soy protein because they are all absorbed at different rates during digestion. Whey protein is referred to as a “fast” protein because it is rapidly absorbed, whereas casein is considered a “slow” protein because it requires several hours to pass through the gut. Meanwhile, soy protein delivers amino acids in the “intermediate” stage, meaning concentrations in the blood peak somewhat later compared to whey, but its digestion rate is much quicker than casein. Hence, the effect of all three of these proteins combined appears to provide an ongoing and extended release of amino-acid delivery to the muscles.

This becomes vitally important advice if you are going to be somewhere for an extended period of time without access to whole-food protein. Quaffing a protein-blend shake prior to getting on a plane, attending a seminar, taking a road trip, or even going to bed can help you maintain that muscle you have worked so hard to build.

Going back to the initial point of maximizing anabolism and reducing catabolic muscle breakdown over an extended period, it is well known by scientists that muscles don’t recover in the 30 minutes post-workout. It takes at least 24 to 48 hours for your muscles to recover after resistance exercise. This study showed that protein blends can provide amino-acid delivery for up to five hours, so if you consume a protein-blend shake post-workout, the prolonged effect will deliver essential amino acids to feed your muscles until your next meal. This means that a combination protein blend will provide greater anabolic muscle-building effects much longer than possible when using whey protein alone.  IM

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