18 Mar #158 – Essential Supplements: Protein & BCAAs Explained with Robert Santana
Nutrition expert Robert Santana, RD (and soon to be PhD) joins the podcast again to talk about the Big 3 supplements: protein, BCAAs, and creatine. Today’s episode covers protein and BCAA supplements. Most of us know that protein is an important macronutrient, and that we should eat some. But how much is enough? And where should it come from?
It’s true: protein is important, and yes, you should eat some — probably more than you are eating now. How much? is the magic question. Most studies indicate that 0.6 – 1.0g / 1lbs of bodyweight is probably enough, but that doesn’t tell us the whole story. Strength training increases both protein breakdown and protein utilization, meaning that the novice will have greater protein needs — all else being equal — than the advanced trainee. The novice is also likely to be in a state of significant muscle gain, which drives up protein needs even further. Santana recommends keeping protein higher for the novice strength trainee, around the 1.0g / 1lbs bodyweight ratio and even higher for the skinny male novice in the process of gaining bodyweight.
It’s equally important to consider the source of your protein. Protein drives muscle protein synthesis (MPS), among other things, the process by which your body builds new muscle mass and repairs and remodels existing muscle mass. However this process relies on a specific amino acid — leucine — to trigger the mTOR pathway which signals the body to initiate another round of MPS. Studies suggest 3-4g of leucine is required to kick off MPS. Not all proteins contain equal amounts of leucine, however. In fact, animal proteins are a better source of leucine than plant proteins, not to mention more bioavailable (the protein more easily digested). Whey is also an excellent source of leucine, very bioavailable and easily digested.
BCAA (branched chain amino acid) supplements work on this process of leucine and MPS. Most good BCAA supplements contain a 4:1:1 ratio of leucine, valine, and isoleucine, and are meant to be taken pre, intra, and/or post-workout, the idea being that the leucine content will encourage a bout of MPS as soon as possible following the workout. While BCAAs are standard faire in supplement stacks for strength trainees, Santana questions the usefulness of BCAAs for trainees already taking in plenty of protein (and therefore leucine) from high-quality sources.
Even with supplements, getting enough protein can be a struggle. Many trainees find themselves drinking 100+ grams of whey protein every day to meet their daily goals. While this is not a problem per se, too much whey does pose challenges for people also trying to manage their macros for fat loss. Protein is generally very satiating, which makes it an important macro for people in the process of dieting off fat (besides the muscle-building properties). However whey digests rather quickly, and too much whey protein may leave you feeling rather hungry with a long time to go before your next meal. Mixing whey with high-fat liquids like whole milk can increase satiety, but also increases calories significantly. Santana recommends casein and egg white protein in these cases, which digest more slowly and thus offer more satiety in your daily shake.
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