Is Dairy Healthy? What Science Really Says.

If you want to know the truth about dairy, and whether or not it is healthy, then you want to read this article.

Milk — it does a body good.

No doubt you heard this statement said countless times across your lifespan. Whether it be splattered across billboards or as the tagline of the iconic television commercials popular in the 1980s, milk has always been and remains to be a staple food in the diet of many people as they grow.

As children, we are told that we need milk to have strong, healthy bones. As teenagers and young adults wanting to bulk up, we’re told to drink milk (as much as a gallon a day!) to support muscle building and recovery. As full-grown adults, many of us trade in our daily glass of milk for a delicious whey protein shake. And, those of us that still enjoy milk mix our protein powder into our glass of milk for the ultimate creamy, delicious, protein-packed treat.

Young or old, there is no denying that there is something special (possibly even irreplaceable) about a cold glass of milk (along with cookies for dunking).

These days (and for quite a few years, to be honest) milk is under constant attack. Some say milk is unnatural to drink as we are the only species to consume the milk of another. Others deride milk on the basis it’s laden with all sorts of potentially harmful chemicals, hormones, and indigestible proteins that will lay siege to your immune system, turn you into a mucusy mess, and maybe even lead you to severe disease.

So, what’s the real truth about milk? Is milk horrible for you, and more importantly, how did this childhood favorite become a persona non grata in certain circles?

That’s where we come in.

We’re here to discuss the facts about milk, specifically cow’s milk. We’ll separate myth from reality, and see what actual scientific research has to say about milk regarding health, wellness, weight loss, and muscle gain.

Before we get into the common reasons people give to avoid milk, let’s briefly discuss what is actually in milk.

What Is in Milk?

Milk is a fascinatingly complex food/beverage teeming with all sorts of compounds. After all, the primary purpose of milk (regardless of the species) is to provide a source of complete nutrition for a growing infant mammal. By definition, it must contain a host of essential and beneficial nutrient to support, sustain, and enhance life and development.

Speaking regarding percentages, milk is [1,2]:

  • 87% water
  • 9% carbohydrate (lactose)
  • 4% fat
  • 3% protein
  • 7% vitamins & minerals

Breaking these categories down a bit further, we see:

  • Protein — in the form of casein and whey proteins
  • Carbohydrates — lactose, which our bodies will digest into glucose and galactose
  • Fat — composed of ~400 individual fatty acids, though only 15-20 fatty acids make up 90% of the milk fat. Regarding saturated vs. unsaturated fat, milk is 65% saturated, 30% monounsaturated, and 5% polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • Vitamins — milk contains both water-soluble Vitamins (B family and C) along with fat-soluble Vitamins (A, D, E, & K)
  • Minerals — Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Selenium, Iodine, and Zinc

Now that we’ve got a bit more understanding of what’s in your typical glass of moo juice let’s look at the common complaints against the consumption of milk.

Top Reasons Given to Not Drink Milk

 

Humans Are the Only Species That Drink The Milk of Another Species

This is one of the major arguments used by the anti-dairy/anti-milk pundits, and it’s also one of the weakest.

First of all, nearly every diet out there except for vegan and vegetarian promotes the consumption of meat due to its high protein content and supply of essential amino acids that our bodies need to synthesize protein and build muscle.

If it’s ok for us to eat one part of an animal (its flesh), why is it not ok to eat another food from the same animal? After all, the milk from the cow is what provided the sustenance for it to grow its muscles which we then turn into steaks and hamburgers.

Already you can see the holes in this ship, but there’s more.

Despite what the “gurus” tell you, we are not the only species to consume the milk of another species. Research shows that western gulls and feral cats drink (steal) milk from northern elephant seals. [3]

One myth busted, let’s keep moving.

Drinking Milk Leaches Calcium from Your Bones and Causes Osteoporosis

Ever since childhood, we are told that it’s important to drink milk to grow strong, healthy bones. This, of course, is because milk is particularly rich in calcium.

Recently though, there have been claims sprouting up that drinking milk causes weak bones due to the removal of calcium from them.

The critical piece of evidence commonly cited by anti-dairy pundits is an analysis of 37 studies (which was funded by a pro-vegan organization, FYI) [4] asserted that dairy consumption was not associated with bone health.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences to see there’s an apparent conflict of interest at play here with the study, but aside from that when approaching anything from a scientific frame of mind, you consider ALL of the evidence.

You do NOT cherry-pick studies only that align with your point of view. That’s not how scientists and individuals who claim to be “evidence-based” operate.

Another reason commonly pointed to in support of the “drinking milk weakens bones” myth is that since milk is high in protein when it is digested, it will increase the acidity of your blood.

To prevent your blood from becoming too acidic, your body draws calcium from your bones into your blood to neutralize the acid

If this sounds familiar, it’s because this idea lies at the core of the acid-alkaline diet, which promotes the concept that you should choose foods that exert an alkalizing effect in the body and avoid acid-forming foods.

However, there’s next to no legitimate scientific evidence to back this theory. Additionally, blood pH is not influenced by one’s diet (which means you can stop wasting money on those overpriced alkaline water systems, too.) If it was, you could eat the wrong foods at the wrong time and wind up dead.

Fortunately, the body maintains tight control over blood pH, much like it does core temperature. This is one of the primary functions of the stomach. It mixes the food you eat with all sorts of acids and other agents that make the food safe to continue transit through your body and for it to ultimately be absorbed.

Additionally, just because urine pH is acidic doesn’t inherently mean your body is in a state of ill health or metabolic acidosis. [5]

Furthermore, when you consider all of the evidence, the research is pretty clear in that dairy is bone-protective. [9,10] And, there’s also some other research showing that eating more protein also improves bone health. [6,7,8]

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to consume dairy or drink milk to have healthy bones, as there are many other familiar food sources the provide calcium. It’s just easier to hit your calcium and vitamin D goals if you do consume dairy.

What is Vitamin D essential concerning calcium?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our bodies can synthesize when exposed to direct sunlight. However, due to longer commutes, more time spent indoors working or playing, and living in areas that don’t receive a significant amount of sunshine for considerable portions of the year has led to a bit of an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency.

Why is this important?

Vitamin D is needed to synthesize many hormones in the body, including testosterone. And, it’s also required for your body to absorb calcium properly.

This is commonly why dairy has vitamin D3 added to it.

Now, let’s move onto the next reason the anti-dairy crowd give as proof of why you should avoid milk and dairy.

Milk is Laced with Hormones

Cows are typically injected with hormones to increase their growth and rate of milk production. Included in the hormones given to these cows is recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and bovine somatotropin (bST).

Cows that are given these injections increase the concentration of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in the cow’s milk. This has alarmed some people due to the fact that there is some research noting a link between IGF-1 and cancer.

And, as you’ve probably heard, these hormones are carried over into the milk sitting on your store shelf. It’s not as scary sounding as you might think.

First, the amount of these hormones that make it into the milk are meager. [11] This is because the majority of the hormones present in the milk directly after milking are destroyed during the pasteurization process. [12]

Furthermore, unlike other steroid hormones, which can be taken orally, IGF-1 and rBGH must be injected to exert any effects in the body. When consumed orally, IGF-1 and rBGH are destroyed during digestion.

In other words, drinking milk from cows injected with hormones doesn’t mean you are absorbing the hormones. Your body destroys them. So, unless you are injecting milk, you have nothing to worry about.

Regarding the IGF-1 — cancer link and milk consumption, it is true that drinking milk increases the body’s production of IGF-1. [13]

 But, that does not automatically translate to “drinking milk causes cancer because it raises IGF-1.”

IGF-1 is needed for cell growth and regeneration, which makes it a marker for assessing the progression of cancer as at its core, cancer is the uncontrolled multiplying of malignant cells.

However, there has yet to be any concrete proof that IGF-1 directly “causes” cancer. The peptide hormone is associated with various cancers but has not been found to be causative. [14]

Furthermore, a 2016 review of dairy studies and meta-analyses concluded that:

“Consumption of milk and dairy products probably protects against colorectal cancer, bladder cancer, gastric cancer, and breast cancer. Dairy intake does not seem to be associated with risk of pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, or lung cancer, whereas the evidence for prostate cancer risk is inconsistent. In women, dairy offers significant and robust health benefits in reducing the risk of the common and serious colorectal cancer and, possibly, also the risk of breast cancer. In men, the benefit of the protective effect of milk and dairy on the common and serious colorectal cancer is judged to outweigh a potentially increased risk of prostate cancer.”[15]

Suffice it to say another myth about drinking milk has been busted.

Milk and Chronic Disease

Media outlets (including social media) love to cause a frenzy in the hopes of attracting viewers. Given the controversy over dairy in recent years, it’s become relatively common to see news outlets and various other organizations make some outlandish claims about dairy, specifically that it increases the risk of several chronic diseases including:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Cancer
  • All-cause Mortality

When you get past the scare tactics, sensationalism, and fear-mongering, and read the published scientific literature, you see that dairy does NOT adversely impact health. It may benefit one’s health and resistance to chronic disease.

Multiple reviews have demonstrated that not only is milk not detrimental to your health it does do a body good.

Consider the conclusion from this 2016 review on dairy which stated:

“The totality of available scientific evidence supports that intake of milk and dairy products contribute to meet nutrient recommendations, and may protect against the most prevalent chronic diseases, whereas very few adverse effects have been reported.” [15]

In that same review, researchers also noted that consumption of dairy and milk was shown to improve body composition and support weight loss during periods of dieting.

Milk and dairy consumption was also associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease: And the evidence also indicates milk has a beneficial effect on bone mineral density.

There’s more though.

A recent 2018 study published in The Lancet followed 136,000 people across 21 countries for roughly nine years. Researchers had subjects complete surveys notating their dairy intake. Those who consumed a higher amount of dairy exhibited lower risks of cardiovascular disease and stroke than those who consumed little to no dairy.

Furthermore, these associations held no matter if subjects consumed mostly low-fat or whole-fat dairy products. [16]

Again, this is epidemiological data, so it’s not concrete proof makes you healthy, but dairy consumption sure does not have a negative impact on one’s health.

Milk Causes Fat Gain

Milk has been recommended as a staple food for bulking up for decades. And plenty of people have put on a lot of weight (fat) while drinking milk (GOMAD diet anyone?).

And, if you’re struggling to gain weight, consuming some extra liquid calories can help you put on weight easier as liquid calories don’t pack the same satiety punch as whole foods.

However, this doesn’t mean inherently that milk causes weight gain, just like sugar, bananas, pasta, or any other single food doesn’t directly cause fat gain.

Consuming too many calories does.

Remember, weight gain is about calories in vs. calories out.

If you consume a diet consisting solely of the cleanest, gluten-free, sustainably sourced, organic food possible and avoided milk and dairy entirely, yet you still consume more total calories than you burn in a day, you will gain weight.

It’s as simple as that.

Milk (or any other food) does not directly lead to fat gain.

Many studies have shown that not only does milk NOT lead to weight gain, but it may also actually enhance fat loss and muscle gain. [17,18]

Additional research comparing calcium intake from dairy vs. pure calcium supplements notes that those who get their calcium from dairy experience significantly greater fat loss than those getting their calcium from supplements. [20,21]

Researchers believe that dairy contains several other beneficial bio-active compounds the promote extra fat burning which is not found in calcium supplements.

In regards to supporting muscle growth, dairy products contain whey and casein protein, both of which have been shown in research trials to enhance the anabolic effects of resistance training and support increases in lean muscle mass. [22,23,24]

Should I Drink Milk and Consume Dairy?

This ultimately is up to you.

Many people have trouble digesting dairy due to the lactose present in milk. The lactase enzyme is needed, and a significant portion of the population stops producing this enzyme between the ages of 2 and 3.

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to stop consuming dairy altogether. They do make low/no-lactose dairy products, including various kinds of milk that have added lactase enzymes or the lactose has been completely removed.

Another option is to consume a separate lactase enzyme or source any of the dairy-alternative milk on the market.

A final option is to consume whey protein powder, such as SteelFit® Steel Whey. High-quality whey protein powders remove nearly all of the lactose present in milk during the filtration process. But it still retains many of the beneficial immune-boosting fractions naturally present in whey protein and milk.

The choice to consume milk (and to a greater extent dairy) is up to you. Provided that you can tolerate dairy, there’s no reason to avoid it aside from personal preference.

It does not leach calcium from your bones, won’t infect you with cow hormones, and it won’t increase your risk of all sorts of chronic diseases.

Milk may, however, help you lose weight and build muscle as well as help you to meet your micronutrient goals for the day as well.

References

  1. Dairy extension. (n.d.). Composition of Milk Key Terms. Cornell Education, 1–5. Retrieved from https://dairyextension.foodscience.cornell.edu/sites/dairyextension.foodscience.cornell.edu/files/shared/Composition of Milk.pdf
  2. “Milk Composition | MilkFacts.info.” Home | MilkFacts.info, www.milkfacts.info/Milk%20Composition/Milk%20Composition%20Page.htm.
  3. Gallo-Reynoso JP, Ortiz CL. Feral cats steal milk from northern elephant seals. THEYRA. 2010 Dec;1(3):207-12.
  4. Lanou AJ , et al. “Calcium, Dairy Products, and Bone Health in Children and Young Adults: a Reevaluation of the Evidence. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  5. Fenton, T. R., & Lyon, A. W. (2011). Milk and Acid-Base Balance: Proposed Hypothesis versus Scientific Evidence. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 30(sup5), 471S-475S. doi:10.1080/07315724.2011.10719992
  6. Shams-White MM , et al. (n.d.). Dietary protein and bone health: a systematic review and meta-analysis from the National Osteoporosis Foundation. – PubMed – NCBI.
  7. Kerstetter JE , et al. (n.d.). Dietary protein and skeletal health: a review of recent human research. – PubMed – NCBI.
  8. JP, B. (n.d.). Dietary protein: an essential nutrient for bone health. – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16373952
  9. RP, H. (n.d.). Dairy and bone health. – PubMed – NCBI.
  10. Caroli, A., et al. “Invited review: Dairy intake and bone health: A viewpoint from the state of the art.” Journal of Dairy Science, vol. 94, no. 11, 2011, pp. 5249-5262.
  11. Collier, R. J., and D. E. Bauman. “Update on human health concerns of recombinant bovine somatotropin use in dairy cows.” Journal of Animal Science, vol. 92, no. 4, 2014, pp. 1800-1807.
  12. Groenewegen, Paul P., et al. “Bioactivity of Milk from bST-Treated Cows.” The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 120, no. 5, 1990, pp. 514-520.
  13. Qin, Li-Qiang, et al. “Milk consumption and circulating insulin-like growth factor-I level: a systematic literature review.” International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, vol. 60, no. sup7, 2009, pp. 330-340.
  14. Meinbach, David S., and Bal L. Lokeshwar. “Insulin-like growth factors and their binding proteins in prostate cancer: Cause or consequence?.” Urologic Oncology: Seminars and Original Investigations, vol. 24, no. 4, 2006, pp. 294-306.
  15. Thorning TK, Raben A, Tholstrup T, Soedamah-Muthu SS, Givens I, Astrup A. Milk and dairy products: good or bad for human health? An assessment of the totality of scientific evidence. Food Nutr Res. 2016;60:32527. Published 2016 Nov 22. doi:10.3402/fnr.v60.32527
  16. Dehghan, M., Mente, A., Rangarajan, S., Sheridan, P., Mohan, V., Iqbal, R., Yusuf, S. (2018). Association of dairy intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 21 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study. The Lancet, 392(10161), 2288-2297. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(18)31812-9
  17. Stonehouse W, Wycherley T, Luscombe-Marsh N, Taylor P, Brinkworth G, Riley M. Dairy Intake Enhances Body Weight and Composition Changes during Energy Restriction in 18-50-Year-Old Adults-A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2016;8(7):394. Published 2016 Jul 1. doi:10.3390/nu8070394
  18. Chen M, Pan A, Malik VS, Hu FB. Effects of dairy intake on body weight and fat: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(4):735-47.
  19. Lu, L., et al. “Long-term association between dairy consumption and risk of childhood obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 70, no. 4, 2016, pp. 414-423.
  20. Zemel MB: Role of dietary calcium and dairy products in modulating adiposity. Lipids 38:139–146, 2003
  21. Shahar, D. R., et al. “Does Dairy Calcium Intake Enhance Weight Loss Among Overweight Diabetic Patients?” Diabetes Care, vol. 30, no. 3, 2007, pp. 485-489.
  22. Joy JM, Vogel RM, Shane Broughton K, et al. Daytime and nighttime casein supplements similarly increase muscle size and strength in response to resistance training earlier in the day: a preliminary investigation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15(1):24. Published 2018 May 15. doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0228-9
  23. Wilborn CD, Taylor LW, Outlaw J, et al. The Effects of Pre- and Post-Exercise Whey vs. Casein Protein Consumption on Body Composition and Performance Measures in Collegiate Female Athletes. J Sports Sci Med. 2013;12(1):74-9. Published 2013 Mar 1.
  24. Volek, Jeff S., et al. “Whey Protein Supplementation During Resistance Training Augments Lean Body Mass.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, vol. 32, no. 2, 2013, pp. 122-135.

