One of the single most important supplements any athlete or active person should consider consuming is a high quality protein source. Ideally this comes from natural, organic foods like chicken or turkey or beef. But there are many other types of protein (dairy, soy, pea, etc.) that you can choose from as well if you are finding it difficult to cook so much meat all the time. I tend to prefer the dairy proteins whey and casein, as I think they are more palatable. Whey and casein are milk proteins that have been studied and researched extensively over the past few decades. They are simply a byproduct of the cheese and curd manufacturing process and their benefits are many:
- Whey: A popular post-workout protein drink that is purported to provide antimicrobial activity, immune modulation, improved muscle strength and body composition, and to prevent cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis . Whey protein is the perfect post workout meal because it is a fast absorbing protein, which will give your muscles the protein it needs when they are most hungry, and it is chock full of amino acids. Whey proteins have all the essential amino acids and in higher concentrations compared to other protein sources. Furthermore, the amino acids found in whey are efficiently absorbed and utilized by the body. In addition to the essential amino acids in whey protein, it has high concentrations of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). BCAAs such as leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are important in the tissue growth and repair process . And because whey protein is rich in sulfur-containing amino acids, the immune system is enhanced through intracellular conversion to glutathione. I’ll spare the super nitty gritty details of all the biological processes and just get to the point - hydrolysis (aka degradation and digestion of the protein) of whey in the small intestine allows for the greater absorption. Another positive effect of whey protein is it’s anti-tumor and anticarcinogenic potential from the available glutathione that detoxify potential carcinogens.
- Casein: A slow digesting protein due to it’s coagulation under the acidic conditions found in the stomach which slows the entrance into the intestines. Due to slow digestion relative to whey protein, it is generally a good protein to drink at night before you go to bed. That way, your muscles will be fed with high-quality protein and nutrients throughout the night when you sleep.
Protein powders are often useful if you need a high quality protein source in a hurry. Or if you are on a calorie-restricted diet, they can provide a large quantity of protein (which will help keep you feeling full) for a small amount of calories.