How do I lose weight?
Everyone wants to look better, fit into nicer clothes, and feel more confident in their image. But most people have no idea how to achieve these outcomes and end up wasting countless hours in the gym, with the only results being frustration and a lighter, thinner piggy bank.
Throughout the year (and especially in January after the holiday season) people join the gym with the aim of ‘losing weight’, and inevitably end up leaving after less than six months having made little or no progress towards this outcome. Losing weight is important, particularly if you’re on the bigger end of the spectrum, but it shouldn’t be your primary goal. Fat loss (measured by body circumferences, clothes sizes, body fat %, or skin folds), lifestyle change goals, and, ideally, performance outcomes should come first and foremost on your list of desired outcomes.
When it comes to weight loss vs fat loss the question is simple – would you prefer to look like a marathon runner or a beach volleyball player?
I know for sure most people would prefer the latter, the volleyball player. The key difference between these two is muscle mass, and if your goal is weight loss you aren’t differentiating between losing fat and losing muscle. Muscle weighs more than fat, but takes up less space in your body than fat does, and it allows for a more aethestically pleasing figure. Additionally muscle is more ‘energy hungry’, requiring more calories to maintain, meaning even at rest you’ll burn more calories if you have more muscle mass. Which of the two images you end up looking like comes down to the type/intensity/duration of training you do.
Hours of aerobic training with little or no real dedicated resistance training will eventually result in more of the ‘marathon runner’ look, or you’ll end up with minimal results due to being unable to overload/challenge your body further. What I mean by that is, if you jog for an hour four days a week, your body will adapt and begin to use less fuel/calories (your body is super efficient), to prevent this adaptation you need to challenge the body. You then have three options – 1) increase frequency by adding another day of training, 2) increase duration by running for longer, and 3) increase intensity by running faster. These options are limited – you’ll eventually run out of days in the week, hours in the day, or reach the limit of your ability to run any faster. To avoid this you’re better off beginning with types of training that can be easily progressed indefinitely such as resistance training and high intensity interval training (don’t worry – steady state aerobic training still has it’s place).
Resistance training – using barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, bodyweight, machines – will promote muscle gain (when combined with good nutrition). Ladies, you shouldn’t worry about looking like a bodybuilder, you lack the testosterone levels required for this to happen by accident (unless you’re taking steroids), it also takes incredible dedication to training and diet to look that way.
For more information on optimal training for muscle gain, see my blog post here.
High intensity interval training (or HIIT) has become very popular over the last few years, and simply refers to hard, intense bouts of exercise (less than two minutes, and at over 80% max heart rate) interspersed with structured rest periods. This ‘exercise’ doesn’t have to be traditional cardio (running, rowing, etc), it can be pushing sleds, using battle ropes, flipping tyres, dragging sandbags, or performing kettlebell, dumbbell, or barbell exercises – pretty much anything that has the potential to elevate your heart rate. HIIT is generally anaerobic, meaning without the presence of oxygen, although if rest periods are too short the intensity can drop due to fatigue and the exercises become aerobic. Anaerobic exercise creates an ‘oxygen debt’ or ‘afterburn’, whereby the body has to expend additionally energy (calories) to restore balance in its systems even after you’ve left the gym (potentially for up to 36 hours post-exercise).
This type of training has several benefits:
- It’s interesting, fun, and easy to adapt or keep varied session to session.
- It’s time efficient – you can work very hard for a short period of time, create an after-burn effect, and then go home and enjoy the other 23 hours or so of your day.
- It maintains muscle mass – your body doesn’t resort to catabolizing muscle to use as fuel (which it might during long aerobic training sessions.
Although exercise is important, it’s really the other 23 hours (time outside the gym) that is most important – this includes good nutrition, having goals, optimal sleep, and minimizing stress.
Theres simply far to much information on good nutrition for me to tell you what works or doesn’t. There are numerous confounding factors – physiology (allergies/diseases/intolerances), food preferences, time commitments, etc. etc. etc. However in my experience these are a few things have worked for myself and my clients/athletes.
- Go low carbohydrate on days you don’t exercise.
- On the days you do exercise, get your carbohydrates from non-sugar or starchy sources, i.e. fibrous carbohydrates (ideally vegetables, beans, legumes). Eliminate sugar and starchy carbs from your diet.