How To Choose The Best Protein Powder for YOU

Protein powders offer a quick, tasty, and cost-effective way to satisfy your daily protein needs. They require no refrigeration and can be used to support any performance or physique goal, including weight loss, muscle gain, or general wellness.

But, many individuals struggle with deciding on which particular protein powder to purchase given the hundreds of options available on the market.

How do you know which protein powder is best suited to satisfy YOUR own personal health, performance, and physique goals?

That’s where this guide comes in.

Ahead, we’ll show you how to pick the best protein powder based on your needs.

But, before we get to that, let’s briefly review each of the different protein powder options you’ll encounter when searching for the perfect protein powder.

Types of Protein Powder

Whey Protein

Whey protein easily qualifies as the most popular option when it comes to choosing a protein. It’s a complete protein, rich in BCAAs, and high in leucine — the “anabolic-trigger” amino acid that stimulates mTOR and drives muscle protein synthesis.

Whey protein is one of the two proteins found in milk, accounting for 20% of the protein in milk, with casein accounting for the remaining 80%.

For a long time, whey was perceived as nothing but the useless, liquidy byproduct of the cheese-making process. Manufacturers soon realized that whey was incredibly rich in protein, particularly the BCAAs, and recycled their “waste product” into a staple commodity in the nutrition and bodybuilding areas.

Through the use of various processing, filtration, and isolation techniques, manufacturers are able to “refine” whey from the thin, milky liquid into the powder you mix into your shaker each and every day.

But, not all whey protein powders are created equal. In fact, there are three main “subcategories” of whey protein based on the amount of processing they undergo and the resulting protein content. The higher the grade of whey protein, the more protein it contains by mass.

Here’s a quick rundown of the various forms of whey protein you’ll encounter when searching for the best protein powder:

Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)

Whey protein concentrate is the least refined form of whey that also offers the widest range of protein content. Due to the limited amount of processing and refinement WPC undergoes, it also retains a higher amount of beneficial fractions lactoferrin and ɑ-lactalbumin.

Whey concentrates offer the best value in terms of cost, nutritional value, and protein content.

Speaking of protein content, concentrates may contain anywhere from 25 to 89% whey protein by mass. [1]

However, knowing the exact grade of whey concentrate in your given protein can be a bit tricky as manufacturers are not required to list which grade they use. A few companies, such as SteelFit® do as Steel Whey uses the highest quality whey protein concentrate in WPC-80. But, by and large, you’re not going to see the specific grade of whey concentrate listed on the supplement facts panel.

This usually means if a company is willing to tell you which grade of whey concentrate they include in their product, chances are very high that they are using the “good” stuff in WPC-80.

And this brings us to one of the “issues” with most protein powders that use whey concentrates — you’re not really sure what grade or quality of concentrate your getting.

For example, let’s say that a company decides to run its initial batch of protein and wants to deliver a high-quality product. As such, they’ll use WPC-80, which is the highest quality form of concentrate, containing 80% protein by mass.

However, after the first batch has sold out, then decide to create a second batch, but this time, they want to increase profits without increasing the price the consumer pays per tub. All the company has to do is change what grade of concentrate they use. For instance, they could use WPC-60 or WPC-70 and save a good bit of money on the cost of goods.

The consumer is none the wiser as he/she just sees that the protein powder contains “whey protein concentrate”. But, the supplement company just significantly increased their profits.

In theory, sure, the consumer could compare the protein, carb, and fat contents of the old tub to the newly purchased tub to see if there are any changes, but most people really aren’t going to do that. Although a discerning consumer might get a more explosive notification of the change in WPC quality if they start experiencing considerable amounts of GI distress, bloating, and/or flatulence — common side effects from the consumption of low-quality whey protein concentrates.

Concentrates also usually contain greater amounts of calories, carbohydrates, lactose, and fat than other forms of whey protein, but if you opt for WPC-80, you still get a high amount of protein with a small number of carbohydrates and healthy fats.

One other thing, if you are lactose sensitive (or outright intolerant), you may want to choose whey isolate (or another form of protein altogether). Concentrates generally contain more lactose than other forms of whey, which can lead to stomach upset and cramping for the dairy sensitive out there.

Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)

Whey protein isolate is often advertised as the “purest” form of whey protein (from a protein content standpoint) as it must contain a minimum of 90% protein by mass. As a result, this means isolates yield a very high amount of protein with minimal amounts of carbohydrates, lactose and milk fat. As such, whey isolates are generally the better choice for individuals who are lactose intolerant, yet still want to enjoy the benefits of whey protein.[2]

However, whey isolate isn’t without its own set of limitations or “drawbacks”, similar to concentrate has its own “drawbacks” of a wide range of variability in protein content and higher lactose content.

The drawbacks to whey isolate protein is that in order for the powder to contain a minimum 90% protein by mass, it must undergo additional processing and refinement. With this added processing comes a loss in some of the immune-boosting compounds abundant in concentrates, such as immunoglobulins.

Isolates also tend to not have a thinner texture and less satisfying “mouthfeel” compared to whey concentrate, due to the decreased levels of fat and carbohydrates.

And finally, isolates generally cost more than concentrates do, again due to the increased amount of processing it undergoes.

As such, unless you’re very sensitive to lactose, whey concentrates are generally the best option for most people looking for the best blend of cost, protein content, flavor, and texture. This is why Steel Whey includes whey protein concentrate (WPC-80) — concentrates offer consumers a high protein content, yet low calorie and most affordable option to hit their protein goals for the day while delivering a thick, rich texture and immune-boosting fractions.

Whey Protein Hydrolysate

Hydrolyzed whey protein (whey hydrolysate) is the most processed, heavily refined form of whey protein. For all intents and purposes, hydrolyzed whey protein is essentially “predigested” via hydrolysis — a chemical process where enzymes are mixed with whey to partially digest and break down the peptide bonds linking the various proteins together.

As a result of this “pre-digestion” process, whey hydrolysate protein is incredibly rapid digesting, and quite frequently recommended by the gym bros as the “best” option for a post workout shake as the lightning-fast digestion should flood your muscles with protein and amino acids significantly quicker than whey concentrate or isolate.

However, research comparing whey protein, hydrolyzed whey, and casein found no significant difference in lean mass gains despite the wide variance in digestion speed.[6,7]

Hydrolyzed whey protein contains essentially no carbohydrates, lactose, or fat, which makes it ideal for those deep into contest prep or the extremely lactose intolerant.

Again, due to extra processing and use of chemicals, whey hydrolysates have a vastly inferior flavor, texture and mouthfeel compared to concentrates and even isolates. This is due to the fact that the enzymes used during hydrolysis leave the protein with a distinct “off”, chemical-like flavor.

Whey hydrolysate protein is also the most expensive of the three forms of whey protein, due to the increased amount of processing it undergoes and has virtually all of the beneficial, immune-boosting fractions removed.

At the end of the day, there’s never really a need to purchase hydrolyzed whey. They’re expensive, inferior tasting, and lack the beneficial compounds present in whey. If you’re severely lactose intolerant, you’re better off from a cost and taste standpoints choosing another protein altogether, such as pea or egg-based protein, which we’ll cover in a bit.

Benefits of Whey Protein

Whey protein has been thoroughly researched and, in addition to its ability to boost immune function, the bodybuilding staple has also been noted to help:

  • Increase muscle size and strength when used in combination with resistance training. [3,4,5,6]
  • Support fat loss — research shows that whey promotes feelings of fullness, which reduces hunger and helps you consume fewer calories during the day. [7,8]

Casein Protein

As we mentioned up top, casein accounts for the vast majority (80%) of the protein content of milk. It’s also been a staple pre-bed snack for athletes, bodybuilders, and personal trainers for quite a long time to help keep the body “anabolic” during your 8 hours of sleep.

The reason for this is that casein is incredibly slow digesting. In fact, research notes that casein protein can provide a steady supply of amino acids to your body for up to 7 hours![9,10]

Whey vs. Casein Post-Workout

Whey protein is frequently believed to be the best post-workout protein powder due to its rapid digestion; however, research has shown that casein protein can be just as effective as whey protein for enhancing muscle mass and reducing body fat.[11]

In other words, if you finish your workout and quickly realize that your tub of whey protein is empty, don’t panic. The anabolic window isn’t going to close on you, and you aren’t going to miss out on any big gains. Simply have a scoop of casein (or whole foods meal), and you’ll be perfectly fine.

Now, be aware that casein mixes up incredibly thick, several times more thick than whey protein. As such, if you are going to use casein as your post-workout protein shake on occasion, but don’t want a sludge-like consistency, you will need to add more water than you’re probably used to.

Milk Protein

Up to this point, we’ve covered the two protein in milk separately, as they generally are sold separately. However, milk and casein can be found together within the same protein powder, both as part of a protein blend (which we’ll cover later) or in the form of milk protein isolate.

Milk protein powder naturally contains both whey and casein in the standard ratios (20/80, respectively) that you find them in your daily serving of moo juice.

So, why would you consider using milk protein powder over drinking regular milk?

Well, you’d get more protein, and substantially fewer calories, fat, and lactose by using milk isolate protein powder than drinking milk.

Compared to straight whey protein, milk protein powder provides a “best of both worlds” approach for digestion speeds as it contains both whey and casein. This yields a protein with a digestion time somewhere between that of the lightning-fast whey and the ultra-slow digestion of casein.

Milk protein powder also typically has a thicker texture and more satisfying “mouthfeel” than those of whey isolates or hydrolysates. Again, this is due to milk protein isolates containing a mixture of whey and casein. And, similar to whey protein and casein protein, milk protein powder is a complete protein source providing all nine essential amino acids needed for protein synthesis.

Egg White Protein

Eggs have a reputation as nature’s “perfect” protein due to the fact that the breakfast staple scores a perfect 100 on the biological value ranking scale.[1] Biological value (BV) is a measure of how efficiently our bodies can absorb and use the nutrients we ingest.

Basically, outside of whey protein (which has a biological value of 104), egg protein is about as ideal as you can get when it comes to consuming protein.

To create egg protein powder, egg yolks are separated from the whites. From there, the whites are dehydrated, pulverized, processed, and ground into a fine powder. Powdered egg whites can be consumed just like whey protein (shakes, smoothies, oats, etc.); however, you should be aware that egg protein powder tastes “eggy”, so getting used to the flavor might take a while for some of you.

Due to the fact that egg white protein tastes like eggs, it’s most often included as part of a protein blend along with whey, casein, and milk protein.

Egg protein powder is also a great alternative protein powder for the lactose intolerant as it is completely lactose-free.

Soy Protein

For quite a long time, those not wanting any dairy or other animal-based proteins (beef, chicken, etc.) turned to soy protein as their protein powder of choice.

The reason soy was the de facto dairy-free protein powder of choice is that it is one of the few plant sources that is a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids needed for protein synthesis.

However, soy protein fell out of favor, particularly with men, due to the belief that eating too much of it would increase estrogen levels and lead to gynecomastia, a.k.a. man boobs.[16] This man boob myth stems from the fact that soy contains isoflavones which are phytoestrogens, plant-based compounds that act similar to estrogen.

However, the fears of budding are mostly overblown as recent research has shown that the  “soy makes man boobs” fears were overblown. When consumed within reason, soy does not negatively impact hormone levels or serum testosterone. However, studies have shown that soy protein does support muscle growth and strength development, though. [17,18]

Another reason to consider supplementing with soy protein powder is that studies note it supports heart health.[19] And to top it off, soy has a Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) score of 100, meaning it has incredibly high bioavailability and ranks alongside whey and egg proteins as one of the most efficiently utilized proteins for our bodies.[20]

Pea Protein

Continuing with the plant-based proteins is pea protein.

Yes, there is such a thing as pea protein powder, and in terms of amino acid profile, it’s a surprisingly good protein powder too.

The vast majority of plant-based proteins are “incomplete” proteins, meaning that they are lacking or deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids. Because of this deficiency,  different plant proteins have to be blended together (think beans and rice) to address the amino acid inadequacies naturally present in each plant protein. Combining these different proteins creates a complete protein, and this is why most plant-based proteins are found as blends of multiple plant proteins.

Pea protein, however, doesn’t suffer from these deficiencies. Similar to soy, pea protein powder is a complete protein providing all nine EAAs needed for muscle repair and growth, which makes it a top choice for vegan athletes looking to optimize protein intake.

As an added bonus, pea protein is lactose-free, making it ideal for the lactose intolerant crowd.

Compared to whey protein, pea protein has been found to be just as effective as whey for building muscle[12], and it surpasses whey and rivals that of casein in terms of satiety and feelings of fullness.[13]

Similar to soy protein, pea protein has also been found to support cardiovascular health. Research suggests that consuming pea protein may help lower cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as blood pressure.[14,15]

The “drawback” to pea protein powder is that, well, it kind of tastes like peas and has a rather distinct the earthy, dirt-like texture. Due to this, pea protein powder is usually blended with other plant proteins to cover up its “unique” texture and flavor.

Other Plant-Based Proteins

While pea protein and soy protein are the two most well-known plant-based proteins, there are a number of other non-animal-based proteins you’ll find on the shelf, including:

  • Brown Rice Protein
  • Hemp Protein
  • Quinoa
  • Alfalfa
  • Chia

The main drawbacks to plant proteins is that they usually are lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids, and they have inferior taste, texture, and mixability compared to whey or casein. Plant proteins are notorious for having a chalky or dirt-like taste and texture along with a rather unpleasant mouthfeel.

Still, if you want to avoid animal-based proteins, plant protein powders can be just as effective for satisfying protein requirements and physique goals, but they will not taste as good, and they are generally more expensive, too.

Protein Blends

When browsing through all the various whey protein options on the shelf, you’ll soon realize that quite frequently a protein will contain more than one form of protein. Whey protein isn’t just sold pure concentrate, isolate, or hydrolysate. Whey protein powder also is available in the form of whey protein blends.

As you might guess, a whey protein blend is a protein powder containing a mix of concentrate, isolate, and/or hydrolysate. This creates a protein powder that contains a higher amount of protein than your average whey protein concentrate, while also containing fewer carbohydrates, lactose, and fat than powders containing only whey concentrate.

Whey protein blends also allow you to get the thicker texture, better flavor, and superior “mouth feel” of concentrate while getting the higher protein content of isolates.

Now, it’s also important that we mention that protein blends extend beyond just blends of whey protein. In fact, protein blends can contain any and all of the animal- and plant-based protein sources outlined above, including:

  • Whey Protein
  • Casein
  • Egg White Protein
  • Beef Protein
  • Chicken Protein
  • Brown Rice Protein
  • Pea Protein
  • Plus Many Others

Protein blends offer you a “jack of all trades” approach to protein, where you get a good mixture of slow, intermediate, and fast digesting proteins, which provide a staggered and sustained release of amino acids into the bloodstream. This also has the added benefit of greater satiety than consuming just whey protein, which may help limit mindless snacking between meals.

However, the drawback to protein blends is that you never really know how much you’re getting of each individual kind of protein if that sort of thing is important to you.

Now that we’ve gone over the various kinds of protein powder available to you, let’s find out how to choose the best protein powder.

What is the Best Protein Powder?

Here’s the thing — there is no such thing as a “best” protein powder for every person all the time. That being said, you can find your own personal “best” by answering several simple questions:

Is the Protein a Complete Protein Source?

Simply put, if you’re looking to find the best protein powder that money can buy, you want to purchase a protein that is a complete protein, meaning it contains ALL nine of the essential amino acids your body requires to build proteins.

While you could make an argument that so long as you’re consuming a variety of foods during the day, whether or not your protein powder supplies all the amino acids needed for protein synthesis isn’t a big deal. And that’s very much true.

But at the same time, if you’re trying to optimize protein intake and muscle protein synthesis, you want a protein powder that is a complete protein. Furthermore, the whole point of purchasing a protein powder is for the protein, so don’t you owe it to yourself to purchase the best quality protein powder you’re budget allows?

Yes, you do. Your muscles sustain the beating you put them through week after week in the gym, so yes, they deserve the best stuff you can get. And in this case, the “best” protein powder is one that provides a complete protein.

The best protein powders also have a high PDCAAS rating and biological value as well. Any of the animal-based proteins (including whey protein) easily fit the bill of a complete protein that also offers high biological value and plenty of mTOR-activating leucine.

Is the Protein Powder High-Quality?

While it can be tempting to buy the protein powder that is on sale (BOGO, anyone?) or the one that advertises the highest protein content per scoop, we’d caution you to pause for a second and really look closely at the entire product label.

By that, does the protein powder state whether or not it is 3rd party tested for quality and purity.

Does it list exactly how much of each kind of protein it contains? 

Is it cGMP certified?

Does the list of ingredients include any added free form amino acids?

