The subject of protein consumption, especially from animal sources, always stirs up public controversy and heated scientific debate. Athletes think about muscle and performance. Vegetarians are often concerned about kidney and liver damage, cancer risk and osteoporosis. Then there are issues about the environment, the effects of eating livestock raised on pesticide loaded grains and bovine growth hormone, and how we treat animals raised for slaughter.
The good news is that we can push all of these issues to the side. Through the efforts of investigative science and biological research in the field of medicine and sports nutrition, new designer and engineered whey and soy proteins superior to commercial tissue (animal) proteins are now available for health conscious athletes and consumers.
What is Protein?
Briefly stated, protein is one of three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates & fat) constituting about one-fifth of our total weight or 50% of our dry weight. It is second only to water in prevalence in the body, except in the obese, where it would rank third. Protein is so important to our health, that the Greeks originally called it proteios, meaning to come first or of the first rank. Our 100 trillion cells are actually mini-protein factories, expending an enormous amount of time and energy synthesizing the protein building blocks we need to support the biochemical demands of our structure and function.
Proteins obtained from dietary sources, be they plant or animal, provide the body with essential (indispensable) nutrients called amino acids. Essential means must have or will die. Amino acids are linked together strings of pearls, and it is these pearls or peptides which possess the nitrogen and sulfur that carbohydrates and fats do not.
Amino acid chains can be arranged in a vast array of possible sequences, and it is these unique patterns that make up the different plant and animal proteins in our diet. Chewing and digesting large proteins, regardless of their source, eventually reduces them to smaller units. This is provided you have the digestive and enzymatic capacity. Many consumers use digestive enzymes to support this process, especially seniors. The next step involves the assimilation of these smaller protein complexes into the blood, where they are transported to the liver and then reassembled into different human proteins.
Protein is a component of muscle, collagen, elastin, keratin, bone, connective tissue and cartilage. The body uses combinations of amino acids to create new cells in a way similar to how a mason worker uses bricks to construct a retaining wall. Amino acids sustain the immune system and regulate the structural basis of enzymes, hormones, immune cells, DNA and neurotransmitters. You cant even think without protein. For optimum health and performance, you have to eat enough of the right kind of protein because unlike fats and carbohydrates, protein is not stored in the body.
How much Protein?
My recommendations for protein are based on lean body mass, which is your total weight minus your fat mass. To determine this figure, you need to have a body composition assessment, which is different from a standard weigh scale or the Body Mass Index (BMI). If you are sedentary and physically inactive, I recommend 1 gram of high-quality protein per kilogram of your lean mass. For athletes and active people, the amount goes up to 1.5-3.0 grams per kilogram of lean mass, depending on such variables as training volume, training intensity, body type, specificity of sport, frequency of activity and blood type.
High-quality protein does not include denatured, chemically altered damaged protein, such as commercial hamburger, canned fish and luncheon meat. Nor do I advocate protein supplements which employ heat, acids, toxic chemicals and solvents in their manufacture. When it comes to raising glutathione levels and improving resistance to disease, over-cooked animal protein simply cant compete with specially filtered, cross-flow membrane and ion-exchanged whey proteins.
The Virtues of Whey
Whey is a derivative of milk, produced as a watery, sidestream product during the manufacturing of cheese. Cheese consists primarily of milk curd, which is a soft gel formed when casein, the most abundant protein in cows milk, reacts with lactic acid converted from lactose (milk sugar) by microorganisms in the milk. Milk curd contains all of the casein, most of the milk fat, some whey and many other water-insoluble substances. Fresh liquid whey is mostly water and lactose, and contains less than 1% protein. This why it takes over 229 litres of milk to produce one kilogram (1000mg) of concentrated, high-quality whey protein isolate.
In its original and raw form, fresh whole whey has a similar effect on the digestive tract to that of yogurt, and is regarded as a natural cleanser and remedy for many intestinal complaints. I first read about whey as a health food in Dr. Paavo Airolas 1971 classic book Are You Confused? Airola describes whey as a national food in Sweden where it is traditionally used to prevent internal sluggishness, gas, bowel putrefaction and constipation.
But there is something even more special about whey, especially for athletes and those of us committed to the active lifestyle. Whey contains an extensive range of remarkable proteins called whey peptides which provide the highest quality source of protein known higher than eggs, fish, turkey, beef or soy. But the real bonus lies in how whey peptides are extracted, concentrated and isolated - without heat! Heat ruins protein and significantly interferes with how amino acids interact within the body biochemically. Whey protein is also cleaner than commercial animal proteins, less susceptible to oxidant and free radical conversion and carries virtually no risk of parasite, pathogen or infective microorganism exposure.
The Virtues of Soy
In addition to a full complement of amino acids, soy protein isolate provides an assortment of special phytochemicals called isoflavones (genistein, daidzein and glycitein) and saponins. These substances are known to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, improve estrogen metabolism, reduce cholesterol and prevent osteoporosis. Soy protein can also improve and speed up thyroid metabolism, which is helpful to those who want to achieve a leaner body composition. However, soy can have the opposite effect for someone who is intolerant to soy.
Biological value (BV) refers to the percentage of nitrogen absorbed and retained by the body. The BV of whey protein isolate blends varies from 110 to 159, compared to 100 for a whole egg, 83 for most fish, 79 for chicken and 77 for casein. Soy ranks below all animal proteins at 74, but is higher than rice, wheat and beans. Although much lower in biological value than whey protein isolate, soy protein does offer some special advantages.
One or two servings of soy protein per day can increase blood levels of arginine and glycine, two amino acids known for their growth-hormone releasing and muscle preserving affect. Commercial (as opposed to wild) animal proteins are typically low in glycine and arginine and high in lysine, a ratio which tends to elevate insulin levels and reduce insulins antagonistic hormone, glucagon. This causes the body to increase cholesterol synthesis and bring fat-burning to a stand still. Soy has the opposite effect. But don't use soy that has been commercially processed, as it will be damaged as a result of the high heat, pressure and chemical solvents typically used to isolate the protein.
Soy isoflavones improve kidney function through their natural diuretic action and prevent bone loss by reducing the formation of cells that degrade bone (osteoclasts). Genistein and daidzein function as anti-estrogens by binding to estrogen receptors in the prostate, breast and cervix. This helps reduce the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the prostate and partially explains their anticancer effect in both the male and female model.
So why not try a combination of soy and whey protein isolate. This will ensure a high biological value and provide 50mg of isoflavones per serving. But in this case I would like to emphasize the isoflavones of soy rather than the protein of soy. I think soy protein is much easier to assimilate and digest when it is consumed in the form of tofu, miso and tempeh, all of which are fermented. Think of how much easier yogurt is to digest than plain non-fermented milk. And one more thing. Make sure the isoflavone content is standardized and listed on the label.
- Stephen Holt MD (1996) Soya For Health, The Definitive Medical Guide
- W. Forsythe, et al. (1991) Plasma thyroxine and Cholesterol Changes Over Time as Affected by Dietary Protein Sources. FASEB J.5.5: A947
- Dr. Michael Colgan (1998) The Right Protein for Muscle and Strength
- V. Stroescul, et al., (1996) Metabolic and Hormonal Responses in Elite Female
Gymnasts Undergoing Strenuous Training and Supplementation with Supro®
Brand Isolated Soy Protein (Brussels, Belgium: Second International Symposium
on the Role of Soy in Preventing and Treating Chronic Disease, 38)
- Dr. Michael Colgan (1997) Soy: Potent Aid For Athletes, Muscular Development Magazine, Volume 34, #12