- Drink at least 67 oz of water per day – more if you’re exercising.
- Don’t be afraid of fat, it isn’t the enemy and won’t instantly make you fat *Except trans fats, found in processed foods, often called partially hydrogenated oils*.
- Eat sufficient protein for your current bodyweight – 0.37 grams per pound of bodyweight.
- If you have snacking issues, consider using ‘eating windows’. Only allow yourself to eat between specific set times in the day i.e. 5-7am, 12-1pm, 6-7pm.
Finally, in order to really track your progress and keep yourself accountable it’s essential to set goals that will lead towards your final desired outcome. Goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and have a time-frame. ‘Lose ten pounds’ is not a goal, ‘lose 2% body fat’ is not a goal – they’re outcomes. Set goals that will help you work towards those outcomes. For example:
- Get 30 minutes of extra sleep per night for four weeks by going to bed 30 minutes earlier
- Drink 8 cups of water every day for two weeks
- Get to the gym three days within the next seven
- Get a strength and conditioning coach to design a program that will allow you to add 20lb to your squat in the next 12 weeks
- Park as far away from the store as possible every time you go shopping for the next four weeks to get extra exercise
Muscle hypertrophy – increasing muscle size/promoting muscle growth. Probably the most popular reason for most people joining gyms and/or beginning lifting (alongside fat loss). Gaining lean muscle mass makes you look better and feel better, it’ll also help with fat loss (muscle tissue is highly metabolic/’energy hungry’) and can lead to improvements in strength and power – and therefore sports performance.
Many people join gyms, begin a programme and see results fairly quickly, and these results continue for a few months until the ‘beginner gains’ plateau is hit. At this point things slow right down, frustration sets in, and the person will inevitably quit or at best end up stuck in a rut, miserable, and paying an expensive gym membership for nothing. This usually occurs because trainers and trainees have no understanding of how to trigger muscle hypertrophy (following the initial ‘honeymoon’ period of being a beginner), and therefore don’t really know how to write an effective, science-based programme that progressively produces results and avoids plateaus.
There’s been a plethora of research on muscle growth over the past decade in an attempt to fully understand how hypertrophy occurs and, although it’s difficult to determine for certain, several researchers have some fairly good ideas. One of these researchers is Brad Schoenfeld (http://www.lookgreatnaked.com/), who published an excellent study in 2010 titled “The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training”. This blog post is heavily based on that article and others by Brad Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras.
As previously stated hypertrophy simply means muscle growth and is the opposite of muscle atrophy (muscle loss).
Hypertrophy has two secondary categories;
Transient Hypertrophy – the short lived, post-workout ‘pump’
Chronic Hypertrophy – long term lasting gains, actual changes in muscle architecture (i.e. what we’re training for)
Chronic hypertrophy occurs in two ways according to research –
Contractile/Myofibrillar/Functional Hypertrophy – This involves the addition of sarcomeres (basic muscle units) in parallel. Contractile elements (actin and myosin) also enlarge and multiply and the extracellular matrix (everything else inside the cell) expands. This is deemed ‘functional’ as the tissue that is hypertrophied and supplemented is ‘contractile’ and thus capable of contracting and generating force. This is ‘powerlifter hypertrophy’ to put it simply.
Non-contractile/Sarcoplasmic/Non-functional Hypertrophy – This is the increase in size of the non-contractile elements inside the muscle cell (collagen, glycogen) and sarcoplasmic fluid. This is ‘non-functional’ as it doesn’t directly involve changes to the contractile elements and therefore doesn’t produce changes in force expression. This is ‘bodybuilder hypertrophy’ – big but not necessarily strong. This form of hypertrophy can have knock-on effects which promote contractile hypertrophy – hydration and thus cell swelling may lead to subsequent cell growth due to pressure on the cell wall.
In order to get bigger we need to maximise protein synthesis (create an anabolic environment) and minimise protein breakdown/catabolism. Multiple mechanisms/factors are proposed for this.
Three Main Factors
- Mechanical Tension
- Muscle Damage
- Metabolic Stress
This is a combination of force generation and stretch. It’s the amount of tension that muscle fibres produce when a load stimulus is introduced.