If you answered yes to this last question, DO NOT, we repeat, DO NOT buy it. The reason for this is that if the protein powder you are considering purchasing contains added free-form amino acids (l-glutamine, creatine, l-taurine, l-glycine, etc.) there is a very strong chance it is spiked.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty (that’s for another article), protein spiking is a tactic used by supplement companies seeking to pull a “fast one” on consumers. Added free form amino acids allows companies to artificially inflate the protein content by tricking the nitrogen test that is used to test the protein content of various protein powders.

Again, if you see added free form amino acids and the product label DOES NOT make a distinction between whole protein and added amino acids, you’re probably holding a spiked protein, meaning you aren’t getting as much protein as the label states.

Steel Whey™ DOES NOT contain added free form amino acids and is NOT spiked. It contains only 100% pure WPC-80 whey protein concentrate — the highest quality whey concentrate available.

Can You Tolerate Dairy (Lactose)?

A certain percentage of the population lacks the lactase enzyme in their bodies which is required to properly digest lactose — the principle carbohydrate contained in dairy. If you are lactose sensitive or outright intolerant to all things dairy, then you’re better off choosing a non-dairy protein powder such as pea protein, egg white protein, beef protein, or any other non-cow derived protein powder.

If you’re only mildly lactose sensitive, you may be able to get away with using a WPC-80 protein powder or whey isolate.

Another option may be to use a digestive enzyme blend so that you can “have your whey and eat it too.”

Are You Vegan or Do You Avoid/Limit Animal-Based Products?

In light of the current obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome epidemic, more and more people are adopting a plant-forward diet while limiting their use of animal products. Concurrent with this is also a rise in the number of people adopting a vegan lifestyle for a multitude of reasons.

If you are one such person, all dairy-based proteins (whey, casein, milk), egg white protein, beef protein, and a majority of protein blends are not in line with your diet. As such, you’ll need to source a plant-based protein powder or plant protein blend.

The Bottom Line on Choosing the Best Protein Powder for YOU

The takeaway here is that there is no “best protein powder”. Furthermore, you don’t absolutely need protein powder to build muscle and strength.

However, protein powder is high in leucine, easy to prepare, cost-effective, and perfect for a quick anytime, anywhere infusion of muscle building protein. This is why anyone who trains consistently and with intensity regularly uses protein powder.

The vast majority of people do not need to worry about using isolates, hydrolysates, or micromanaging the digestion times of casein vs whey protein.

The most important thing is ensuring you get enough high-quality protein each day. Whey protein concentrate provides a great combination of quality, taste, texture, affordability, and, above all, protein content.

That’s why Steel Whey™ includes the best form of whey protein in WPC-80 whey protein concentrate. Each scoop of Steel Whey™ supplies either 27 or 28 grams (based on flavor) of high-quality whey protein in each serving along with all the beneficial bio fractions naturally occurring in whey.

Click here to learn more about Steel Whey™ and why it qualifies as one of the best protein powders money can buy.

References

  1. Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein – Which is Best?. J Sports Sci Med. 2004;3(3):118-30. Published 2004 Sep 1.
  2. Geiser M. (2003) The wonders of whey protein. NSCA’s Performance Training Journal 2, 13-15
  3. Davies RW , et al. “The Effect of Whey Protein Supplementation on the Temporal Recovery of Muscle Function Following Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information,
  4. Morton RW , et al. “A Systematic Review, Meta-analysis and Meta-regression of the Effect of Protein Supplementation on Resistance Training-induced Gains in Muscle Mass… – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information,
  5. Pasiakos SM , et al. “The Effects of Protein Supplements on Muscle Mass, Strength, and Aerobic and Anaerobic Power in Healthy Adults: a Systematic Review. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information,.
  6. Miller PE , et al. “Effects of Whey Protein and Resistance Exercise on Body Composition: a Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information,.
  7. Dudgeon WD , et al. “Effect of Whey Protein in Conjunction With a Caloric-Restricted Diet and Resistance Training. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  8. Mollahosseini M , et al. “Effect of Whey Protein Supplementation on Long and Short Term Appetite: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information
  9. Boirie Y , et al. “Slow and Fast Dietary Proteins Differently Modulate Postprandial Protein Accretion. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  10. Phillips SM , et al. “The Role of Milk- and Soy-based Protein in Support of Muscle Protein Synthesis and Muscle Protein Accretion in Young and Elderly Persons. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information
  11. Demling RH, DeSanti L. Effect of a hypocaloric diet, increased protein intake and resistance training on lean mass gains and fat mass loss in overweight police officers. Ann Nutr Metab. 2000;44(1):21-29. doi:10.1159/000012817.
  12. [Babault et al; “Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein”; Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition; 2015
  13. Abou-Samra, Rania et al.; Effect of Different Protein Sources on Satiation and Short-Term Satiety When Consumed as a Starter; Nutrition Journal; December 2011
  14. Rigamonti, E., Parolini, C., Marchesi, M., Diani, E., Brambilla, S., Sirtori, C. R. and Chiesa, G; “Hypolipidemic effect of dietary pea proteins: Impact on genes regulating hepatic lipid metabolism”; Molecular Nutrition and Food Research; 54: S24–S30
  15. Li, H; “Blood pressure lowering effect of a pea protein hydrolysate in hypertensive rats and humans”; Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry; September 2011; 59(18):9854-60
  16. Jorge Martinez, Jack Lewi; “An Unusual Case of Gynecomastia Associated with Soy Product Consumption”; Endocrine Practice; May 2008; Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 415-418
  17. Joseph W. Hartman, David Bruinsma, Amy Fullerton, Jenn G. Perco, Randa Lawrence, Jason E. Tang, Sarah B. Wilkinson, Stuart M. Phillips.(2004). The Effect of Differing Post Exercise Macronutrient Consumption on Resistance Training-Induced Adaptations in Novices; Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University
  18. Candow, Darren G; Burke, Natalie C; Smith-Palmer, T; Burke, Darren G; “Effect of whey and soy protein supplementation combined with resistance training in young adults”; Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab; 1995; 16:233-244
  19. Anderson, JW, Johnstone BM, Cook-Newell ME; “Meta-analysis of effects of soy protein intake on serum lipids in humans”; New England Journal of Medicine; 1995; 333:276-282
  20. Glenna J. Hughes, David J. Ryan, Ratna Mukherjea, and Charles S. Schasteen; “Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Scores (PDCAAS) for Soy Protein Isolates and Concentrate: Criteria for Evaluation”; Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry; 2011; 59 (23), 12707-12712

5 Diet Tips to Stay Lean this Holiday Season

If you want to know what tips and tricks you can use to avoid weight gain during the holidays and stay lean without feeling stressed or deprived, you want to read this article.

The holidays are a time for family, friends, fun, and celebration.

The holidays are also the time of year when people decide to stop working out and bail on their diet. As a result, millions of people deal with unwanted weight gain, which prompts those same millions to make a New Year’s resolution to get “serious” about their health and fitness and go on one of the many trendy fad diets.

But, wouldn’t it be great if you could still enjoy the holidays and not have to sacrifice the physique you’ve spent the better part of the past year developing? You can!

Best of all, it won’t require any gimmicks, avoidance of certain macronutrients (we’re looking at your carbohydrates), or ridiculous exercise protocols.

We’ve come up with five diet tips to help you avoid the holiday weight gain and stay lean and mean throughout your break!

5 Ways to Stay Lean During the Holidays

 

1. Make Sure You Consume Enough Protein Each Day

Protein is the crucial cog for staying lean and avoiding the dreaded holiday way gain for a couple of reasons:

  • Protein is essential for maintaining your muscle.It provides the building blocks (essential amino acids) your body needs to build and repair muscle. You must make sure to eat enough protein every day while you’re traveling for the holidays.
  • Protein is highly satiating. Research notes that of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats), protein is the most satiating of the lot. [1]  Research also shows that when individuals consume higher protein diets, they reduce food intake.[2]Why is this a big deal? Holiday weight gain occurs as a direct result of eating too many calories each day. You’re also a higher risk for losing muscle during the holidays since sweet treats (cookies, cake, candy) are available in abundance, and protein options are typically in short supply.  By prioritizing protein at each meal, you’re protecting your muscles from breakdown and also reducing the chances of overeating.

How Much Protein Should I Eat Per Day?

A good rule of thumb is to aim for eating roughly 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight every day.

The easiest way to keep track of your daily protein intake is with a food tracking app on your phone, such as MyFitnessPal.

MyFitnessPal allows you to search a database of thousands of foods and track the nutrition data of the food you eat (or plan to eat) during the day. This helps reduce the amount of guesswork involved in figuring out how much protein you’ve consumed throughout the day as well as helps you make better decisions about what you’ll eat.

If you know ahead of time that where you will be traveling for the holidays (and the people you will be visiting) tends to have limited protein options available, it never hurts to packs some whey protein powder with you.

Whey Protein Powder (such as Steel Whey) provides a low calorie, high protein snack that helps you hit your protein quota for the day and tastes delicious.

Two other things in regard to protein intake that bear mentioning:

  • Leaner individuals tend to require slightly more protein. This means that if you’re a guy with ~10% (or girl with ~15%) body fat or less, definitely get 1-1.1g/lb of bodyweight. If you’re carrying 15-20% or higher for body fat, you can easily get away with consuming between 0.8-1 gram per pound of body weight and not worry about losing muscle.
  • Proteins from carbohydrate and fat sources (nuts, avocados, pasta, etc.) count toward your daily protein goal. These proteins may not be as high quality as animal-based ones, but they still count. For example, if you need 150 grams of protein per day and you get 120 grams from lean meats, dairy, and protein powder, the other 30 grams can easily come from vegetables, grains, legumes, etc.

2. Reduce Meal Frequency

If you’re like most fitness-minded individuals, you probably eat multiple times per day, frequently averaging 4-6 small meals, consuming one every few hours.

While this is great for optimizing muscle protein synthesis and limiting protein breakdown when you’re at home (on your regular training schedule and nutrition plan), the constant grazing can lead to severe overeating during the holiday.

As you would expect, day after day of eating more calories than you burn is going to lead to some very unwanted weight gain. And, during the holidays, it’s ridiculously easy to fall into the habit of mindless eating. If your holiday get-togethers are anything like ours, the second you walk in the door, you’re greeted by a table filled with all manner of sweet indulgences.

Therefore, to help limit the damage done during these periods of indulgence, it may be helpful to remove a few of your meals throughout the day and eat less frequently. This way you can save or “bank” calories for the big meals with all of your family and friends later in the day.

So, instead of having 5-6 small meals spaced every 2-3 hours, eat three larger meals spaced 5-6 hours apart. If, for example, you’re currently following a meal plan that looks a little something like this:

  • Breakfast: 8 AM
  • Pre-Workout Meal: 11 AM
  • Post Workout Meal: 2 PM
  • Dinner: 6 PM
  • Pre-Bed Snack: 10 PM

Why not try this schedule during the holiday:

  • Breakfast: 8 AM
  • Lunch: 1 PM
  • Dinner: 6 PM

So long as you’re getting in enough protein and calories each day, you don’t need to worry about losing muscle, as the theory behind increased meal frequency leading to better fat loss and muscle gain has been mostly debunked. Hitting your macronutrient goals each day is far more important than how many meals you eat or how frequently you eat them.

3. Practice Intermittent Fasting (if necessary)

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a pattern of dieting that revolves around restricting your food intake for extended periods, and then consuming your days’ worth of calories during a pre-set “feeding window.”

Intermittent Fasting is related to meal frequency, but slightly different, and to be honest, it deserves its own section because it’s incredibly useful when you’re traveling (and a real lifesaver during the holidays when you don’t want to go ham on the table of desserts).

The most common way to practice intermittent fasting (or intermittent feasting, depending on how you look at it), is to fast for 16 hours each day, and eat only during your 8 hour “feasting”’ window.

Some people adopt a slightly longer fasting period and fast for 20 hours per day and shovel down their calories during a rather small 4-hour feeding window.

Note: This 20:4 fasting, feasting window may work for those with lower calorie intakes, but if you’re bulking or have a fast metabolism, it can be quite challenging (not to mention uncomfortable) cramming down 3,000+ calories in only 4 hours.

Still another way to practice intermittent fasting is to do a one day on, one day off approach where you fast one entire day, and then eat the next. Though, we’re not really in favor of this method if you’re actively trying to build muscle.

Intermittent fasting by definition helps reduce meal frequency, and it also helps increase fat burning and reduce fat storage. This is because when you’re fasting, insulin levels are low.

When insulin is elevated (for example, after consuming meals high in protein and carbohydrates), fat burning is turned off, and energy storage is activated (which includes fat storage). [3]

Now, don’t think that insulin inherently causes fat gain (it doesn’t, by the way, consuming more calories than you burn does), but when it is elevated, your body is not burning any of its stored body fat — it’s busy using the food you just ate for energy to perform whatever tasks it needs to.

The intermittent fasting protocol favored by most of the individuals who follow it was developed by Martin Berkhan of Lean Gains fame and entails:

  • Fasting for 16 hours per dayDuring this time, you consume no food (not even keto-approved ones). You are allowed to consume non-calorie containing beverages though, such as black coffee, unsweetened tea, diet sodas, and, of course, water.
  • Eating only during an 8-hour feeding window during your feasting window, focus on hitting your protein goals for the day (1 gram per pound of body weight). Also, if you’re planning on training and intermittent fasting, we’d suggest training during your feeding window, or breaking your fast immediately after your training session is complete. Resistance training causes muscle breakdown, and if you’re serious about limiting the amount of muscle you lose and subsequently building muscle as fast as possible, you will want to eat before and after training. Plus, having some food in your system prior to training (particularly carbohydrates) supports greater performance during your workout.

Speaking of exercise during the holidays…

4. Exercise First Thing in the Morning

When people go on vacation or travel for the holidays, they view it as a time to take a break from their training program. While this might be tempting, and you might even feel that your body needs a break from the weights, we’re going to caution against going completely without any exercise while you’re away from home.

Exercise has a number of important benefits aside from preserving lean muscle mass. It also supports heart health and cognitive function, boosts mood, and alleviates stress (which can build up when visiting family for the holidays). [4,5,6]

So, at the very least, train to combat stress and have peace of mind.

And, another thing, schedule your workouts for first thing in the morning, or right before a big meal. There’s no shortage of interruptions or things popping up last minute that can derail you from getting in a quick workout.

The easiest way to avoid these situations and still get in your training is to make it a priority and exercise first thing in the morning.

Now, if you’re following point #3 above and utilizing intermittent fasting, but don’t want to risk excessive muscle breakdown during your workout, you can sip on some BCAAs (such as Steel Fuel) to preserve muscle and limit muscle breakdown.

Drinking BCAAs will cause a small increase in insulin, but not nearly as much as consuming a full-on meal or even a whey protein shake. [7]

The truth is, it doesn’t take nearly as much training volume to retain muscle that you have built as it does to build new muscle tissue. So, if you’re not actively in a bulking phase while traveling (and not many people are), and you want to hold onto the muscle that you’ve built, you only need to train two times per week at most.

Now the volume and intensity of these sessions will have to be rather high compared to your typical training days, but if all you’re interested in is preserving your current amount of lean mass, and not losing any, then two days per week is all you need.

All that being said, if you either don’t feel like finding (or can’t find) a gym to lift weights during your travels, performing bodyweight workouts, or you simply don’t have the time, we’d suggest you perform a few brief (20-30 minutes) sessions of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to help burn off some calories and create a bit of a “carb sink” in your muscles.

High-intensity interval training, as well as resistance training, relies primarily on stored carbohydrates (glycogen) in your muscles. Training before a huge family feast helps deplete your glycogen stores. [8]

The way the body refuels these depleted stores with carbohydrates. [9]

So, by burning through a portion of your glycogen stores (via HIIT or resistance-training) before eating, you can earn some “free carbs” in your post-workout meal.

Best of all, your body will not store the carbohydrates you eat as fat until your glycogen levels are full.[9]

Our favorite method for performing HIIT is using a work to rest ratio of 1:2 where you perform 30 seconds of all-out effort followed by 60 seconds “rest” (active recovery) and very low intensity.

You can perform your intervals using bodyweight exercises, sprints, recumbent bikes, rowing machines, or any other cardio machine of choice.

5. R-E-L-A-X & Enjoy Yourself!

The holidays are a time to cut loose (within reason) and enjoy the company of those with whom you are closest and don’t get to see all that often. Do your best to limit overindulgence in all the “naughty” foods, but at the end of the day, it’s not worth increasing your stress levels and ruining your mental health.

If you happen to go overboard at one meal, make up for it at the next by eating less, training harder the next day, and/or toying with some intermittent fasting. Planning your meals outside of the big family feasts can also help.

And besides, any damage that is done during the time you’re gone during the holidays can easily be undone with a brief mini-cut when you return from your time away from home.

The Bottom Line on Staying Lean During the Holidays

The holidays are meant to be the time of year when we celebrate and give thanks for all that we have received during the year. Make the most of this time and enjoy it to the fullest extent possible.

