Many aspiring bodybuilders are hoping that this is the year that 
their bodies will transform into the bodies of their dreams. 
Unfortunately, bodybuilders love for protein puts them at the mercy 
of protein manufacturers and vulnerable to protein manufacturers 
marketing ploys. Fledgling bodybuilders may not know as much as 
veteran bodybuilders but they inevitably know that protein plays a 
role in their future bodybuilding success. Where should this protein 
come from? To answer this question, we will look at the role of protein 
in foods versus protein supplementation.


Pick up any publication devoted to health and fitness and you 
will be inundated witharticles on protein. Protein manufacturers 
are notorious for throwing around words like cross flow 
microfiltration, oligopeptides, ion exchange, protein efficiency 
ratio, biological value, nitrogen retention and glycomacropeptides 
as a way to convince potential buyers. It sure sounds convincing, 
especially when scores of scientific references are cited. Like most 
aspects of bodybuilding (and the supplement industry in general), 
marketing hype rather than physiological reality drives the issue 
of protein.

Many nutrition "experts" (people who sell supplements), state 
that there are distinct advantages of protein supplements: 
powders and amino acid tablets over whole foods. There are 
many different methods of determining protein quality, including 
biological value (BV), Protein efficiency ration (PER), Net Protein 
Utilization (NPU), and protein digestibility corrected amino acid 
score (PDCAAS).


BV is one of the most commonly used and is arguably, the best 
measure of a protein's quality. BV is based on how much of the 
protein consumed is actually absorbed and utilized in the body. 
The higher the amount of protein (nitrogen) that is actually 
retained, the greater the BV. If a protein has a BV of 100, it 
means that all of the protein absorbed has been utilized with 
none lost. Whole eggs score the highest of all foods with a BV 
of 100, while beans have a BV of only 49.

Protein quality is certainly an important issue, but it is one that 
has been enormously overstated and even distorted for marketing 
purposes. Whey protein is truly an excellent protein with a biological 
value at or near 100. Many advertisements will have you believe that 
their whey is between 104 -157 on the BV scale. In 
"Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism", BV is defined as 
"a measure of nitrogen retained for growth and/or maintenance 
that is expressed as a percentage of nitrogen absorbed." When a 
protein supplement is listed as having a BV over 100, the company 
has intentionally manipulated the number for marketing purposes.
The companies are usually making reference to the chemical score 
of the protein. Chemical score is a comparison of the amino acid 
pattern in an ideal reference protein to a test protein and therefore 
the number can exceed 100.

Most bodybuilders and strength athletes already consume more 
than enough protein, so the importance of BV to these athletes who 
are already consuming enough protein has been overplayed. Even 
though whey has a higher BV than chicken breast, fish, or milk 
protein, if the total quantity of protein you consume is sufficient, 
then it is not likely that substituting whey for food proteins will 
result in any additional muscle.

For the purposes of developing muscle, the only guidelines for 
protein that you must follow are:
  1. Consume a source of complete protein with every meal
  2. Eat at frequent intervals approximately three hours apart
  3. Consume minimum of 0.8 grams to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight


    Because whey protein does have a high BV, it probably 
    offers the most benefits when you are dieting on very low 
    calories. When your energy intake and correspondingly, 
    protein intake is reduced, whey protein could help you 
    get greater utilization of the smaller amount of protein 
    that you are taking in. Whey protein also provides a way 
    to get high quality protein without the fat. It has been 
    suggested that whey may have other advantages besides 
    high protein quality. These benefits include enhanced 
    immunity, increased antioxidant activity and quick 

    Several studies in "Clinical and Investigative Science" by 
    Dr. Gerard Bounous of Montreal have shown that whey 
    protein provides anti carcinogenic properties, protection 
    from infections, and other enhanced immune responses. 
    Whey has also been shown to raise levels of Glutathione, 
    an important antioxidant that can offer protection from 
    free radical oxidative damage. While such findings are very 
    promising, all these studies were done on mice, so it is 
    unclear how well the results extrapolate to humans.