Mechanical tension disturbs the integrity of skeletal muscle, it facilitates molecular and cellular responses that trigger hypertrophy.
There are two types of muscular tension:
– Passive tension – which occurs during eccentric contractions (‘stretching’ a muscle under load)
– Active tension – relating to the contractile elements of the muscle. Occurs during hard, forced contractions of a muscle (i.e. lifting heavy stuff).
This is localised damage to the muscle tissue caused by novel/unfamiliar exercise, slow eccentrics (lowering part of the exercise), or forced stretching of a muscle whilst it’s in an activated/contracted state.
It creates ‘myotrauma’ (muscle trauma) which triggers an acute inflammatory ‘healing’ response that stimulates growth factors that mediate and promote hypertrophy.
Putting a muscle under repetitive, sustained stress causes metabolite accumulation which triggers an anabolic response (raises testosterone, IGF-1, growth hormone, and mechano growth factor).
Metabolic stress can be induced best via anaerobic glycolysis (hard, intense exercise with limited amounts of oxygen, lasting 10s – 2min). This causes a build up of metabolites – lactate, hydrogen ion, inorganic phosphate, creatine (amongst others) and promotes an acidic, ischemic, and hypoxic environment in the muscle (which can also trigger hypertrophic adaptations).
All three of these elements are inter-related, and training in a way that optimises and combines all three will produce the greatest results.
Application to Training
Train with a minimum intensity of 65%1RM (15 rep maximum), in moderate repetition ranges (6-12 reps). This prescription will cause a metabolic build up which boosts testosterone and growth hormone. It will also induce a pump (ischemia and hypoxia) which triggers hypertrophy and an increase in protein synthesis.
Additionally the more repetitions that are completed the longer the time the muscle is under tension which means more microtrauma/damage to the muscle (through eccentric contractions).
For maximum hypertrophy a higher volume, multiple set approach must be taken. Greater volume will stimulate greater growth hormone release and hypertrophy will result.
To facilitate this a body part split routine may be more beneficial that a full body routine as it will allow more regular training whilst still permitted muscles to fully recover. Again, more total reps also equates to more eccentric contractions which results in more muscle damage.
Multi-planar and multi-angled exercises must be included to allow for variance in muscular structure (i.e. fibre orientation) and to fully stimulate the entire muscle. Regular rotation of exercises will also make sure of this.
Whilst selecting exercises it’s essential to incorporate a mix of multi-joint and single joint exercises. Single joint (“isolation”) exercises will help to prevent imbalances and can develop weaker areas that may be neglected during compound/multi-joint movements.
Not all exercises are created equal, some lend themselves better to different rep ranges, different tempos, and different focuses (hypertrophy, strength, power). Certain exercises will produce a ‘pump’ effect more easily than others, some will create tension in a muscle better than others, and some exercises are more suited to slow eccentric contractions or tempos that will damage fibres.
Big, multi-joint, compound exercises are best for developing high tension in a muscle and activate the greatest amount of muscle mass – squats, deadlifts, bench presses, rows, pull ups (etc.). Incorporate variations and assistance exercises to ensure all fibres are hit.
Constant tension exercises are best for creating the pump effect – lateral raises, concentration curls, leg extensions (etc.).
Exercises that produce high tension whilst the muscle is in a lengthened state are best for creating muscle damage – dumbbell pec flyes, RDLs, incline curls (etc.). It’s important to be careful with these highly damaging exercises as, although damage is an effective hypertrophic stimulus, excessive damage can prevent you from training and cause more harm than good.
Moderate (60-90s) rest will allow sufficient metabolic stress, adequate strength recovery, and create a more anabolic environment within the body.
Training to Failure
Training to concentric muscular failure is highly beneficial and should be done regularly (although not necessarily in every exercise/set), it’s important to ensure that the repetitions are still technically good (and safe) – a spotter is usually important here. Reaching failure allows the maximum number of motor units to be recruited and creates high metabolic stress.
A moderate concentric speed (one or two seconds) with continuous muscle tension creates a greater metabolic demand than very fast or very slow repetitions. Slower eccentric repetition speeds are beneficial for hypertrophy as they will inflict more muscle damage and positively affect protein synthesis.