And, if you’re looking to keep the lean, sexy physique you’ve worked so hard all year long to build, use the above strategies to limit any “damage” you’ll do to your body composition. With these five tips, you’ll be able to enjoy food to your heart’s content every day over the holidays and start the new year right where you left off before the holiday season started.

References

  1. “Fat As a Risk Factor for Overconsumption: Satiation, Satiety, and Patterns of Eating.” ScienceDirect.com | Science, Health and Medical Journals, Full Text Articles and Books, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002822397007335.
  2. Woods SC, D’Alessio DA, Tso P, Rushing PA, Clegg DJ, et al. Consumption of a high-fat diet alters the homeostatic regulation of energy. Balance Physiol Behav. 2004;83(4):573–78.
  3. Mechanisms of nutritional and hormonal regulation of lipogenesis. EMBO Rep. 2001;2(4):282-6.
  4. “Health Benefits of Physical Activity: the Evidence.” PubMed Central (PMC), Mar. 14, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1402378/.
  5. “Physical Activity Reduces Stress | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA.” Home | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st.
  6. “Exercise Holds Immediate Benefits for Affect and Cognition in Younger and Older Adults.” PubMed Central (PMC), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768113/.
  7. Kalogeropoulou D , et al. “Leucine, when Ingested with Glucose, Synergistically Stimulates Insulin Secretion and Lowers Blood Glucose. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19013300.
  8. Gollnick PD , et al. “Selective Glycogen Depletion Pattern in Human Muscle Fibres After Exercise of Varying Intensity and at Varying Pedalling Rates. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4278539.
  9. Ivy JL. Regulation of muscle glycogen repletion, muscle protein synthesis and repair following exercise. J Sports Sci Med. 2004;3(3):131-8. Published 2004 Sep 1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905295/
  10. JL, Ivy. “Glycogen Resynthesis After Exercise: Effect of Carbohydrate Intake. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9694422.

Tips for Cooking with Protein Powder

Whey protein is a staple for active individuals, providing a quick, affordable, and above all delicious means to hitting your daily protein requirements and supporting your fitness goals.

But, sometimes you get tired of always drinking your protein. We’ve all had those days when the mere thought of drinking yet another protein shake is enough to chuck our blender, shaker cup, and protein powder in the dumpster.

On these occasions, wouldn’t it be great if you could chew your protein powder instead of having to drink it? You can!

There are thousands of protein powder recipes available, each one offering you a delicious and macro-friendly means to enjoying your protein powder.

But, cooking and baking with protein isn’t a simple endeavor, especially if you’re new to cooking and baking with it. There’s a certain finesse that needs to be applied when attempting things with protein beyond the standard protein shake or oatmeal.

The following list of tips has been compiled to help YOU avoid the same mistakes other culinary artists have when attempting to cook with protein powder. Give them a read and save yourself hours of wasted time and money!

Best Whey Protein Baking Tips

All Proteins are NOT the Same

When crafting your culinary concoctions, you might think one protein powder can easily be swapped for another. After all, they’re both, and they’re both powders, so they should be able to be exchanged 1:1…. right? NOPE!

If you’ve ever mixed up two different protein powders in the same amount of water, you’ve witnessed for yourself just how thick or thin different powders can mix. Different protein powders have entirely different tastes, textures, and consistencies.

What this means for you is that if a recipe calls for whey protein, don’t assume that you can automatically sub in an equivalent amount of casein, pea, or brown rice protein.

Don’t Overmix

Anyone who’s ever attempted to bake cakes, muffins, brownies, or just about any other type of sweet treat has made this error a time or two. When you overmix a batter, the gluten in the flour can form elastic strands, creating a denser, chewer, and “tougher” textured treat. That’s why you see so many recipes advise to mix ingredients “until just combined.”

What this means is that you stir the ingredients just enough to where you don’t see the individual elements you just added to the bowl. Limiting the amount of stirring, mixing, shaking, or whisking you do helps keep the texture of your baked goods light, making for a more pleasant tasting baked good.

While your baked protein goods will have less flour than standard baking recipes, you still can have a dense, overmixed product if you overmix. Therefore, mix and fold your ingredients just until they’re incorporated and then STEP AWAY from the bowl.

By doing so, you’ll be rewarded with a delectable baked good that’s sure to tantalize your tongue.

Grease It Up

Protein powders are notoriously sticky on their own, and when mixed into a batter, the stickiness factor is dialed up exponentially. This can make mixing batters, scooping batters int baking trays, and removing the finished product from the tray a real challenge.

Due to this, it’s imperative that you grease and coat your baking sheets, cake pans, and muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray. Another idea is to use paper liners in your trays if you’re making cupcakes or muffins.

And as a bonus tip, if you’re going to be using your hands to mold, shape, or scoop a whey-based dough, rub some oil or non-stick spray on your hands and whatever spatula you’re using to scoop the dough out of the bowl. This will help prevent the mixture from clinging to your hand, meaning less waste and more finished product!

Follow the Recipe

Are you a cook or a baker?

While to the casual diner, the difference is relatively minuscule. Both apply heat to a mixture of different foods and create a delicious delicacy. But, if you’ve ever been in the kitchen, you know there is a big difference between cooking and baking.

Cooking is a bit more free form. You can tweak, change, or adapt recipes to suit your palate. Don’t like asparagus in your pasta dish? That’s ok; you can swap it with broccoli, brussels sprouts, or green beans.

But, if a baking recipe calls for a set amount of flour and you add too little or too much, you’ve got a boondoggle on your hands.

It’s often said that cooking is an art, but baking is a science. By that, we mean that cooking is more “flexible,” allowing you to make minor modifications here and there. But, with baking, you must follow the recipe. Even the slightest deviation can result in you having to toss out an entire tray of goods, meaning you’ve wasted a considerable amount of time, resources, and food.

Sweeteners

We all like the occasional sweet treat. That’s probably why you’re considering baking in the first place. And, since you’re reading this article, you’re most likely trying to eat a bit healthier, and that means upping the protein and lowering the sugar content of your baked goods.

With that in mind, here are a few quick tips:

  • Refined, white sugar can be replaced at a 1:1 ratio with mashed, ripe bananas or applesauce. However, the overall liquid in the recipe needs to be cut by 25%.
  • If replacing sugar with liquid sweeteners, such as honey or agave syrup, the exchange ratio is 2:1. What this means is that if you’re replacing 1 cup of sugar with honey, you will use ½ cup of honey (or agave). However, this is important, if subbing honey for sugar, for every ½ cup of honey you add, you also need to add in ½ teaspoon of baking soda.The reason for this is that honey is acidic, and baking soda balance out the acidic properties of honey. Additionally, cooking temperatures also need to be lowered by 25 degrees as liquid sugars begin to brown and caramelize faster than dry sugars.
  • ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract can be swapped for 2 Tablespoons of sugar.

Don’t Forget the Fat

Fat is flavor, and there’s a reason baked goods always taste so sinfully good — they contain fat!

When attempting to make protein treats, it can be tempting to completely remove fat from a recipe on account of you trying to make things “uber healthy.” However, fat is not to be feared. Your body requires fat to function properly, and so do your baked treats!

If you don’t add fat to your baked goods, it’ll be impossible to have a moist, crunchy cookie. Avoiding fat in your recipes, especially protein cookies, will leave you with little cookie-breads that taste more like sweet, hard cardboard than a soft, moist, delectable cookie.

Any fat will do — butter, oil, lard, nut butter, coconut oil — use whatever kind you prefer, but make sure you do use some form of fat.

Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize

Raise your hand if you’ve ever eaten a dry, crumbly, saliva-sucking baked good.

Chances are every one of you reading this have experienced that at some point in your life.

As you’ve likely experienced, chewing on a dry baked treat is akin to eating a mouth full of dirt — it’s disgusting, and no matter how much water you drink, you can’t get rid of that funky taste/sensation in your mouth.

The reason for the horrendous dryness is due to overbaking and/or not including enough moisture in the dough.

And this brings us to the next baking tip — ALWAYS USE A MOISTURIZER!

No, we’re not talking about adding some hand cream or lotion to your batter (that would be disgusting).

What we mean by a “moisturizer” are ingredients that help “weigh down” your protein powder and add moisture to the batter, preventing a dry, rubbery, crumbly mess. Moisturizers include things like bananas, Greek yogurt, applesauce, pumpkin puree, or cottage cheese.

As a general rule of thumb, adding ¼ – ½ cup of a moisturizer for every cup of a dry ingredient is enough to keep your treats moisture and avoid the dry, dirt-like texture.

You NEED Flour

Never, ever, under any circumstances try to cook or bake a batter that consists primarily of protein powder. Doing so will yield food that is incredibly dry or rubbery.

When cooking with protein powder, you NEED flour.

The flour helps to add volume, structure, and texture to your product. Generally speaking, your recipe should never contain more than ¼-⅓ whey protein powder. Making up the rest of the “dry” ingredients in your batter can be any number of flours including wheat flour, white flour, oat flour (i.e., ground up oats), coconut flour, almond flour, quinoa flour, amaranth flour, buckwheat flour, or chickpea flour.

Beware Coconut Flour

Building off the previous point, though the name can be deceiving, coconut flour does NOT react the way other flours do when mixed into a batter. Coconut flour soaks up A LOT of liquid and using too much of it can create absurdly dry, compact and “fibrous” tasting food.

As such, you should use coconut flour sparingly.

On a gram for gram basis, coconut flour contains far more fiber than other flours, which is great if you’re going for low carb foods, but with that also comes the propensity for coconut-heavy batters to be incredibly dense.

Don’t Overbake

This rule applies to everything you bake, protein powder-inclusive or not, but it’s even more important when cooking with protein.

Whey protein baked goods can go from moist, delicate, and delicious morsels to dried out, crumbly catastrophes (or outright burnt useless hockey pucks) in the blink of an eye. Whey-based goods are incredibly susceptible to overbaking, and as such, you need to watch them like a hawk once they go in the oven. As an added measure of protection, you may also want to lower the baking temp by 25 degrees if you’re particularly worried about overbaking your treats. Reducing the oven temperature will allow the goodies to cook more evenly.

Still, keep a close eye on your goodies and the clock — protein treats bake relatively quickly compared to their non-protein counterparts, which means you need to be on full alert when you stick them in the oven. Now is not the time to do a bunch of other honey-dos. When your treats go in the oven, stay focused on them, and them alone.

Do the Wobble

There’s a hard and fast rule when it comes to baking cheesecakes — do not bake them until they are solid and when poked with a knife or toothpick come out clean.

You want them to do the “wobble” when jiggled. The reason we recommend this is that cheesecakes will continue to cook once you pull them out of the oven. Continuing to leave in the oven until it’s 100% set in the middle will yield a cheesecake that is not creamy or particularly palatable.

To test if your cheesecake is ready to come out of the oven, give the pan a little shimmy shake and if you see a slight wobble in the center (similar to jello or pannacotta), remove it from the oven. It’s ready to go.

If when you nudge the pan, it wobbles like crazy or sloshes out over the sides, it’s not done. Leave it in for a few minutes and test again to see if you get the slight wobble.

Have Fun!

We’ve given you a lot of tips in this guide to baking with protein powder, but perhaps the most important advice we can give you is to HAVE FUN!

Cooking and baking are meant to be enjoyable experiences, either by yourself or in the company of family and friends. Put on some music, your favorite apron, do the happy dance, and just cut loose. If you’re stressed, on edge, and grumpy the whole time you’re baking and cooking, it won’t matter how good the food tastes. You’ll still be in a funk.

With that in mind, don’t be afraid to experiment, sample your batters along the way, or make multiple versions of the same recipe. With practice comes mastery, and in just a short while, you’ll go from a protein powder Padawan to a Jedi Master in no time!

And, if you’re looking for the perfect protein powder to spark your culinary curiosity, there is Steel Whey®!

Steel Whey — The Baker’s Protein Powder

Steel Whey™ is a 100% whey protein concentrate supplying 27 or 28 grams (based on the flavor) of pure, high-quality protein in every serving.  Steel Whey™ uses only the best quality whey protein concentrate in WPC-80, and contains no proprietary blends or protein spiking.

It’s ideal to use in cooking, baking, or as a convenient, delicious whey to get in some additional muscle-building protein into your daily diet.

Click here to learn more about Steel Whey™ and why it’s the only whey you should go!

How to Calculate TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure)

If you want to know how many calories you should eat to build muscle or lose fat, you’ll want to read this article.

“How many calories should I eat?”

This question is asked more often than you would believe, especially by those entering the fitness lifestyle for the first time.

The answer to that question is — it depends.

Do you want to build muscle? Do you want to lose body fat? Or, do are you satisfied with your current physique and you would like to maintain your weight where it is.

Different goals require different calorie intakes. And, to further complicate the matter every person is different. Even if two people are roughly the same age, sex, height, and weight, and they have a similar amount of lean body mass, the could still have very different calorie needs.

You see there isn’t a one size fits all solution to the common question of “how many calories should I eat?”

But, despair not, as we’re going to show you in this article how to calculate the number of calories you need for your body based on your goals.

No matter if your goal is muscle gain, fat loss, body recomposition, or performance, the information in the article can help you achieve the results you want.

And, it all starts with a little something called TDEE.

What is TDEE?

TDEE stands for Total Daily Energy Expenditure. It is the total number of calories you burn in a given day. Your TDEE is determined by four key factors:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate
  • Thermic Effect of Food
  • Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
  • Thermic Effect of Activity (Exercise)

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Basal metabolic rate refers to the number of calories your body burns each day to keep you alive. BMR does not include physical activity, the process of digestion, or things like walking from one room to another.

Basically, BMR is the number of calories your body would expend in a 24 hour period if all you did was lay in bed all day long. This is the absolute bare minimum of calories it takes to ensure your survival.

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)

When we eat food, our body must expend energy to digest the food we eat. This energy expenditure is referred to as the Thermic Effect of Food, and it involves breaking down the protein, carbohydrates, and fat you consume into the individual amino acids, sugars, and fatty acids that are then absorbed and used to by the body to carry out all of its processes including (but not limited to) building new tissue, synthesizing hormones, producing neurotransmitters, etc.

Research notes that the Thermic Effect of Food generally accounts for 10% of your total daily energy expenditure, but can be slightly higher or lower based on the exact macronutrient composition of your diet.[1]

For example, protein requires more energy to digest than carbohydrates or fat. So, if you’re eating a high protein diet, you will burn more calories, slightly, than if you were to eat the same number of calories, but with a significantly lower amount of protein.

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) constitutes the number of calories expended during daily movement that is not categorized as structured exercise. NEAT includes activities such as walking the dog, moving from one room to another, or taking the stairs to your office.

NEAT is highly variable from one person to another and can play a rather large or small role in your overall TDEE depending on how physically active your job or daily happenings are. For example, a waitress or construction worker will have a significantly greater NEAT than an office worker who sits at a desk for 8 hours of the day and spends 2 hours commuting to and from work.

Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA)

Thermic Effect of Activity is the number of calories burned as a result of exercise (i.e. steady-state cardio, resistance training, HIIT, sprints, CrossFit, etc.). Similar to NEAT, thermic effect of exercise is highly variable from one person to another or even from one day to another for the same person, as the intensity of training, length of the workout, and training frequency all impact your weekly thermic effect of activity.

Your TDEE is the sum of these four factors, so to put the above parameters into a math equation for simplicity sake, calculating TDEE looks a little something like this:

TDEE = BMR + TEF + NEAT + TEA

When you add all of these numbers together, you get an estimate of the number of calories you need on a daily basis to maintain your current weight.

Now, let’s take a look at how you can calculate your individual TDEE.

How to Calculate TDEE

Figuring out your total daily energy expenditure begins with calculating your BMR. The reason we’re starting with BMR is that it contributes the biggest portion of your TDEE.

Now, there are a lot of handy calculators readily available on the internet for calculating BMR as well as TDEE. But, the way to truly understand how those fancy calculators work is by understanding the equations powering them.

So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Calculating Basal Metabolic Rate

Researchers have developed a number of models for calculating BMR, and one of the most popular ones is the Harris-Benedict Equation, which takes into account age, height, and weight.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to calculate your BMR using the Harris-Benedict Equation:

  • Women BMR = 655 + (9.6 X weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in yrs)
  • Men BMR = 66 + (13.7 X weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in yrs)

As an example, let’s take a 30-year-old male named John who is 6 feet tall and weighs 185 lbs.

So, John’s stats converting from imperial units to metric yields:

Age: 30

Height: 6’0” = 72 inches = 182.88cm (to convert inches to centimeters, multiply your height in inches by 2.54)

Weight: 185 lbs = 84.09kg (to convert pounds to kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2)

Using the Harris-Benedict Equation for men, and plugging the above numbers into the equation gives you:

BMR = 66 + (13.7 x 84.09) + (5 x 182.88) – (6.8 x 30)

BMR = 66 + 1152.03 + 914.4 – 204

BMR = 1928.43

So, as a bare minimum to sustain life and ensure longevity, our example male John would need to consume roughly ~1930 calories.