    Another acknowledged benefit of whey protein is its fast 
    absorption rate. Although their is not any evidence that 
    protein supplements digest more efficiently than whole 
    foods. They are definitely digested faster. This is most 
    important after a training session when the rates of 
    protein synthesis and glycogen re-synthesis are increased. 
    Even in considering post workout nutrition, there is still 
    little proof that a liquid protein-carb complex will actually 
    produce better muscular growth than whole foods, as long 
    as complete whole foods are consumed immediately after 
    the training session and every three waking hours for a 
    period of 24 hours thereafter.


    What about amino acid pillsAmino acids are simply 
    predigested protein. Proponents of amino acid 
    supplementation claim that because the amino acids are 
    predigested, the body will absorb them better, leading to 
    greater improvements in strength and muscle mass. It 
    sounds logical, but this is a gross underestimation of the 
    body's capacities and actually the reverse is true. The 
    human digestive system was designed to efficiently 
    process whole foods; it was not designed to digest pills 
    and powders all day long.

    Amino acids are absorbed more rapidly in the intestine 
    when they are in the more complex di and tri-peptide 
    molecules. Your body gets better use of the aminos as 
    protein foods are broken down and the amino's are 
    absorbed at just the right rate for your body's needs. 
    Human Performance," authors Katch and McArdle 
    state that "amino acid supplementation in any form 
    has not been shown by adequate experimental design 
    and methodology increase muscle mass or significantly 
    improve muscular strength, power, or endurance." 
    Furthermore, consuming predigested protein when 
    you are seeking fat loss is not necessarily advantageous 
    because it shortchanges you of the thermic effect of 
    real food.

    Whole foods have a major advantage over protein 
    supplements; they stimulate the metabolism more. 
    This is known as the "thermic effect". Protein has the 
    highest thermic effect of any food. Including a while 
    protein food with every meal can speed up your 
    metabolic rate as much as 30% because of the energy 
    necessary to digest, process, and absorb it. This means 
    that out of 100 calories of a protein food such as chicken 
    breast, the net amount of calories left over after 
    processing it is 70. In this respect, the fact that protein 
    foods digest slower than amino acid tablets is actually 
    an advantage.


    A final argument against amino acid supplements is 
    the cost. Amino acids are simply not cost effective. 
    One popular brand of "free form and peptide bonded 
    amino acids," contains 150 1000mg. Tablets per bottle 
    and costs $19.95. One thousand mg. of amino acids is 
    equal to 1 gram of protein. This would mean that the 
    entire bottle contained 150 grams of protein. Dividing 
    the price of the bottle by the total grams we get the 
    price per gram, which is 13.3 cents. Now lets compare 
    that to a chicken breast. At the local supermarket I can 
    buy a pound of chicken breast for $2.99. According to 
    Corinne Netzer's "Complete Book of Food Counts," 
    there are 8.8 grams of protein in each ounce of chicken, 
    so one pound of chicken (16 oz) has about 140 grams 
    of protein. That would be $2.99 divided by 140 grams 
    which would come out to 2.1 cents per gram. The amino 
    acids cost six times more than the chicken.


    The biggest advantage of protein supplements is not that 
    they can build more muscle than chicken or egg whites 
    or any other whole food protein, the biggest advantage 
    is convenience. It is easier to drink a protein shake than 
    it is to buy, prepare, and cook whole foods. Consuming 
    small frequent meals is the optimal way to eat, regardless 
    if your goal is muscle gain or fat loss. To keep your body 
    constantly in positive nitrogen balance, you should 
    consume a complete protein every three hours. For 
    many people, eating this often is nearly impossible. 
    That is when a high quality protein supplement is the 
    most helpful.

    Aside from the convenience, the truth about protein 
    supplements is that they offer few advantages over protein 
    foods. There is no scientific evidence that you cannot meet 
    all of your protein needs for muscle growth through food. 
    As long as you eat every three hours and you eat a complete 
    protein such as eggs, lean meat or dairy products with every 
    meal, it is not necessary to consume any protein supplements 
    to get outstanding results. Whey protein does have some 
    interesting and useful properties and supplementing with 
    a couple of scoops a day is not a bad idea, especially if you 
    are on a low calorie diet for fat loss. Aside from that, focus 
    on real food and do not believe all the hype you read. Good 
    luck on your training for the New Year.