Employ intensification methods sparingly to push a set or exercise to the limit. These methods can include eccentrics/negatives, drop sets, rest-pause, cluster sets, supersets, tri-sets, and quad-sets. These methods can trigger additional hypertrophy stimulating signals that can lead to augmented muscle growth over time. Using this as a finisher at the end of a session for the final exercise or final set of the final exercise may be most beneficial and will limit the potential for injury.
Example Session Structure – Leg Day
Tension A1) Back Squat – 5×6 @ 80%1RM, 90s rest interval, 3 sec eccentric
Tension B1) Split Squat – 4×8 @ 75%1RM, 60s rest interval, 3 sec eccentric
Damage C1) RDL – 3×8-10 @ 77.5%1RM, 4 sec eccentric
Damage C2) Nordic Hamstring Curl – 3×6 @ BW, 90s rest interval, 4 sec eccentric
Metabolic Stress (“pump and burn”)
D1) Leg Extension – 3×12 @ 70%1RM, 3 sec eccentric
D2) Leg Curl – 3×12 @ 70%1RM, 3 sec eccentric
D3) Calf Raise – 3×12 @ 70%1RM, 60s rest interval, 3 sec eccentric
High Intensity Technique Finisher
E1) Leg Press – 2×12+ @ 70%1RM, 60s rest interval
Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.
Fry, A. C. (2004). The role of resistance exercise intensity on muscle fibre adaptations. Sports medicine, 34(10), 663-679.
See below a recent interview I did for the St Mary’s University media centre on my Gold Medal Internship (GMI) experience at London Irish Rugby Club.
GMI General Leaflet – click for more information on the GMI programme
Review/Insight – BSc Strength and Conditioning Science at St Mary’ s University
I’m now approaching the final couple of weeks of my undergraduate degree (weird feeling) and I think it’s productive to reflect on my time and review the course I’ve done for anyone wanting to do it in the future.
I study a BSc in Strength and Conditioning Science at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, a course that, after three years, I will graduate from (officially) in July ’14. St Mary’s itself is in Twickenham (as I said) which is between Kingston and Richmond, it has links to pretty much anywhere you’d want to go in London, and the area itself is very close to a lot of professional rugby clubs, high performance rowing clubs, and of course most other sports you can think of. The university itself is small, with everything very close together, we have halls of residence, a gym (with several olympic weightlifting platforms and squat racks), a library, a students union (bar) and a canteen – so everything you need is on campus. The university is very big on sports, with other courses including sports rehab, coaching science and sports science, and it also functions as a hub for EPACC and the EIS (English Institute of Sport) – meaning there are often a number of elite athletes around campus (including Mo Farah and Usain Bolt!).
The strength and conditioning degree is ran by Richard Blagrove who is an accredited and certified S&C coach through the UK strength and conditioning association (UKSCA) and national strength and conditioning association (NSCA) respectively. Rich was a former international rower and has coached numerous elite (olympic and paralympic) athletes. Other lecturers on the course include Jon Goodwin, Jonathan Griffin, Phil Price, Louis Howe, Paul Read, Rik Mellor, Adam Spence and Dan Cleather – all of whom are highly qualified S&C coaches, each with their own specialist area. The course website can be found here. The entire degree is mapped out in order to prepare you to undertake UKSCA and NSCA exams (the professional/vocational S&C governing bodies), these (along with the degree) are the BARE MINIMUM you need if you want to work in professional/elite sport in the UK/USA.
I began the course when I was 21, having worked as a personal trainer and fitness instructor for several years prior – however the course ranged massively in age and background, with some students coming straight from school at 18, and others having a career change at age 28. The first year of the degree (as with all degrees) doesn’t count towards your final classification, however, it’s an EASY year (compared to the others!) and it’s the most important in terms of making a good impression (the lecturers WILL be the ones who get you internships and jobs, and write your references) and getting the hang of how to write academically and do research. Also, if you do really well there’s a chance of getting an academic scholarship (£1000!).