The next step in figuring out TDEE would be to calculate the thermic effect of food as well as the non-exercise and exercise factors. However, these calculations are extremely tedious and the equations to model the caloric expenditure each requires isn’t the most reliable.

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend hours performing more tedious calculations. You don’t even have to use a fitness monitor or rely on those erroneous “Calories Burned” readouts on cardio machines to figure out the rest of the components of your TDEE.

Researchers have determined a set of “activity multipliers, known as the Katch-McArdle multipliers.

To calculate your approximate TDEE, simply multiply these activity factors by your BMR:

  • Sedentary (little to no exercise + work a desk job) = 1.2
  • Lightly Active (light exercise 1-3 days / week) = 1.375
  • Moderately Active (moderate exercise 3-5 days / week) = 1.55
  • Very Active (heavy exercise 6-7 days / week) = 1.725
  • Extremely Active (very heavy exercise, hard labor job, training 2x / day) = 1.9

Going back to our example guy John, let’s assume he trains 3 days per week following a high-frequency full body training program with no additional steady-state cardio or HIIT training during the week. This puts John in the “Moderately Active” category.

To calculate John’s approximate TDEE, multiply his BMR by 1.55. This gives us:

TDEE = 1.55 x BMR

TDEE = 1.55 x 1928.43

TDEE = 2989.07

So, our example guy John needs to consume about 2990 calories each day just to maintain his current weight.

Now, at this point, it’s important we stress that these equations and activity multipliers provide AN ESTIMATE for your daily calorie requirements. That is, your actual TDEE could be a little higher or lower than the number you calculate when you use the formula. But, it should be fairly close, and at the very least, it gives you a rough idea of where to start when figuring out a meal plan and setting macronutrient goals.

Speaking of goals, now let’s look at how you can use your TDEE to enhance your body composition whether it be for muscle gain or fat loss.

Manipulating TDEE for Muscle Gain and Fat Loss

So, how does knowing your TDEE help you gain muscle or lose fat?

While there’s endless debate in the fitness world about the “optimal” way to go about reshaping your body, this much is true:

  • If you want to lose fat, you need to eat fewer calories than your TDEE. Doing so forces your body to draw energy from its fat stores to compensate for the calories you’re not consuming each day. Do this long enough and you will lose weight and body fat
  • If you want to gain muscle mass, you need to eat more calories than your TDEE.To gain weight, you must be in a caloric surplus. Coupled with a rigorous training program following the principles of progressive overload, those extra calories will be put to building new muscle tissue.

Now, let’s see how to put this into practice

For Fat Loss

To lose fat, we typically recommend that using a caloric deficit of 20%. Once again using John as an example, if he wanted to cut fat, his caloric intake would be:

20% of TDEE = 0.20 x 2990 = 598

Daily calorie intake for weight loss: 2990 – 598 = 2,392 calories

At a 598 daily calorie deficit, John would lose a little over 1 pound per week, as 1 pound of fat equals approximately 3500 calories.

Now that we have the caloric intake needed for fat loss, we need to set John’s macros.

Protein: 1 gram per pound of bodyweight

Fat: 0.3 – 0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight

Carbohydrates: The number of calories remaining after protein and fat requirements are met.

Going back to our example guy John his daily macros, while eating at a 20% caloric deficit, would be:

  • Protein: 1g / lb x 185 lbs = 185g (Calories = 185g x 4 calories / g of protein = 740)
  • Fat:5g / lb x 185 lbs = 92.5g (Calories = 92.5g x 9 calories / g of fat = 832.5)Note: Fat can range from 0.3-0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. Adjust up or down based on your own dietary preferences. If you enjoy eating a higher fat diet, use the 0.5g/lb multiplier, and if you enjoy a higher carb, lower fat diet use 0.3g/lb.
  • Carbs are determined by subtracting your protein and fat calories from the daily calorie total, then dividing by 4 to get the number of carbs you eat per day (as each gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories). Calories left after removing protein and fat Calories = 2,392 – 740 – 832.5 Calories alloted for carbohydrate = 819.5 (which we’ll round up to 820 for simplicity)Now, divide 820 by 4 to get the total grams of carbohydrates John needs to consume each day:820 / 4 = 205g Carbohydrates

Therefore, John would consume the following macronutrient profile to lose fat while preserving lean muscle mass:

Protein: 185g
Fats: 92.5g
Carbohydrates: 205g

Eating at this calorie level should have John losing a little over one pound per week. Now, remember, the TDEE and BMR calculations are estimates. If you find, after performing your own calculations, that you’re not losing weight, then remove another 100 calories from your daily calorie intake and assess progress over the next 2 weeks.

If however, you find yourself losing more than 2 pounds per week, add 100 calories back into your diet. While it might seem great, losing too much weight too fast typically results in muscle loss as well, which is not what you want in the least.

Now, let’s look at how to manipulate TDEE for gaining muscle.

Muscle Gain

Gaining weight, and preferably muscle, requires consuming more calories than your body expends on a daily basis. When combined with a structured resistance training program, a caloric surplus provides the essential nutrients needed to optimize performance and build muscle.

For the longest time, it was preached that in order to get big, you had to eat big too. But, as sports nutrition has developed over the years, lifters and researchers alike have learned that the surplus needed to build lean muscle tissue isn’t a huge as we were once led to believe.

Simply put, the body can synthesize a finite amount of muscle tissue at any given time. That means that eating substantially more than what is required to build new muscle just leads to excess fat gain. Therefore, the trick to minimizing fat gain while trying to build muscle is to use a moderate calorie surplus, giving your body just enough to grow bigger, stronger, and faster, without getting fatter. This approach to muscle gain is known today as lean bulking.

To build muscle and limit fat gain, you need to consume roughly 200-300 calories above your TDEE.

So, using our example guy John again, whose TDEE was 2990. He would need to consume between 3190-3290 calories consistently day in and day out to gain muscle.

When undertaking a mass gaining phase, most coaches recommend that you get your surplus calories from carbohydrates, as they fuel performance in training, enhance recovery, and prevent muscle breakdown. They also help raise insulin levels, which is great for shuttling nutrients into your muscles cells needed for repair and growth.

But, if you find you enjoy more fat in your diet, you can feel free to get the extra 200-300 calories from fat or any mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. There’s no set in stone ideal ratio for gaining muscle once your minimums are taken care of.

Now, if you find that you are not gaining at least 0.25 lb/week, add another 100 calories to the daily caloric intake. If, however, you’re gaining over 1 lb per week, reduce your calorie intake by 100-200 calories. Gaining too much weight too fast usually means that you’re gaining a good bit of fat in addition to muscle, which means you’re eventually going to have to spend more time cutting later on in your fitness journey.

Takeaway

Total daily energy expenditure is the number of calories your body burns in a given day taking everything into account from sleep to digestion to exercise. TDEE calculators offer a way for you to figure out a close approximation to the actual number of calories you burn in a day, which you can then use to structure a diet for building muscle or burning fat.

Through proper manipulation and application of your TDEE, you have the power to reshape your body in your own ideal image and never ever have to settle for another cookie cutter meal plan or diet protocol. When knowing how many calories you need to eat for muscle gain or fat loss, you can eat the foods you enjoy while adhering to the calorie and macronutrient goals you set.

The saying goes “with knowledge comes power.” Well, we’ve now given you the knowledge and power to craft your ideal physique. It’s up to you to do the rest!

References

  1. Tappy, L. (1996). Thermic effect of food and sympathetic nervous system activity in humans. Reproduction, Nutrition, Development, 36(4), 391–397. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8878356/

A Close Up on the Amino Acids in Protein Powder

Protein powder is quite frequently the very first supplement (outside of a multivitamin) you purchased when starting to workout. You were told protein was important for building muscles, and you were also probably told that whey protein is one of the best proteins to take for building muscle and recovering from training.

On the surface, protein powders seem pretty simple and straightforward. They include one or more forms of powdered protein (i.e. whey, casein, egg, milk, pea, etc.) along with salt, artificial sweeteners, and one or two thickeners and stabilizers. On top of that, using them couldn’t be any simpler. Simply add water, milk, or whatever liquid you want, shake, drink, and BOOM! You’ve got your quick fix of protein to support muscle recovery and growth.

But, have you ever given any thought to what your actual protein is made of?

More specifically, the individual amino acids that make up your favorite whey protein powder?

Probably not, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s where this quick reference guide comes in.

Ahead, we’ll explain what each of the different amino acids that go into making a complete whey protein powder is, and how they support your athletic goals.

But first, let’s make a quick distinction…

Naturally Occurring Amino Acids vs Spiked Protein Powders

While this issue isn’t nearly as much of a problem as it was 5-10 years ago, it still exists — spiked protein powders. What we mean by “spiked” is that extra free form amino acids, such as L-Glutamine, L-Taurine, or Creatine, were added in addition to whey protein in countless mass market protein powders.

These added amino acids artificially inflated the protein count on many protein powders, meaning that you weren’t really getting as much protein as the label claimed.

How can you tell if your protein is spiked?

Take a look at the ingredients panel and if you see a bunch of free-form amino acids listed before or after the whey protein, chances are pretty good that it’s spiked.

Now, the amino acids that we’re about to discuss below are the ones naturally occurring in whey protein, they’re not separate ones added to artificially enhance the protein content. Most protein powders will list which amino acids are naturally occurring in their whey protein powder on the side of the tub, but few people rarely know what those amino acids do, outside of the BCAAs, and that brings us back to the point of this article — a close up look at the individual amino acids in your whey protein powder.

So, let’s get to it!

The Amino Acids in Whey Protein

Whole food proteins, such as whey protein, chicken, steak, etc., are made from a combination of essential amino acids (EAA), conditional amino acids (CAA) and nonessential amino acids (NAA).

Essential Amino Acids are those that the body cannot synthesize on its own and they must be obtained from the diet. Nonessential Amino Acids are those that the body can produce from other essential amino acids, carbohydrates, and fats. Conditional Amino Acids can usually be synthesized by the human body; however, under certain conditions like illness or stress the body might not be able or might be limited in the ability to synthesize them.

What about BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids)?

The three BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are a special subcategory of the essential amino acids, that serves as nitrogen carriers, which assist muscles in creating other amino acids required for anabolism (muscle growth).

With all of that squared away, let’s learn a little more about the amino acids in your whey protein powder:

Alanine (NAA): Not to be confused with the beta alanine, alanine is a nonessential amino acid that plays a critical role in glucose production and blood sugar regulation. Alanine also supports optimal functioning of the immune system as well as kidney stone prevention.*

Arginine (CAA): The most well-known function of arginine is to serve as the substrate for the production of nitric oxide, a powerful vasodilator that enhances blood flow and pumps during training and supports cardiovascular function. Arginine also plays a role in the healthy functioning of the pituitary gland and works with two other amino acids in L-Ornithine and phenylalanine.

Aspartic Acid (NAA): Aspartic acid serves a key role in the Krebs Cycle (TCA cycle) that provides energy to the body through its production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). This nonessential amino acid is also needed for the production of immunoglobulins, antibodies, and DNA. In case you weren’t aware, immunoglobulins and antibodies are responsible for recognizing, binding, and eventually destroying harmful viruses and bacteria that invade the body.*

Cystine (CAA): Synthesized in the liver from the essential amino acid methionine, cysteine fulfills several important functions in the body. First and foremost, cysteine is needed for the production of glutathione, one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body. This amino acid also helps slow down the aging process, and some research indicates it may be helpful in preventing dementia and multiple sclerosis.*

Glutamic Acid (CAA): Glutamic acid belongs to the same family of amino acids as L-Glutamine, the most abundant amino acid in the body. Glutamic acid plays a key role in immune function and digestion as well as serving as an important excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain.*

Glycine (NAA): Glycine is the smallest and simplest of the 20+ amino acids found in the human body and the second most abundant found in human proteins and enzymes. Formed in the liver from serine and threonine, glycine plays an important role in the central nervous system and the digestive system and is needed for the production of many important acids including nucleic acid, bile acids, and creatine phosphate.*

Histidine (CAA): Histidine is an aromatic amino acid used to synthesize proteins and affects numerous metabolic reactions in the body. It also regulates the pH value of the blood and helps form the myelin sheath, a protective coating that surrounds all nerve cells and protects them from damage.*

Isoleucine (EAA): The “weaker” and younger brother of leucine, Isoleucine stimulates muscle protein synthesis in the body, though not quite as powerfully as leucine does. However, where isoleucine does stand out is its role in enhancing glucose uptake by skeletal muscle as well as glucose utilization during intense exercise.*

Leucine (EAA): The “king” of amino acids, leucine is most well known for being the most powerful stimulator of the mTOR pathway in the body, which drives muscle protein synthesis.

Lysine (EAA): Lysine is needed for the production of antibodies, and has been found to be beneficial for protecting against the herpes virus. Additionally, lysine is also needed for the production of carnitine – a substance that helps the body use fat for energy. This essential amino acid also aids calcium absorption and is needed for protein synthesis.*

Methionine (EAA): Methionine is vital to the production of L-Cysteine, an incredibly potent antioxidant that combats oxidative stress induced by intense training. This essential amino acid also aids the liver with the digestion of fats and serves as a “building block” for the production of carnitine, adrenaline, choline, and melatonin.*

Phenylalanine (EAA): A precursor to tyrosine, phenylalanine is important in the synthesis of the important neurotransmitters. Due to this amino acid’s role in neurotransmission, phenylalanine has been investigated as a possible treatment for depression and several other illnesses including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and ADD.*

Proline (CAA): Manufactured in the liver from ornithine, glutamine, and glutamate, proline is a secondary amino acid that is one of the primary amino acids used to generate collagen, the fundamental protein of skin, bones, ligaments, and tendons. This amino acid also fortifies the artery walls and protects the endothelium layer, highlighting its importance in maintaining cardiovascular health.*

Serine (NAA): Formed from glycine, serine plays a central role in the proper functioning of the central nervous system and production of antibodies. It is also required for the production of phospholipids used in cell production. To top it off, this amino acid also serves a role in the function of DNA and RNA, fat metabolism, and muscle formation.*

Threonine (EAA): A precursor to glycine and serine, threonine is essential for protein synthesis, and it also supports proper functioning of the central nervous, immune, digestive, and skeletal muscle systems of the body. Threonine is needed to produce antibodies, which bolster the immune system, and the mucus gel layer that covers the digestive tract.*

Tryptophan (EAA): Tryptophan plays a critical crucial role in lifting mood, as the uses this amino acid to generate serotonin, one of the “happy hormones”. Another important function of this essential amino acid is that it supports the synthesis of niacin, an essential B vitamin involved in energy production.

Tyrosine (CAA): Tyrosine is an incredibly important amino acid affecting mood, motivation, and reward. Moreover, tyrosine also plays a role in regulating pain sensitivity, stress, and appetite.*

Valine (EAA): The final component of the trio of BCAAs, valine is the least studied of the lot. As one of the BCAAs, valine helps drive muscle protein synthesis and is essential for glycogen synthesis in muscle tissue as well as energy conversion. On top of that, valine also has a supporting role in the proper cognitive function and immune system function.*

Takeaway

Protein is essential for building muscle, and when you’re looking for one of the best forms of protein to aid you in your fitness journey, there’s no better place to look than whey. It’s packed full of all the amino acids you need to repair, recover, and grow bigger and stronger. Next time you pick up your favorite tub of protein, see what amino acids it lists, and use this guide to help understand all of what goes into this fitness-lifestyle favorite.

