Week 4 + 5 – Carbs and Proteins
Hello internet, but you thought I flaked on this whole, post every week thing. I actually opted to combine last week and this week because of the holiday and because I’ve had this post in mind for months and it presented a great opportunity to get it out there. Even after several posts about supplements, protein, and the like, the biggest question I get to this day is about Protein, Carbs, and how to combine them effectively. The short answer is, drink them when you train, eat them the rest of the time. But I wanted to break this down into a really long, painful answer for those like me who like to know everything they can. We’ll start with proteins, whey, casein, isolates and the like. Then move to carbs. And finally come to some TL:DR conclusions about what you need and why you need it.
First thing’s first, the science regarding protein supplementation is very well grounded, I haven’t heard anyone in the strength and conditioning world who doesn’t recommend some form or protein supplementation. So I’m going to forgo that point as a given. Most whey proteins have very similar amino acid profiles, with a good portion of branch chain amino acids, which play key roles in metabolism, anabolism/anti-catabolism, and recovery. Thus, making whey a great candidate for peri-workout nutrition, especially because it can be drank and thus digested more quickly than whole food sources. So let’s take a look at our options.
Whey Protein Concentrate
Whey protein is derived from cheese making, everything that doesn’t become cheese is left over floating around as whey. The liquid left over, is typically dried and processed in a number of different ways, flavored and put into jugs for our consumption. Whey protein concentrate is the least processed, least digested, least pure form of whey protein and is thus typically the cheapest. It’s very cost effective and is usually found in a lot of proprietary blends, to save companies money and avoid disclosing that their “Super Amazing Protein” is really just dried out cheese water. Protein content by weight can vary dramatically in whey concentrate, from anywhere from 29% – 89% protein by weight.
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein isolates are the next step up, and what I would recommend to most people looking to start protein supplementation, it strikes a great balance between cost and benefit. As the name suggests, isolate is a more processed version of concentrates, removing more fats, sugars (lactose) and other bioactive products from the original milk. It’s typically 90%+ protein by weight and is such much purer than concentrate, though high quality concentrates can compete. The thing to realize here is that there are a lot of “fancy” words for isolate, micro filtered, ion filtered, cold filtered, really any cool buzzword adjective they can think up, they’ll put on a shiny jug of protein. Scientifically there’s little evidence that the body can tell the difference. For only a dollar more per pound than concentrate, it’s a great safety blanket to just bump up to isolate and call it a day.
Whey Protein Hydrolysate
The next big step up is protein hydrolysate. The term hydrolysate comes from hydrolyzed, which means to break down chemically with water. Basically what you’re doing is taking the larger protein molecules in whey into smaller chains of peptides and amino acids. The take home from this is the smaller the protein molecule is, down to di- and tri-peptides the better digested it is, the faster the assimilation, and the stronger the biological response. Thus hydrolyzed whey is more or less the gold standard, and that’s why its 4-5$ a lb more expensive than isolate. Similarly, if lactose or dairy reactions are a concern, hydrolyzed whey is usually more tolerable to those individuals. If you look at the amino acid profile though, it’s nearly identical to the isolate, because whey is whey, what you’re paying for is the optimization of the digestion.
Casein is the other half of protein from milk. It’s what actually ends up making up cheese and other milk proteins. Typically it’s produced by taking whey protein isolate, and removing all the whey peptides, leaving solely the casein. Casein is a special type of protein that forms globules, it is undenatured, and less digested than even whey protein concentrate, as such it’s slowly digested and great for long term fueling and recovery. As such casein is targeted for pre-bed, meal replacement, and recovery scenarios. It’s my 2nd recommendation behind whey protein isolate. I should note here that there are many other forms of casein, including hydrolyzed, but it tastes awful and costs a fortune, given the cost/benefit for most people it’s simply too much. I wouldn’t recommend more than simple Micellar Casein.