Modules in the first year include (although these have changed slightly since my first year!):
- Anatomy and Biomechanics – full body anatomy (muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, nerves) and movement; and an introduction to biomechanics (mostly maths – but it’s not too bad and most people suck at it to start with – I did)
- Movement Coaching – Basic theoretical concepts of S&C, basically the theory behind the training techniques we use
- Practical Techniques in Strength and Conditioning – To begin with this is a three-month olympic weightliftiing course where all students learn how to snatch and clean and jerk, culminating in a inter-cohort competition. This then changes into a mix of practical and theory lectures about training techniques and technical models.
- Skill Acquisition and Sports Psychology – All about how we learn movements/skills, and an introduction in basic sports psychology
- Exercise Physiology – Starting very basic (A level PE/biology level) into slightly more in depth, everything from respiratory system, cardiovascular system and muscle physiology.
This is where my experiences differ from that of the majority of the course – the first semester of my second year was spent studying exercise science abroad in the USA at DeSales University, Pennsylvania.
At the beginning of the degree you will be told about the opportunity to study abroad (you need a minimum of a 2:1 grade in first year!), my advice is to DO IT, without a shadow of a doubt, my reasons being:
– It differentiates you from the 30+ others on the degree (you all graduate at the same time with the same degree in the same area, so make yourself stand out!)
– It doesn’t cost much more than a semester in the UK, you’ll be out of pocket for spending money mostly – get another loan if you have to!
– You’ll learn a ton, and get a ton of coaching experience – I coached the DeSales University lacrosse team and interned at a NCAA division 1 university (Lehigh) coaching everything from American football and baseball, to tennis and golf.
– The first semester of second year at St Mary’s is the least exciting, it’s entirely sports science (so biomechanics, physiology, skill acquisition and research methods), so why not do the boring modules in an awesome new place?!?!
When you get back the modules are all S&C, and probably some of the best on the degree (in my opinion).
- Muscle Physiology – A hard module, but one of the most interesting on the degree and very relevant to the job
- Ergogenic Aids – All about sports supplements, including creatine, protein, caffeine, anabolic steroids, EPO and so on. You do a mini research study (in a group) also.
- Coaching Process – Basically a taster of the coaching science course; this is almost all practical and lots of hands on coaching
- Application of Science – Another one of the very applied modules. You critique various training methods (vibration training, unstable surfaces), learn about dynamic correspondence, have in-class debates and do a presentation on a training method.
- Research Design – This whole module is preparation for your third year dissertation research project. You learn how to find and read research, how to use SPSS (statistics) and how to write lab reports.
Third (final) Year
This is the hardest year of the degree for most people, the workload is high and you’re left to your own interpretation of a lot of the tasks. You’re expected to be capable of organising yourself and carrying out research on your own. It’s also where most of the unanswered questions you’ll inevitable have get answered.
- Research Project (Dissertation) – Everyone knows what this is and everyone dreads it. But if you’re organised, efficient and are interested in the topic you pick to study, then its not all that hard. The first half of this module is a proposal and ethical approval for your research study. The second half is actually carrying out the study – this is all done by yourself, with the support of a staff supervisor.
- The Dysfunctional Athlete – This is, to start with, all about fatigue management and the prevention of overtraining in sport. In the second semester it becomes a sports rehab ‘taster’, where you’ll learn about how to diagnose and treat/rehab sports injuries – lots of anatomy again but very very applied and really interesting.
- Biomechanics II – This module is the only choice you get in the degree, if your dissertation is biomechanics based you do biomechanics (obviously), if it’s physiology then you do phys. You’ll learn how to use the biomechanics equipment (force plate, EMG, video etc.) to collect data, and then learn how to analyse that data and understand it. Don’t worry, there’s next to no maths involved.
- Programme Design and Professional Observation – Here you learn all about periodisation, programming and coaching special populations (young, old, disabled and female). Most of the lectures are case study presentations from the lecturers about athletes they’ve coached, and the rest are the theoretical principles behind them. You’ll also have to do a 40-hour professional observation placement (of your choice) on a S&C coach, and write a reflective logbook on your experiences.
That, in a nutshell, is the degree. It sounds like a long three years, but trust me it isn’t! Some of it will suck (as with anything you do) and you’ll not understand why you’re learning it, but in hindsight at the end of the three years (when it’s all come together) you’ll understand and be thankful for it. You’ll undoubtedly learn more about the science of exercise than you’d have thought possible, and you’ll realise just how much there is left to learn.