References

  1. Saccà L, Trimarco B, Perez G, Rengo F. Studies on the Mechanism Underlying the Influence of Alanine Infusion on Glucose Dynamics in the Dog. Diabetes. 1977;26(4):262 LP-270. http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/4/262.abstract.
  2. Bode-Böger SM, Böger RH, Alfke H, et al. l-Arginine Induces Nitric Oxide–Dependent Vasodilation in Patients With Critical Limb Ischemia. Circulation. 1996;93(1):85 LP-90. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/93/1/85.abstract.
  3. Wang H, Thomas C, Christensen E. OF ACETATE ACID AND PYRUVATE IN YEAST. J. Biol. Chem. 1952, 197:663-667.
  4. Stanislaus R, Gilg AG, Singh AK, Singh I. N-acetyl-L-cysteine ameliorates the inflammatory disease process in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in Lewis rats. Journal of Autoimmune Diseases. 2005;2:4. doi:10.1186/1740-2557-2-4.
  5. Marmo, E. (1988), L‐glutamic acid as a neurotransmitter in the CNS. Med. Res. Rev., 8: 441-458. doi:10.1002/med.2610080305
  6. Nagana Gowda GA, Shanaiah N, Cooper A, Maluccio M, Raftery D. Bile Acids Conjugation in Human Bile Is Not Random: New Insights from 1H-NMR Spectroscopy at 800 MHz. Lipids. 2009;44(6):527-535. doi:10.1007/s11745-009-3296-4.
  7. Singer, M. and Salpeter, M. M. (1966), The transport of 3H‐l‐histidine through the Schwann and myelin sheath into the axon, including a reevaluation of myelin function. J. Morphol., 120: 281-315. doi:10.1002/jmor.1051200305
  8. Doi M, et al. Isoleucine, a potent plasma glucose-lowering amino acid, stimulates glucose uptake in C2C12 myotubes . Biochem Biophys Res Commun. (2003
  9. Gran P, Cameron-Smith D. The actions of exogenous leucine on mTOR signalling and amino acid transporters in human myotubes. BMC Physiology. 2011;11:10. doi:10.1186/1472-6793-11-10.
  10. Griffith RS, Walsh DE, Myrmel KH, Thompson RW, Behforooz A. Success of L-lysine therapy in frequently recurrent herpes simplex infection. Treatment and prophylaxis. Dermatologica. 1987;175(4):183-190.
  11. Brosnan JT, Brosnan ME. The Sulfur-Containing Amino Acids: An Overview. J Nutr. 2006;136(6):1636S-1640.
  12. Beckmann H, Strauss MA, Ludolph E. Dl-phenylalanine in depressed patients: an open study. J Neural Transm. 1977;41(2-3):123-134.
  13. Rath M. (1992). Reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease with nutritional supplements. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. Volume 7, (pp. 153–162).
  14. Calderini G, Aporti F, Bonetti AC, Zanotti A, Toffano G. Serine phospholipids and aging brain. Prog Clin Biol Res. 1985;192:383-386.
  15. Feng L, Peng Y, Wu P, et al. Threonine Affects Intestinal Function, Protein Synthesis and Gene Expression of TOR in Jian Carp (Cyprinus carpio var. Jian). Merrifield D, ed. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(7):e69974. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069974.
  16. Jenkins TA, Nguyen JCD, Polglaze KE, Bertrand PP. Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients. 2016;8(1):56. doi:10.3390/nu8010056.
  17. Deijen J and Orlebeke J. (1994). Effect of tyrosine on cognitive function and blood pressure under stress. Brain Research Bulletin. Volume 33, Issue 3, (pp. 319-23).
  18. Jellinger K et al (1978). Brain monoamines in hepatic encephalopathy and other types of metabolic coma. Journal of Neural Transmission Supplementum. Volume 14, (pp. 103-120).

Contest Peak Week Nutrition Hacks

The last few days leading up to a physique competition are extremely stressful. You’ve been dieting for weeks on end, lifting multiple times per day every day for weeks Not to mention you’re going crazy with cardio during the hours you’re not lifting. As the content approaches, the end is in sight. You’re nearing the finish line of your contest prep, but those final decisions you make during peak week can be the difference between 1st place and 5th place.

Peak week is the grueling final mountain to climb on your way to supreme muscle definition and a shredded physique. Yet, many first-time competitors completely botch the peak week process (and their physique on stage) by messing up one of the three pillars of peak week.

Perfecting these three pillars should be your primary focus of your contest peak week and will be the ones that make or break you on stage.

Those three pillars are:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Water
  • Sodium/Potassium Balance

Ahead, we’ll address where new competitors go wrong in these areas along with what you should be doing if you want to look your best when you step on stage.

But, before we get into those three very important factors, let’s briefly review what peak week should and shouldn’t be for.

Objectives of Peak Week

The reason many first-time competitors mess up peak week is that they’re not really sure what the whole purpose of peak week is. Fortunately, we’re here to help with that.

Let’s start by discussing what peak week is NOT for. Peak week is NOT for:

  • Losing Excess Body Fat

    By the time peak week hits, you should be stage-ready. Trying to do any last minute dramatic weight loss is pure madness and only increases the stress your body is under in the final days leading up to the competition and may actually make it even harder to lose that fat.

    If you find yourself in this situation, you’re best served to pick another physique show taking place in a couple weeks. No amount of salt, carb, or water manipulation will make up for an excess of body fat.

  • Thinning Your Skin

    For decades, bodybuilders, physique models, and coaches have prescribed eating white fish as a means to “thin” the skin leading up to a competition. Unfortunately, this is a hollow myth that holds no water.

    To have thinner-looking skin, you simply need to lose more body fat and excess water weight. No amount of fish is going to magically thin your skin in the days leading up to a show.

  • Eliminating water weight

    Many competitors and coaches mistakenly believe that missing their peak comes as a result of holding too much water. In an effort to remedy this, they remove water entirely in the days leading up to a show. Nothing could be more wrong that eliminating water during peak week.

    We’ll get into this topic more down below, but just realize that decreasing your body’s water content is not a goal of peak week.

What is peak week for?

Peak week is focused on two main objectives:

  • Maximizing Muscle Definition and Fullness
  • Minimizing Water Retention

Both of these objectives can be accomplished through the savvy manipulation of the three pillars of peak week (carb, water, and electrolytes) that we listed at the beginning of this article.

And with that said, let’s now get into the finer details concerning each of the three pillars of peak week and what you should and shouldn’t be doing with them.

Three Pillars of Peak Week

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be the physique competitors’ best friend or worst enemy. Carbohydrate loading is a familiar concept in both performance and physique sports. While both types of athletes use the carb load to increase glycogen storage, the physique athlete utilizes the technique to appear bigger and fuller on stage, while the performance athlete needs topped off glycogen for greater endurance, stamina, and power.

While carbohydrates (glucose) can be stored as glycogen, the body can only store so much. If you consume more carbohydrates than you need, and your glycogen stores are topped off, the excess glucose is converted into body fat through a process called de novo lipogenesis. Although this process is inefficient, if there’s no “rooms available” for the incoming glucose to be stored as glycogen, then your body will default to this process.

During peak week, you have been dieting for weeks and training intensely, as such your insulin sensitivity is at an all-time high, meaning your body is primed to store some serious carbohydrates.

But, as the saying goes, “the dose makes the poison”, and nowhere does this ring truer than when it comes to carb loading. Too little carbohydrate and you look flat. Too much and you risk “spillover”, gaining fat and looking “puffy”, but just the right amount and you are well on your well to maximizing muscle fullness.

To identify the “right” amount of carbs is going to be highly variable and different for each person. If you’re used to eating 100 grams of carbs per day, and then all of a sudden slam your system with 600-800 grams of carbohydrates at one time, you’re guaranteed disaster. The average 180-lb physique competitor can store approximately 350-500 grams of glycogen in muscle tissue and another 60-120 grams of glycogen in the liver. [1]

The best way to approach carb loading is by adding some into each meal, and on the day of the show, 6 to 8 hours from prejudging, consume 30-80 grams of carbohydrates every 2 to 3 hours. Smaller competitors will want to stay on the lower end of this range, while larger athletes can lean more towards the top end.

Don’t Forget Fiber

Fiber is important for gut health and proper digestion, and while you don’t want to completely eliminate it during prep week, you don’t want to go overboard with it either. Lest you look gassy, bloated, or distended on stage.

In the final days leading up to the show, you want to consume lower-fiber/bulk whole food carbohydrates along with small amounts of protein (10-20 g) and fat (5-10 g) with each meal.

More About Protein and Fat

During peak week, protein and fat macros should be held steady, making only minor adjustments if absolutely necessary.

Water

Water depletion is common practice among old-school bodybuilders due to a misguided belief that cutting water helps remove residual water. It’s this residual water that is blamed for poor muscle definition, and by dehydrating yourself, there’s no possibility of water remaining under the skin.

While this sounds good in theory, the human body is quite that simple. Not to mention the fact that purposely depriving your body of water can bring with it a host of consequences that you’d rather not have to deal with.

In the previous section, we mentioned that carbohydrates are essential to achieving maximum muscle fullness on stage. What makes carbohydrates so effective in promoting muscle fullness is that when your body stores glucose as glycogen, it also stores water inside your muscles. In fact, research has noted that for every gram of carbohydrate stored in your muscle as glycogen, it also stores up to 4 grams of water too. [2,3]

This fact alone should demonstrate just how vital water is during contest prep and how it and carbohydrates are responsible for maximizing muscle fullness. Yet, in spite of these facts, many coaches and competitors still feel compelled to deplete water during prep week. What these individuals fail to understand is the difference between intracellular and extracellular fluid and the principle of conservation that applies.

Intracellular vs Extracellular Water

The human body is composed of approximately 60% water; roughly ⅔ of this water is stored as intracellular (within cells). The remaining third is extracellular fluid. Extracellular fluid by definition is found outside of your cells, and this is what many competitors and coaches believe is causing the lack of definition and muscle line “blurring”.

So, let’s take a closer look at the breakdown of stored water in the body:

  • Intracellular fluid = 63-65%
  • Extracellular fluid = 35-37%
    • Within the extracellular fluid, 28% of it is interstitial fluid, with the remaining 7-9% of fluid is stored in other extracellular spaces such as plasma or lymph fluid

The primary concern for most athletes is the interstitial fluid — fluid found between cells containing a variety of glucose, salts, and hormones. This is the area of fluid that can negatively impact muscle definition on stage.

So, what can the physique athlete do to reduce levels of interstitial fluid?

Nothing.

Water storage and content is tightly regulated by the body. There is no way in which you can remove water from one compartment of the body without affecting the other. So, if you want to experiment with diuretics or removing water, you will lose extracellular water, but you’ll also lose intracellular water as a result of your body trying to maintain homeostasis. The overall ratio of water balance in your body with remain the same, and all you’ll be left with is a flat physique if you deprive yourself of water.

Remember, your body’s water storage naturally works to your advantage. The vast majority of it is stored within your cells. A negligible amount is stored in the interstitial fluid.

Electrolyte Balance

Sodium and potassium represent the final pieces of the puzzle to perfecting your peak week. What these two essential electrolytes do and how they can impact your final appearance are highly misunderstood by most coaches. In fact, many competitors as well as their coaches drastically adjust sodium and/or potassium intake during the final days leading up to the show.

The truth is, that sodium and potassium manipulation can certainly enhance your on-stage look, but the changes needed aren’t as big as may have been led to believe.

But before we go any further, let’s quickly recap the “give and take” relationship of sodium and potassium in the body and how it affects water balance.

For starters, water moves in and out of cells via the sodium/potassium ion pump (Na+/K+ pump). Sodium is found in high concentrations outside of cells in the interstitial fluid, while potassium is found in high concentrations inside the cells, where it can pull in water.

Now, most people will think that simply cutting sodium and piling on the potassium is a surefire way to load a lot of water into the cell. But again, the body doesn’t work quite that way.

When sodium is reduced or removed from the diet, the kidneys will conserve sodium by reabsorbing more of it back into circulation and excreting less through the urine. A 1990 Harvard study showed this perfectly when it found that reducing dietary sodium to practically zero, blood levels of sodium remained relatively unchanged. Interestingly, by day 6 of the trial, most patients had stopped peeing out sodium altogether![5]

The reason for this phenomenon resides in the hormone aldosterone. When sodium is decreased, aldosterone levels rise.

Why is this important?

Aldosterone is a hormone who is tasked with channeling the re-absorption and retention of water and sodium. As aldosterone levels continue to rise, so too does water retention as well as reabsorption of both sodium and water back into circulation.

Additionally, low dietary sodium can lead to a decrease in blood pressure, which pushes plasma water out of the vascular system and into the surrounding space. Without sufficient pressure in the blood vessels, reabsorbed water heads into the subcutaneous layer, precisely where you don’t want it to be.

And if you need one more reason not to embrace sodium depletion, consider this — reducing dietary sodium stunts activity of a protein called SLGT-1.[6] This protein is responsible for glucose absorption. By reducing sodium, you’re essentially limiting your body’s ability to absorb and store glucose, prohibiting you from achieving maximum muscle fullness.

What happens to the unabsorbed glucose?

It stays in the small intestine, where it attracts water to the area, giving you the bloated, distended look that you absolutely don’t want on the day of the show.

How Much Water and Salt?

Keep water and salt at the same levels you’ve been consuming in the weeks leading up to prep week. That means if you’re used to consuming 1-1.5 gallons of water per day along with 2500 mg of sodium continue doing that in the days leading up to the show. You may want to stop drinking water about an hour or two before going on stage though, just so you don’t feel like you have to pee while on-stage for pre-judging.

What About Supplements?

Again, the same thing for water and salt intake applies to supplements. During peak week, you DO NOT want to make any drastic changes to your daily intake. Doing so adds one other variable to the equation that isn’t really necessary or productive.

That means if you’ve been using a certain pre workout, fat burner, or creatine supplement (such as Pure Steel Creatine Monohydrate) continue doing so. Furthermore, if you aren’t already, you should be supplementing with creatine, even during prep week. This is due to the fact that creatine enhances cellular hydration, meaning it improves water storage in muscle cells. This gives you a fuller, shapelier look to your muscles.

Takeaway

Remember, perfecting peak week only comes through a lot of trial and error. The earlier out from the competition that you can determine how your body reacts the better. We’re all different and so what macro ratio, carb load, or final meal before stepping on stage will be highly dependent on the individual.

That being said, you can use these pointers as a compass to get you going in the right direction for peak week. The fine-tuning is up to you and can only be determined through self-experimentation.

References

  1. Acheson, K. J., Schutz, Y., Bessard, T., Anantharaman, K., Flatt, J. P., & Jéquier, E. (1988). Glycogen storage capacity and de novo lipogenesis during massive carbohydrate overfeeding in man. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 48(2), 240–247.
  2. King RFGJ, Jones B, O’Hara JP. The availability of water associated with glycogen during dehydration: a reservoir or raindrop? European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2018;118(2):283-290. doi:10.1007/s00421-017-3768-9.
  3. Fernandez-Elias, V. E., Ortega, J. F., Nelson, R. K., & Mora-Rodriguez, R. (2015). Relationship between muscle water and glycogen recovery after prolonged exercise  in the heat in humans. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 115(9), 1919–1926. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-015-3175-z
  4. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6081&context=etd
  5. Rogacz, S., Williams, G. H., & Hollenberg, N. K. (1990). Time course of enhanced adrenal responsiveness to angiotensin on a low salt diet. Hypertension (Dallas, Tex. : 1979), 15(4), 376–380.
  6. Poulsen SB, Fenton RA, Rieg T. Sodium-glucose cotransport. Current opinion in nephrology and hypertension. 2015;24(5):463-469. doi:10.1097/MNH.0000000000000152.

Six Important Nutrients for Female Athletes

If you’re a hard training female athlete, you’re at a higher risk for certain essential nutrient deficiencies. Read on to find out what nutritional pitfalls await the active female athlete.

Physical fitness is more popular than ever these days, with more and more people heading to gyms than ever before. It’s not just men embracing the gym either; females have taken to fitness like never before and are staking a claim in all sports including but not limited to bodybuilding, powerlifting, strength training, CrossFit, etc.

In tandem with this surge has been a rampant increase in the number of studies investigating the nutritional needs of the female athlete.

In this article, we discuss the top six nutrient needs for female athletes, identified by scientific research, coaches, and trainers.

Critical Nutrient Needs for Female Athletes

Protein

Generally speaking, females tend to not consume enough protein — including female athletes. Those females that are at an even greater risk are those who adopt vegan or vegetarian diet, as well as those dieting down to “make weight” for their respective sport. [1]

Yet, aside from carbohydrate, protein is the most important nutrient for athletes of all kind. Protein provides the building blocks your muscles need for repair and growth. Without it, recovery is impaired as is your ability to increase muscle and strength.

Current daily protein recommendations for female athletes is 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg body weight (or 0.55-0.91 g/lb. body weight). [1] This number should increase if you are in a cutting phase, so as to preserve lean muscle mass.

“What if I don’t really ever crave protein?”

Not all of us walk around craving chicken, steak or fish during the day, yet we all know in the back of our mind that protein is a must-have nutrient.

For those times when you’re not craving yet another helping of chicken or beef, it helps to have a quality whey protein.

Steel Whey™ provides 27/28 grams of protein per serving (based on flavor), mixes easily, and tastes absolutely delicious. Mix up a serving after training to kick-start the recovery and growth process, mix it into your pre-training bowl of oatmeal, or have it in the evenings to top off your protein macronutrient goals for the day.

Carbohydrates

We live in a world engulfed in fad diets, and it’s not just the casual consumer that’s duped into following these trendy eating habits — athletes fall prey to these dietary gimmicks all the time.

If you’re training at high-intensity multiple times per week, your body needs carbohydrates.

Yet, with the escalating popularity of low-carb/no-carb diets like paleo, keto, and carnivore diets, athletes are starving their muscles of the optimal training fuel for high-intensity training — carbohydrate (i.e. glucose).

Many will argue that once you become “fat fueled” the need for carbohydrate evaporates, but this isn’t really telling the whole truth. You see for “fast twitch” sports like sprinting, weightlifting, gymnastics, etc., your body uses glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrate) to power your muscles. The reason for this is that the body oxidizes carbohydrate for energy significantly faster than stored body fat.

In other words, if you perform regular bouts of intense exercise, and want to perform at a high level, you want carbohydrate.

Female athletes also need to be made aware of the fact that their monthly cycle affects their carbohydrate utilization and storage.