I left this section simply to mention that other protein’s exist if you feel like venturing into the world of egg protein, or beef isolate, or grass fed whey. Whey protein is the king in this realm when it comes to amino acid profile, digestabilibty, and cost. If you don’t tolerate the milk well, there’s nothing wrong with these other types, but more most it’s simply confusing and unnecessary. Further, whey protein ends up so processed that most bioactive products at the isolate/hydrolysate level are removed. Thus, paying extra for grass-fed whey might make you feel better, because these cows got to see grass, but from a biology standpoint, there’s little carry over into the protein itself. If it’s concentrate theres some argument that the lipids in the protein are of higher quality because of the grass-fed. In the isolate/hydrolysate world, I would opt to forgo the grass-fed option.
You need two proteins, whey protein isolate and micellar casein. They cover the most needs for the lowest costs.
Proteins are pretty cut and dry, most of them come from dairy, they’re just various levels of processing but more or less all go in the same direction and make some sense. For as simple as proteins are, carbs end up far more complicated. On a basic level, your body uses glucose/dextrose, sugar monomers (or single molecules) of sugar. Whatever you put into your body, it has to be broken down into glucose. In general, the closer you are to glucose (the smaller the polymer) the faster the digestion, the quicker the release. Just like protein, the faster the digestion, the better the desired effect. The other side of carbohydrate is that there are two purposes that are linked but should be considered separately. The first is refueling, when you exercise you need to put back what you use, everyone knows this, and muscles become primed to absorb sugars when you train. The other side of carbohydrates is insulin. Insulin is the most anabolic hormone our body has. It’s a universal growth signal. In general the reason we drink dextrose during and right after our workouts is for this reason. It shuttles nutrients to muscle’s, stops any catabolic processes, and starts the recovery process. Not to mention it makes protein taste way better. So let’s look at what’s out there.
Dextrose is the easiest carbohydrate to explain. It’s a single molecule. It’s table sugar. It’s gatorade. It comes from a number of sources, mainly plants, most sugars come from plants. Glucose is the ubiquitous fuel of the biological world, everything uses glucose for energy, ourselves included. The process by which energy is produced from glucose is glycolysis, aerobic respiration, anaerobic respiration or fermentation. Given it’s ease of production, glucose/dextrose is really cheap, even the “fancy” sports supplementation glucose is cheap by comparison to protein, or other carb sources. The easiest form of glucose is gatorade. If you want to get really fancy you can look into 1st phorm ignition.
Maltodextrin is a polysaccharide, it’s a starch made up of glucose, and is rapidly digested into glucose, starting immediately when it hits saliva. As a chain maltodextrin is typically 4-7 glucose molecules long, weakly bonded, thus it tastes sweet as it pops glucose off pretty quickly which obviously tastes sweet. The dextrose equivalent of maltodextrin is 3-20, meaning 1 molecule of maltodextrin is worth 3-20 of glucose. As such it’s marginally more expensive than dextrose.
This is a blanket catch-all. There are a lot of patented starches that are supposedly better than the above options, there are potato starches, oat starches, all kinds of starches that are fancily processed and may or may not be better than just the regular sugar. There’s a lot of fancy graphs on these jugs that says they digest faster, and raise blood glucose faster, and thus are better. At the speeds we’re talking over table sugar, it’s actually quite hard to imagine you would notice this difference, unless you are a high level athlete, with so much optimization going on, that that 5-10% difference is what’s holding you back. If you’re reading this, I’m going to guess you aren’t this person, and you’d be fine with things above. Thus I’m not going to get into this, because it really isn’t worth it for 99.9% of people. If you’re curious, try some Vitargo, and see if you suddenly feel like a super hero (you probably won’t).
TL:DR What do I need
Protein wise you need about 1.5 scoops of Whey protein isolate per training session. You need 1 scoop of casein per day.
Carb wise, it turns out a 50/50 mix of dextrose and maltodextrin is ideal, and costs very little. You want about a scoop during your workout and another scoop to 1.5 scoops after.
Thus you want say 3 lbs of whey protein isolate (45 scoops), which is 30 training days.
You want 5 lbs of a 50/50 mix of maltodextrin/dextrose which is 75 scoops, or 30 training days.
You want 2 lbs of Micellar Casein, 30 scoops = 30 days.
For all this you could expect to pay less than $100. Not a bad setup for the average crossfitter or even a competitive exerciser.