From day one you’ll be given opportunities to get internships (unpaid, but sometimes compensated, experience), you’re not guaranteed these, so obviously you need to be good academically, and prove yourself to the lecturers/network with other students in other year groups. To give you an insight, I’ve interned at/with:
- Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club
- St Marys Soccer Team
- Great Britain Lions American Football Team
- Trained an individual rugby league player
- DeSales University Mens Lacrosse
- Lehigh University
- London Rowing Club
- London Irish Rugby Club (first team and EPDG)
My advice here is to apply for EVERYTHING, just get experience coaching ATHLETES, even if you don’t feel qualified, just do it (you’ll never feel completely ready!) – even if you just write a programme for, and train, a mate who lives in your halls.
My advice for anyone starting the degree:
- Before you come, read up on anatomy (any old book, this is a good one) – it’ll make your life so much easier
- Similarly, brush up on your GCSE level maths/physics – algebra, equations, pythagoras. If you suck, get a tutor over the summer.
- If you really want to get stuck into some S&C stuff, have a read through these – Science and Practice, Periodisation, NSCA Essentials, NSCA Exercise Manual, Supple Leopard
- Have a crack at learning the intricacies of microsoft excel (it’ll save you a headache in third year, and make programme writing and data analysis so much faster)
- Write a decent CV if you don’t already have one, and maybe a cover letter ready to apply for internships
- When you arrive – join St Mary’s Strength (weightlifting & powerlifting club), firstly it’ll help your grade in the weightlifting competition, secondly you’ll get strong (!!!!), thirdly you’ll get confident in the weights room, and finally you’ll meet people (see next point)
- NETWORK! – talk to everyone, firstly the people on your course and then get to know the lecturers (answer questions, ask questions – within reason, and stick around after classes for a chat – make sure they know your name but for good reasons). Then get to know the students in second and third year – they have internships, they know people, they have advice and might even share their notes from modules your doing at the moment. Networking is the MOST important thing you will do at university.
Hopefully this has given you an insight into the S&C degree at St Marys, and maybe even persuaded you to consider doing it. Personally I’d recommend it and as far as I’m concerned it’s the best undergraduate S&C degree in the country – you’ll learn loads and end up leaving with a huge amount of industry experience and (hopefully) a large network of contacts!
Protein powder and bars are the biggest selling supplements in the supplement industry, you’ve probably seen the (misleadingly) named varieties – Anabolic Extreme, Super Mass, Protein Powder for muscles-on-muscles – in supermarkets, health food shops and just about anywhere else. The problem is, a lot of people misunderstand what the supplement even is and have no idea how much they should actually be taking, and its not all their fault, the way its marketed and the dosages stated by the companies are misleading and generally designed to get the maximum number of people buying the stuff, and using more of it!
WHAT IS IT?
Protein is a structural component of all the cells in your body, it is made up of chains of amino acids.
As a macro-nutrient, protein is essential in the body for muscle contraction (actin and myosin are both proteins), cellular respiration (producing energy – we get 4 k/cal per g of protein*), to create anti-bodies to fight against disease, for blood pressure maintenance and for growth and repair of tissues.
* Although we can use it for energy, carbohydrates and fats are utilised first as they are more readily available.
In terms of usage, its the amino acids we specifically want, of which eight are essential (meaning they need to be included in our diet as our body cannot make them).
HOW MUCH DO I NEED
The majority of people who eat a healthy diet will get the minimum amount of protein they require (for healthy function) – about 0.8g per kg of bodyweight per day according to the Institute of Medicine. This amount will come naturally from anything that walks, swims or flies (and through combinations of lenitls beans etc.).
The amount of protein you need increases the more you exercise, with a rough amount being between 1.0 and 2.0g per kg of bodyweight for both strength and endurance athletes, with endurance athletes being nearer the 2.0g end of the scale due to them being more likely to use protein for energy production. Additionally in strength and power athletes the more trained they are or the more muscle mass they have means they may need more, but still only in the 2.0g per kg per day range.