During the luteal phase, glycogen storage rises while carbohydrate oxidation falls compared to the follicular phase, due to increased estrogen and progesterone levels present in the luteal phase. [2] Due to this phenomenon, female athletes may need to focus more on loading carbohydrate during their follicular phase for the purposes of optimizing glycogen storage. [2]

How much carbohydrate do female athletes need?

As with all athletes, the carbohydrate requirements change based on activity level, training frequency, and type of sport. Research studies have shown the following, regarding carbohydrate needs for females:

Iron

Iron deficiency is incredibly common in female athletes due to a trio of factors:

  • Females Tend to Consume Less Iron Through Their Diet
  • Monthly Menstrual Cycles Increase Iron Loss from The Body
  • Regular Exercise Enhances Iron Utilization in The Body [6]

Left unchecked, deficiencies in this essential mineral can lead to reduced muscle function, energy production, and work capacity. [2,5] As such, it’s imperative that female athletes ensure adequate iron intake whether through the diet or supplementation.

How much iron do female athletes need?

Vitamin D

Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) is a fat-soluble vitamin that serves a role in hormone production, calcium homeostasis, immune system function, and cell growth differentiation. Additionally, vitamin D also helps prevent premature aging and skin damage.

In other words, vitamin D is really, really important. Yet again, most people (including both male and female athletes) are deficient in this very important vitamin. In fact, research estimates that well over 40% of the population is deficient in vitamin D. [7]

What’s the reason for Vitamin D deficiency?

Simply put, we don’t spend enough time outdoors in the sun.

You see, our bodies synthesize vitamin D from cholesterol when exposed to the sun. But, longer commutes, increased work hours, and staying indoors too much has led to chronic D deficiency on a global level. Coupled with this is the fact that not very many foods are naturally rich in vitamin D either.

Deficiency of Vitamin D is associated with fatigue, poor immune function, bone breaks, poor recovery from exercise, and depressed mood. As such, it’s imperative that athletes address their vitamin D deficiency by spending more time outdoors and/or supplementing with Vitamin D3.

Most multivitamins supply Vitamin D3 these days but depending on the brand, you may or may not be getting sufficient amounts. If you need a little extra vitamin D and want to enhance the quality of your skin at the same time, there’s Steel Beauty™.

Steel Beauty™ provides 25% of the RDI of Vitamin D in each serving.

Calcium

Porous, fragile bones, better known as osteoporosis, is a major public health concern affecting over 10 million adults. 80% of that 10 million (i.e. 8 million) are women. On top of that 34 million other adults suffer from osteopenia — low bone mass. In case you weren’t aware, osteopenia very frequently precedes osteoporosis.

At the center of osteoporosis is a deficiency of the essential mineral calcium. Your bones store the vast majority (99%) of calcium. When intake is low and calcium is required, your body leeches it from your bones to fulfill its needs. If this happens frequently enough, individuals experience osteopenia, which then leads to osteoporosis. And, with that comes the significantly greater risk of bone fractures and breaks.

But that’s not all, calcium deficiencies also impair blood clotting, muscle contractions, nerve transmission, and protein utilization.

Research has noted that between 72-90% of ALL females fail to consume enough calcium. [2] Sports nutrition researchers highly recommend obtaining calcium through the athlete’s diet as various studies have shown a link between supplemental calcium and adverse kidney and cardiovascular events. [8,9]

Dietary sources of calcium include seeds, yogurt, milk, cheese, leafy greens, and whey protein. Steel Whey™ provides 12% of the RDI of calcium in each serving.

Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 is another essential fat-soluble vitamin that plays a significant role in bone health. This is due to the fact that your body requires Vitamin K2 for the absorption of calcium. [11]

Vitamin K2 transports calcium from your blood and stores it in your bones. And since females have thinner bones, and less bone mass, than their male counterparts, vitamin K2 becomes increasingly important for female athletes. [10]

Unfortunately, vitamin K2 isn’t found in all that many foods, outside of saying fermented soy, which not too many of us tend to eat on a daily (or even monthly) basis. As such, to help satisfy your vitamin K2 requirements, and ensure calcium storage in the body, it’s suggested to invest in a quality multivitamin.

Takeaway

While the majority of sports nutrition research has been conducted with male subjects, sufficient amounts have been carried out studying the female athlete and identified the areas of most concern. These six nutrients are among those continually highlighted by sports scientists, registered dietitians, and coaches.

If you are a female athlete and looking to ensure optimal performance, recovery, and health, take a close look at your nutrition plan and see if you’re at risk for any of these deficiencies.

References

  1. Cialdella-Kam L, Kulpins D, Manore MM. Vegetarian, Gluten-Free, and Energy Restricted Diets in Female Athletes. Knechtle B, ed. Sports. 2016;4(4):50. doi:10.3390/sports4040050.
  2. Rossi, K. A. (2017). Nutritional Aspects of the Female Athlete. Clinics in Sports Medicine, 36(4), 627–653.
  3. Manore, M. M. (1999). Nutritional needs of the female athlete. Clinics in Sports Medicine, 18(3), 549–563.
  4. Steinbaugh, M. (1984). Nutritional needs of female athletes. Clinics in Sports Medicine, 3(3), 649–670.
  5. Gabel, K. A. (2006). Special Nutritional Concerns for the Female Athlete. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 5(4). Retrieved from
  6. Alaunyte, I., Stojceska, V., & Plunkett, A. (2015). Iron and the female athlete: a review of dietary treatment methods for improving iron status and exercise performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), 38.
  7. Forrest, K. Y. Z., & Stuhldreher, W. L. (2011). Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutrition Research (New York, N.Y.), 31(1), 48–54.
  8. Kim BY, Nattiv A. Health considerations in female runners. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 2016;27(1):151–78.
  9. Goolsby MA, Boniquit N. Bone health in athletes: the role of exercise, nutrition, and hormones. Sports Health 2017;9(2):108–17.
  10. Nieves, J. W., Formica, C., Ruffing, J., Zion, M., Garrett, P., Lindsay, R., & Cosman, F. (2005). Males have larger skeletal size and bone mass than females, despite comparable body size. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research : The Official Journal of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, 20(3), 529–535.
  11. Maresz K. Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. 2015;14(1):34-39.

How Whey Protein Builds Muscle

Whey protein powder is almost universally the very first supplement a person purchases. What’s not to like about it? Whey protein is:

  • Convenient
  • Effective
  • Affordable
  • Stores Easily
  • Absolutely Delicious

Whey protein powder makes perfect pancakes, whips up easily in a smoothie, and even works wonders when added to a bowl of steel cut oats. And, let’s not forget that whey protein is ideally suited to post-workout when your muscles are thirsting for some amino acids. Quite simply, whey protein is the anything and everything and athletes wants and needs.

But, have you ever given any thought to exactly how using whey protein can build muscle and improve recovery?

Let’s find out how whey protein builds muscle!

What is Whey Protein?

Whey protein is one of the two proteins naturally occurring in milk. In case you were wondering, casein makes up the vast majority (80%) of the protein content in milk. Casein can also be found in a powder, similar to whey protein.

Whey accounts for 20% of the protein in milk. It’s the liquid by-product remaining during the cheese-making process after the milk has curdled and been strained. The liquid whey is then processed and dehydrated, yielding a powder that is then sold to various protein powder manufacturers and supplement companies to flavor, mix, and package for consumers.

How Whey Builds Muscle

Yes, whey protein is far and away the most commonly used supplement (after multivitamins), and it’s recommended by virtually every coach, athlete, and trainer you see. But exactly how and why does whey build muscle?

Here’s a slew of reasons:

Whey complete protein

When discussing proteins, they can either be complete or incomplete. “Complete” proteins contain all of the essential amino acids (EAAs) the body needs to build and repair muscle tissue, grow cells, etc. Examples of complete proteins are animal-based proteins such as beef, chicken, pork, dairy (including whey and casein), and soy.

“Incomplete” proteins are deficient or lacking in one or more of the nine EAAs required to synthesize protein structures. Common examples of incomplete proteins are plant-proteins (beans, grains, vegetables, etc.).

Whey, in particular, is particularly high in the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), the three amino acids that stimulate the mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin) pathway in the body, which drives muscle protein synthesis, a.k.a. muscle growth.

One other thing in favor of whey is that it contains a higher ratio of the BCAAs (especially leucine) than casein does. [1] This is another reason whey protein is the post workout shake of choice recommended by coaches and trainers.

High Biological Value

The biological value (BV) of a protein is a measure of how efficiently the human body can utilize the amino acids in a particular protein. If a protein has a very high biological value, your body will better digest, absorb, and use the array of amino acids present in the protein, which means the food you eat is put towards recovery and growth rather than go to waste.

Whey protein has the highest BV of any protein, clocking in at an astounding 104. FYI, that’s even higher than egg protein (BV = 100), which is considered by many as the “ideal” protein for humans. [2]

Basically, whey protein needs to be at the top of your list if you’re looking to pack on mass fast!

Fast Digesting

One of the best qualities about whey protein that makes it ideal for muscle growth is its incredibly fast digestion rate. [3] Following a grueling workout, your muscles are starving for amino acids which they’re used to repair, recovery, and grow. Compared to a protein like casein, which can take up to 8 hours to digest, whey protein is processed, broken down, and absorbed by the body much more rapidly, meaning that the essential amino acids your muscles crave following exercise get there faster, yielding faster recovery, repair, and growth. The reason whey protein is so quickly digested by your body is that whey protein is considerably more soluble in the acidic environment of your stomach than casein and other various proteins, leading to quicker digestion and absorption. [4]

Increases Muscle Growth

Many people are under the belief that resistance-training builds muscle. Unfortunately, intense exercise, including weight lifting, actually breaks down muscle tissue, it doesn’t build it. Muscle repair, recovery, and growth actually occurs after your workout, when your resting and sleeping.

Immediately following training, and for a few hours following, your muscles are highly sensitized to rapidly absorb and utilize anything and everything you give it. This is why so many people go out for “epic cheat meals” full of burgers, fries, pizza, etc. After workouts, your metabolism is in overdrive trying to repair tissue that was broken down, and muscle insulin sensitivity is heightened, meaning they’re “primed” to absorb the food you eat, especially protein and carbohydrates.

Research has shown drinking whey protein in combination with resistance training enhanced muscle building. [5] Here’s the really interesting thing — no matter if subjects trained with lighter weights or heavier weights, both experienced the muscle-building benefits of whey protein, even if the whey protein wasn’t consumed until 24 hours after exercise!

Numerous other studies have clearly shown that consuming whey protein improves strength, performance, and overall body composition. [6,7,8]

Basically, if you want to build muscle, whey protein is a MUST!

Reduces Fat Gain

Whey protein shakes aren’t only for muscle growth, they’re also ideal for recomposing or dropping fat. Research from 2015 sought to examine the effects of whey protein with or without carbohydrates on training adaptations in 86 active men. [9]

Over the course of 12 weeks of resistance training, immediately following a total body workout men consumed either:

  • Whey Protein Alone
  • Whey Protein + Carbohydrates
  • Only Carbohydrates

While all three groups experienced increases in muscle size, strength, and fat-free mass, only the group supplementing with whey protein experienced abdominal fat loss. Based on the outcome of the study, researchers concluded:

“Whey proteins may increase abdominal fat loss and relative fat-free mass adaptations in response to resistance training when compared to fast-acting carbohydrates.” [9]

What Whey is for You?

While it might seem pretty easy to just stop by your local supplement shop and grab a tub of whey protein, it’s not that simple.

You see, there’s not just one type of whey protein. In fact, you’ll come across three different types of whey protein used in the various protein powders on the shelf. Each type is just a bit different than the other types, and which one you select will depend on how much budget you have to work with and how sensitive you are or aren’t to lactose, the milk sugar present in milk.

With all of that in mind, here are the differences between the different types of whey protein:

Whey Protein Concentrate

Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) contains the most calories, fat, and carbohydrates of any form of whey. It can contain anywhere between 35-80% whey protein, with the remainder being made of carbohydrates and fat.

Whey protein concentrate is the most cost-effective option and is ideal for those who don’t have any digestion issues with dairy. This form of whey also offers the best taste, consistency, and “mouthfeel” of the different kind of whey proteins, due to the increased carb and fat count. If you’re not in contest prep and can afford more carbs and fats in your diet, whey concentrate is the whey to go.

Ideally, you’d like to find a whey concentrate with 80% protein content, as it offers the most protein per serving of the available concentrates. Unfortunately, most companies do not list the grade of whey protein, notated as WPC35, WPC60, WPC80, etc. Something to be on the lookout for. SteelFit® Steel Whey uses the highest form of whey protein concentrate, Micro-Filtered WPC80.

Whey Protein Isolate

Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) is a more refined and protein-heavy version of whey compared to whey concentrate. Isolates go through additional processing and filtration (cross-flow microfiltration (CFM) or ion-exchange chromatography) to remove more of the carbs, lactose, and fat present in concentrate. The resulting powder contains at least 90% protein with minimal lactose, fat, or carbs, making it a solid option for those with sensitive stomachs.

The “downside” to isolates compared to concentrate powders is that they tend to cost more money and don’t have the same consistency, texture, or “mouthfeel” as concentrates (due to the reduced carb/fat content). Additionally, due to the increased processing, isolates are lacking some of the beneficial micronutrients and immunoglobulins found in concentrates.

Whey Protein Hydrolysate

Also known as hydrolyzed whey, whey protein hydrolysate is the most refined form of whey protein. This is the most expensive form of whey and lacks the flavor, texture, and consistency of concentrates or isolates.

Hydrolyzed whey is made by reacting the whey protein powder with a variety of enzymes and chemicals that pre-digest (hydrolyze) the protein structures in whey. Hydrolysis breaks apart the long chains of protein in whey into smaller, faster-digesting proteins that digesting incredibly fast. The catch here is that the hydrolysis process often leaves the powder tasting somewhat chemically or “off”.

Unless you’re extremely lactose intolerant, there’s really no added benefit to using hydrolyzed whey over concentrate or isolate.

Whey Protein Blends

In addition to finding each kind of powder sold separately at the store, you’ll also encounter whey protein blends that use a mixture of two or even all three forms of whey protein and may also use other forms of protein in there as well, such as egg protein, casein, milk protein, soy protein, brown rice, or quinoa.

Using a mix of proteins allows for a mix of digestion rates, which helps keep you fuller longer, as well as a steady and constant release of amino acids into the bloodstream, supporting recovery and growth. Plus, using a mix of proteins allows you to maximize protein content per scoop while also retaining the taste, texture, and consistency achieved with concentrates.

Protein blends are a great balance of cost, protein content, taste, and texture.

Build More Muscle with Whey Protein

Whey protein is a staple supplement for just about every athlete, and for good reason, it works! Not only is it effective, but it also tastes great and is incredibly affordable. It requires no refrigeration, which means you can buy a tub and leave it in your car, so you always have the perfect post-workout recovery shake ready and raring to go!

Building muscle, burning fat, or craving a healthy, delicious snack, whey protein is the way to go!

References

  1. Witard OC, Wardle SL, Macnaughton LS, Hodgson AB, Tipton KD. Protein Considerations for Optimising Skeletal Muscle Mass in Healthy Young and Older Adults. Nutrients. 2016;8(4):181. doi:10.3390/nu8040181.
  2. Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein – Which is Best? Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2004;3(3):118-130.
  3. Jäger R, Dudeck JE, Joy JM, et al. Comparison of rice and whey protein isolate digestion rate and amino acid absorption. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013;10(Suppl 1):P12. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-S1-P12.
  4. Boirie Y, Dangin M, Gachon P, Vasson M-P, Maubois J-L, Beaufrère B. Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 1997;94(26):14930-14935.
  5. Nicholas A. Burd, Daniel W. D. West, Daniel R. Moore, Philip J. Atherton, Aaron W. Staples, Todd Prior, Jason E. Tang, Michael J. Rennie, Steven K. Baker, Stuart M. Phillips; Enhanced Amino Acid Sensitivity of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis Persists for up to 24 h after Resistance Exercise in Young Men, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 141, Issue 4, 1 April 2011, Pages 568–573, https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.110.135038
  6. Miller PE, Alexander DD, Perez V. Effects of whey protein and resistance exercise on body composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr. 2014;33(2):163-175. doi:10.1080/07315724.2013.875365.
  7. Bell KE, Snijders T, Zulyniak M, et al. A whey protein-based multi-ingredient nutritional supplement stimulates gains in lean body mass and strength in healthy older men: A randomized controlled trial. Fisher G, ed. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(7):e0181387. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0181387.
  8. Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Carey MF, Hayes A. The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition, and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006;16(5):494-509.
  9. Hulmi JJ, Laakso M, Mero AA, Häkkinen K, Ahtiainen JP, Peltonen H. The effects of whey protein with or without carbohydrates on resistance training adaptations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12(1):48. doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0109-4.

Creatine 101: What It Is and What It Does

Creatine is the undisputed king of sports nutrition supplements, but how does it work and what are the benefits of this best-selling pre-workout ingredient?

