Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Performance Weekly #1: Whey vs Casein Protein



So, being a gym rat myself, I've decided to post at least one (it'll probably end up being way more than that) performance/strength/muscle building article per week.  I have always been a huge supporter of any sort of exercise, and believe it can do wonders for absolutely anybody.  Ten minutes a day out walking your dog is better than another ten minutes on the couch.  That will always be true.

I for one though, like to push it hard.  Being an Olympic style weightlifter, I am in the gym for at least an hour a day, sometimes twice a day, squatting, snatching, clean and jerking (you know, that sport you maybe have accidentally flipped to one day while the Olympics were on?)  pressing, and in general pushing my muscles to the absolute limit day in and day out.  And many of you are right there with me, whether you be a runner, biker, bodybuilder, swimmer, maybe even a Polo player (though I think the horse does most of the work there.)  You all work your muscles hard, sweat harder, and sleep soundly at night.

We all know the concept of working out.  You go to the gym, lift a few weights, and get stronger, right?  Well there's a lot more to it than that, but in general, yes.  However, if your goal is to get stronger, faster, you could be drastically hampering your progress if you're not supplementing your body correctly.  See, when you lift weights until exhaustion (when you feel the burn), what you're actually doing is forcing your muscles to work in an anaerobic state.  This means they're running off lactic acid instead of oxygen.  This chemical process works, however lactic acid is destructive to your muscles, and begins to break them down.  After your workout, your muscles use available sources of protein, carbohydrates, and various other nutrients to begin rebuilding the damaged fibers, and this time will try to build them a little bigger and denser than they were before, in an attempt to avoid such destruction.

However to do all this, you need supplementation.  One of the most common supplements on the market today to help with your strength goals is the humble protein shake, which you've probably seen in the form of Whey Protein Powder.

Whey is a staple in the fitness industry.  Those that don't know much about lifting still seem to know that they can buy a cheap tub of Whey protein at Walmart, mix some with water, drink it after their workout, and believe they have done their bodies a favor.  And they have!  But when you drink one of these shakes, what are you actually giving your body?  Why is Whey protein so helpful?  Well first things first.  Whey protein itself is a by-product of cheese production.  It is an extremely dense protein source, packed with all sorts of delicious nutrients, amino-acids, and other things your body needs when it's crying for food right after a workout.  Most protein you'll buy at the store is flavored (I like chocolate), and has a lot of other vitamins and related supplements that are beneficial to building muscle pre-mixed into it.  There's also a good source of simple carbohydrates, which will spike your insulin right after a workout, encouraging your body to absorb the protein AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.  These carbs will also help refuel your muscle glycogen levels.  So in all, if you're one who does any sort of physical fitness activity, I would suggest incorporating whey protein into your post workout nutrition.  You'll be building lean muscle mass that will help you feel stronger, perform better, and will actually increase your metabolism to help burn off unwanted fat.  You'll be a lean, mean, performace machine.  A win-win situation for sure!

Side Note:  After a workout is pretty much the only time you want to voluntarily spike your insulin levels.  

So that's all fine and dandy, and now we have a great protein source to rebuild muscles after our intense gym session.  But we've got another problem.  If quick, powerful muscle gains are desired, we've got to realize that the body doesn't only rebuild muscle right after our workout.  Oh no, our body is constantly working on those destroyed muscle fibers, and it takes it's sweet time.  In fact it's most favorite time to work is at night, when we're asleep.  After two hours of deep sleep, our body begins to release Human Growth Hormone (HGH) to build those tired muscles back up to use the next morning.  But there's the problem.  What aren't we doing at night, which our body NEEDS us to do in order to have the raw materials necessary to build muscle back up?  EATING!!!!  We're practically starving ourselves all night!  That's not a good formula for muscle growth.  If only there was a quick, easy way to circumvent this problem.

Enter Casein Protein.  Unlike Whey, which is not optimal for night time growth because of it's extremely fast absorption rate, Casein absorbs into your muscles slowly, essentially feeding them all night long. Casein protein is often found in dairy products as well.  Basically, it is a slow acting alternative to Whey, so when taken right before bed it feeds your body all night as it slowly used by your body.  You can buy tubs of Casein protein powder, just like whey, but if you're not quite as serious about muscle building I would suggest trying this simple alternative:  Before bed, take a tablespoon of natural peanut butter (the fats in peanut butter have the same effect of slowing nutrient absorption) along with half a cup of cottage cheese, a food rich in Casein Protein.  Take these less than half an hour before you hit the hay, and watch your muscles grow. 

Another side note:  Just as whey protein is optimal before bed because it absorbs too fast, Casein isn't optimal post workout because it absorbs too slowly.  After your workout you want to cram nutrients into your muscles at light speed.

If you want to know more about the subtleties of both these protein sources, I suggest reading some articles over at www.bodybuilding.com.  They've got some top notch experts who write fitness related articles every day, and they've got all the science behind it.  I'm just trying to keep up with them =].

Last side note:  If desired, the absorption of Whey protein powder can be slowed by mixing it with non-skim milk, or almond milk, or with a tablespoon or two of PB due to the same nutrient slowing effects of the fat in either the milk or PB.

So now you know about Protein.  Get out there, lift hard, and feed your body right.  

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