In terms of taking too much protein, there is no real risk, especially through the use of supplements. The reported risks include:
– Kidney damage (not backed up by science and no other proof)
– Nitrogen intoxication (not backed up by science and no other proof)
– Increase in coronary heart disease (CHD) has been noticed but this is down to the source of protein (high levels of fat)
– Wasting money – taking in too much protein can increase protein synthesis, but also causes the body to use protein (before carbs and fats) as a energy source, resulting in wastage (of protein and hard earned cash!)
Research says the optimal amount per intake (pre/post workout and in meals) is 18-20g.
Three main types;
- Whey – Water soluble, easy to mix, rapid digestion
- Casein – Water insoluble,coagulates in the gut and is digested slowly
- Egg Albumin (Egg whites)
Whey protein tends to be the most popular variety, mainly down to the three points listed above. It also has a rich amino acid profile that covers the whole spectrum (including the three branched chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine).
Whey is left over when milk coagulates and contains everything that is soluble from milk. It is a 5% solution of lactose in water, with some minerals and lactalbumin. It is removed after cheese is processed.
There are four types of whey protein powder:
- Ion exchanged whey protein
- Whey protein concentrate
- Whey protein isolate
- Hydrolysed whey protein concentrate
Ion exchanged whey protein goes through a process called, you guessed it, ion exchange. This is where there is an addition of acidic chemicals and separation of protein by an electrical charge. Companies do this as it is only about 20% of the cost of micro filtration (a better, more expensive alternative I’ll cover shortly) and has the same effect of removing bacteria. However, the process also denatures certain proteins, including ones that aid with immunity, digestive capability, calcium absorption and satiety (feeling full) and the protein lactalbumin.
Whey protein concentrate is made in with three main stages. Pasteurisation is where the solution is heated to 72 degrees celsius for 15-30 seconds in order to kill of any bacteria (good or bad). Ultra filtration (similar to micro filtration) is a process where the solution is driven at high pressure and heat (40-50 degrees) though molecular ‘sieves’ in order to remove or concentrate different components. The size of the ‘sieve’ membranes are about four times smaller in ultra filtration than in micro filtration, meaning its better, and gives a finer and smoother powder. Finally evaporation is used to boil off the water.
The key parts in making whey protein isolate are, diafiltration, which uses ultrafiltration membranes to remove or lower the concentration of salts, fats and other solvents from the proteins. Added water ‘dilutes’ the solvents for removal leaving the protein behind. Microfiltration is then used – similar to ultra filtration – to clarify whey proteins and remove bacteria. Finally spray drying is used, which is the process by which the concentrated whey liquid is sprayed as a mist into a tower at temperatures from 80-175 degrees celsius to convert it into whey powder.
Hydrolysed whey protein concentrate is made, along with other methods (ultra filtration, drying), by using enzyme treatment. This treatment begins to pre-digest the proteins into smaller peptide bonds in order to aid digestion. This creates a bitter taste meaning most companies won’t have more than 20% hydrolysed protein.
There is also one other term to look out for – Cold processed whey. This term (although it is fairly loose) means that lower temperatures are used (40 degrees) during micro/ultra filtration and spray drying is often avoided and freeze drying is used instead. This stops some of the protein from being denatured and makes it easier to digest.
So what to look for when you’re shopping for a whey protein supplement?
- Pure whey protein with no fillers (artificial sweeteners, monosodium glutamate, colourings and flavourings)
- Cold processed
- Contain whey protein concentrate, isolate or is hydrolysed (to aid digestion)
- DO NOT go for ion exchange
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE IT?
Taking 18-20g of protein post exercise has been shown to slow down protein degradation and slightly increase protein synthesis.
Taken ❤ hours post exercise protein synthesis is at a 120% increase, <24 hours post exercise it is at a 80% increase and <48 hours post exercise it is at a 40%. Protein supplementation increases these numbers slightly, but the main benefit is the decrease in degradation so the protein can be used for longer resulting in maximal gains.
Additionally, taking the supplement soon after exercise can increase strength and muscle cross sectional area as opposed to taking is >2 hours after.
Taking 18-20g of protein pre-exercise (when combined with a carbohydrate) can increase protein synthesis, increase blood flow and help maintain a positive nitrogen balance (a marker of atrophy – muscle wastage – when negative).
Wow, so that was a fairly long (understatement) post, but hopefully its covered most areas and has cleared up a few things!