Over the past 20 years, sports nutrition has escalated by leaps and bounds, and in that time, athletes, bodybuilders, and casual gym rats have been inundated by all sorts of shiny new herbal extracts, synthetic ergogenics, and isolated amino acids that promise to deliver life-changing results. Yet, few of these compounds have ever delivered on the hype.

There has been a compound, however, that’s been a staple of lifters and athletes for decades prior to the explosion in popularity of sports nutrition supplements. That ingredient is none other than creatine monohydrate.

Most of you reading this have heard of creatine, and you’ve probably even experienced some of the benefits of creatine supplementation for yourself, such as enhances lean mass gains or better athletic performance.

But, how does creatine work? Is creatine safe for women? And, how much creatine should I take?

We’ve got all these questions answered and a whole lot more in store as we take an in-depth look at creatine — the king of sports supplements.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a substance naturally produced in the body from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. [1,2] Chemically, creatine is known by the name α-methyl guanidine-acetic acid, but seeing as this isn’t a biochemistry course, we’ll leave it at just plain old creatine.

Creatine is primarily stored (~95%) in your skeletal muscles in the form of phosphocreatine, and the remaining 5% is stored in the kidneys, liver, and brain. [1] It’s also found in a number of other foods in our diet, especially red meat.

Now, the amount of creatine each of us stores in our body is going to depend on a few factors, including:

  • Exercise
  • Amount of Lean Muscle Mass
  • Levels of Anabolic Hormones such as IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1) and Testosterone
  • Meat Consumption

What Does Creatine Do?

Following ingestion, creatine binds to a molecule of phosphate to form phosphocreatine or creatine phosphate.

Why is this important?

Whenever you ingest nutrients (whole foods, protein powder, BCAAs, etc.), your digestive system breaks down these nutrients to get energy so that it can power all of the other chemical and physiological processes that go on in the body.

These processes require energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP also serves as the primary fuel for your muscles during high-intensity exercise like resistance training or sprinting.

The way ATP provides energy is by donating one of its three phosphate groups (remember ATP stands for adenosine TRI-phosphate, meaning it has three phosphates attached to one molecule of adenosine).

After donating its phosphate group, ATP now becomes ADP (adenosine DI-phosphate), meaning it has two phosphates instead of three.[1] Now, the body can readily use ATP for energy production, but it’s not so fond of ADP for generating energy. So, your body reserves this ADP molecule and saves it until another phosphate is freed up and it can be recycled into ATP.

Now, here’s where creatine enters the picture.

As we mentioned above, creatine is stored in the body as phospho-creatine, meaning it has an extra phosphate molecule to donate. Creatine, being the noble fellow that it is, sacrifices its phosphate group for the good of your body, donating it to ADP and transforming the seemingly useless ADP into the energy-producing powerhouse that is ATP.

Therefore, the primary benefit of creatine resides in its ability to rapidly regenerate ATP, which translates to a number of performance and physique benefits that we’ll discuss in more detail now!

Benefits of Creatine

Improves ATP Production

As we just mentioned, the primary benefit of ATP comes from its ability to rapidly replenish ATP stores in the body.

ATP serves as the “cellular currency” of energy production in the body, meaning that once your ATP stores are empty, your body has to start breaking down glycogen or pulling in glucose and fats from the bloodstream to power your muscles during training. So, the more ATP you have, the longer you can train before succumbing to fatigue, which leads to greater gains in size, strength, and performance. [1,2] 

Muscle Builder

Creatine has been extensive studies and shown time after time to improve lean body mass (a.k.a. Muscle mass) as well as performance during intense training. [4,5] Studies note that supplementing with creatine monohydrate while performance resistance training increase muscle cell nuclei concentration, which promotes the greater growth of lean muscle. [6]

Other research notes that when creatine and weight lifting are combined, it increases fat-free mass (i.e. muscle), muscle morphology, and physical performance. [7]

Part of this is due to creatine’s ability to help you grind out more reps (due to better energy production), but creatine also helps stunt myostatin production. [8] In case you weren’t aware, myostatin is a devious little protein that puts the brakes on muscle growth in the body. By inhibiting it, creatine helps promote greater muscle cell growth and differentiation.

Strength Booster

One of the truly exceptional things about creatine is that not only does it help muscles to grow bigger, it also helps them become stronger, too. Research has shown that weightlifters using creatine increased their one-rep max on bench press of 43%, compared to those who did not use creatine while training. [9,10]

Hydration Support

We’ve spent the majority of this article discussing the primary function of creatine, in regards to its ability to enhance ATP regeneration in the body, but it also serves another very important role in regards to health and performance.

Creatine monohydrate also functions as a natural osmolyte, that helps increase the water content within muscle cells. [15] Because of this cell-hydrating effect, creatine increases cell volume, which has a multitude of benefits including better stamina, bigger “water” pumps, and muscle growth.

Brain Booster

Up top, we mentioned that the majority of creatine is stored in the brain, but a small percentage is also stored in your brain. As it turns out, creatine supplementation also imparts some brain gains as well, especially for vegans and vegetarians.

Research notes that when adult vegetarians supplemented with creatine, they experienced better working memory and intelligence. The reason vegetarians were used for the study was that they tend to have low levels of endogenous creatine due to their low meat intake. [12,13]

But that’s not all…

Creatine has also been shown to improve mental performance following 36 hours of sleep deprivation [14], making this a great supplement to use if you’re one who doesn’t get adequate amounts of sleep each night.

Neuroprotector

Creatine not only helps our brains to function at a higher level, but it may also protect us from certain neurological diseases as well. Supplemental creatine can act as a substrate for creatine kinase, which may increase phosphocreatine and protect against ATP depletion, which has been documented to exert neuroprotective benefits. [17]

Other studies note that supplementing with creatine can improve quality of life and reduce symptoms in individuals with cognitive dysfunction. [16] Furthermore, creatine supplementation has been documented to prevent up to 90% of the decline in dopamine levels in animals. [17]

You may be asking, “why is that important?”

Well, chronically falling levels of dopamine production are a tell-tale sign of Parkinson’s disease.

Additional research has noted that when patients with Parkinson’s were given creatine it reduced their decline in cognitive function and increased their strength. [18,19]

Improves Symptoms of Depression

Consuming creatine daily has been noted to lessen symptoms of depression in women, including ones who didn’t respond to SSRI prescriptions (the “standard” treatment for depression). [20]

Additional studies have documented that creatine supplementation is beneficial for the treatment of a number of other diseases including [21,22,23]: 

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Ischemic Stroke
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Brain or Spinal Cord Injuries

Combats Fatigue

We’ve mentioned previously that creatine improves stamina and endurance via improve ATP production, but it also helps you last longer during your workouts due to its unique ability to reduce neuromuscular fatigue and perceived fatigue when training.[24,25]

Creatine also has been shown to boost mood following sleep deprivation or psychologically-intensive tasks. [26]

Improves Injury Recovery Rate

Not only does creatine improve your performance on the field, it also helps you get back there following an injury. Research conducted in healthy subjects has shown that creatine supplementation significantly improves recovery of knee extensor muscle function after injury. [33]

Heart Helper

In addition to its role in muscle building, creatine also helps fortify your cardiovascular system as well, protecting the heart against stress and improving its ability to repair. [29]

Creatine production also helps reduce homocysteine levels, which if you weren’t aware, elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Further research has shown that when creatine is supplemented at a dose of 20 grams per day, it lowers cholesterol. [30]

Supports Skeletal System

Creatine enhances osteoblast formation, which increases bone formation and bone repair. [31] Additional research in older women with osteoarthritis has noted that creatine supplementation helps reduce pain associated with the disorder. [32]

Steadies Blood Sugar

We’re still not done with the benefits of creatine yet!

As you well know, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome are two of the most common chronic diseases affecting our population these days. At the core of these two diseases is a combination of chronically elevated blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.

As it turns out, creatine might be an unsung hero of sorts for diabetics. Research notes that supplementing with creatine can significantly reduce blood sugar measurements during a glucose tolerance test in healthy men performing aerobic exercise. [27]

A 2016 systematic review also confirmed these findings when it concluded that creatine is useful for controlling blood glucose when combined with exercise. [28]

Beneficial for Expectant Mothers

Studies involving pregnant women have noted that supplementing with creatine can benefit baby development in the instances of oxygen deprivation or premature birth. [34]

Potential Testosterone Booster

The final benefit of creatine is more of an “outlier” of sorts, as it’s never really been thoroughly investigated, but still, warrant mentioning.

In addition to all of the muscle and performance benefits mentioned prior, creatine may also boost the most anabolic hormone of all — testosterone.

Research using very high doses of creatine (100mg/kg) noted that it successfully increased testosterone levels. [11]

How much is that for the average man?

For the average 175lb male, you’d need around 8 grams of creatine to get the potential testosterone boosting benefits of this all-time muscle builder.

Speaking of dosing…

How Much Creatine Should I Take?

All sorts of dosing and loading protocols have been used with creatine studies over the years.

Some protocols call for loading up to 20 grams per day (divided into 4-5 doses) for 3-4 days to accelerate the rate of saturation, but for the average lifter looking to experience all that creatine has to offer, a standard dose of 5 grams per day every day of creatine monohydrate is recommended.

When to Take Creatine

The great thing about creatine, unlike other supplements, is that you really can take it any time of day. You see, you start to experience the benefits of creatine once your muscles are saturated with it. It doesn’t offer an acute benefit, like what caffeine or citrulline malate does.

Therefore, you can take your creatine pre-workout, post workout, intra-workout, or any other time of day. It doesn’t really matter so long as you get your 5 grams in every day.

However, there can be an argument made for an “optimal” time to take creatine is the post-workout period, when insulin sensitivity is highest, meaning it will be rapidly taken up and stored in your muscles. But again, so long as you’re taking in your 5 grams of creatine monohydrate every day, you will be fine.

Takeaway

Creatine monohydrate has stood the test of time as the de facto king of the supplement world. It’s proven time and time again to enhance lean mass, strength, power, and performance. Creatine also comes with a drove of other benefits for your brain and heart, too.

When you add it all together, creatine supplementation is really a no-brainer and should be a part of every fitness enthusiasts stack, young or old, male or female.

References

  1. Persky AM, Brazeau GA. Clinical Pharmacology of the Dietary Supplement Creatine Monohydrate. Pharmacol Rev. 2001;53(2):161 LP-176.
  2. Bird SP. Creatine Supplementation and Exercise Performance: A Brief Review. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2003;2(4):123-132.
  3. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (2016, August 19). Adenosine triphosphate. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from
  4. Branch JD. Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003;13(2):198-226.
  5. Parise G, Mihic S, MacLennan D, Yarasheski KE, Tarnopolsky MA. Effects of acute creatine monohydrate supplementation on leucine kinetics and mixed-muscle protein synthesis. J Appl Physiol. 2001;91(3):1041-1047. doi:10.1152/jappl.2001.91.3.1041.
  6. Olsen S, Aagaard P, Kadi F, et al. Creatine supplementation augments the increase in satellite cell and myonuclei number in human skeletal muscle induced by strength training. The Journal of Physiology. 2006;573(Pt 2):525-534. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2006.107359.
  7. Volek JS, Duncan ND, Mazzetti SA, et al. Performance and muscle fiber adaptations to creatine supplementation and heavy resistance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999;31(8):1147-1156.
  8. Saremi A, Gharakhanloo R, Sharghi S, Gharaati MR, Larijani B, Omidfar K. Effects of oral creatine and resistance training on serum myostatin and GASP-1. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2010;317(1-2):25-30. doi:10.1016/j.mce.2009.12.019.
  9. Earnest CP, Snell PG, Rodriguez R, Almada AL, Mitchell TL. The effect of creatine monohydrate ingestion on anaerobic power indices, muscular strength and body composition. Acta Physiol Scand. 1995;153(2):207-209. doi:10.1111/j.1748-1716.1995.tb09854.x.
  10. Rawson ES, Volek JS. Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. J strength Cond Res. 2003;17(4):822-831.
  11. Cook CJ, Crewther BT, Kilduff LP, Drawer S, Gaviglio CM. Skill execution and sleep deprivation: effects of acute caffeine or creatine supplementation – a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2011;8:2. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-8-2.
  12. Rae C, Digney AL, McEwan SR, Bates TC. Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 2003;270(1529):2147-2150. doi:10.1098/rspb.2003.2492.
  13. Benton D, Donohoe R. The influence of creatine supplementation on the cognitive functioning of vegetarians and omnivores. Br J Nutr. 2011;105(7):1100-1105. doi:10.1017/S0007114510004733.
  14. McMorris T, Harris RC, Howard AN, et al. Creatine supplementation, sleep deprivation, cortisol, melatonin and behavior. Physiol Behav. 2007;90(1):21-28. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.08.024.
  15. Burg MB, Ferraris JD. Intracellular Organic Osmolytes: Function and Regulation. The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2008;283(12):7309-7313. doi:10.1074/jbc.R700042200.
  16. Rawson ES, Venezia AC. Use of creatine in the elderly and evidence for effects on cognitive function in  young and old. Amino Acids. 2011;40(5):1349-1362. doi:10.1007/s00726-011-0855-9.
  17. Matthews RT, Ferrante RJ, Klivenyi P, et al. Creatine and cyclocreatine attenuate MPTP neurotoxicity. Exp Neurol. 1999;157(1):142-149. doi:10.1006/exnr.1999.7049.
  18. Li Z, Wang P, Yu Z, et al. The effect of creatine and coenzyme q10 combination therapy on mild cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease. Eur Neurol. 2015;73(3-4):205-211. doi:10.1159/000377676.
  19. Hass CJ, Collins MA, Juncos JL. Resistance training with creatine monohydrate improves upper-body strength in patients with Parkinson disease: a randomized trial. Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2007;21(2):107-115. doi:10.1177/1545968306293449.
  20. Kondo DG, Sung Y-H, Hellem TL, et al. Open-label adjunctive creatine for female adolescents with SSRI-resistant major depressive disorder: A 31-phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy study. Journal of affective disorders. 2011;135(0):354-361. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2011.07.010.
  21. Bürklen TS, Schlattner U, Homayouni R, et al. The Creatine Kinase/Creatine Connection to Alzheimer’s Disease: CK Inactivation, APP-CK Complexes, and Focal Creatine Deposits. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. 2006;2006:35936. doi:10.1155/JBB/2006/35936.
  22. Prass K, Royl G, Lindauer U, et al. Improved reperfusion and neuroprotection by creatine in a mouse model of stroke. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2007;27(3):452-459. doi:10.1038/sj.jcbfm.9600351.
  23. Rambo LM, Ribeiro LR, Oliveira MS, et al. Additive anticonvulsant effects of creatine supplementation and physical exercise against pentylenetetrazol-induced seizures. Neurochem Int. 2009;55(5):333-340. doi:10.1016/j.neuint.2009.04.007.
  24. Smith AE, Walter AA, Herda TJ, et al. Effects of creatine loading on electromyographic fatigue threshold during cycle ergometry in college-aged women. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2007;4:20. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-20.
  25. Hadjicharalambous M, Kilduff LP, Pitsiladis YP. Brain serotonin and dopamine modulators, perceptual responses and endurance performance during exercise in the heat following creatine supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2008;5:14. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-5-14.
  26. McMorris T, Harris RC, Swain J, et al. Effect of creatine supplementation and sleep deprivation, with mild exercise, on  cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood state, and plasma concentrations of catecholamines and cortisol. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2006;185(1):93-103. doi:10.1007/s00213-005-0269-z.
  27. Gualano B, Novaes RB, Artioli GG, et al. Effects of creatine supplementation on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity  in sedentary healthy males undergoing aerobic training. Amino Acids. 2008;34(2):245-250. doi:10.1007/s00726-007-0508-1.
  28. Pinto CL, Botelho PB, Pimentel GD, Campos-Ferraz PL, Mota JF. Creatine supplementation and glycemic control: a systematic review. Amino Acids. 2016;48(9):2103-2129. doi:10.1007/s00726-016-2277-1.
  29. Spindler M, Meyer K, Stromer H, et al. Creatine kinase-deficient hearts exhibit increased susceptibility to ischemia-reperfusion injury and impaired calcium homeostasis. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2004;287(3):H1039-45. doi:10.1152/ajpheart.01016.2003.
  30. Earnest CP, Almada AL, Mitchell TL. High-performance capillary electrophoresis-pure creatine monohydrate reduces blood lipids in men and women. Clin Sci (Lond). 1996;91(1):113-118.
  31. Gerber I, ap Gwynn I, Alini M, Wallimann T. Stimulatory effects of creatine on metabolic activity, differentiation and mineralization of primary osteoblast-like cells in monolayer and micromass cell cultures. Eur Cell Mater. 2005;10:8-22.
  32. Neves MJ, Gualano B, Roschel H, et al. Beneficial effect of creatine supplementation in knee osteoarthritis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(8):1538-1543. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182118592.
  33. Cooke MB, Rybalka E, Williams AD, Cribb PJ, Hayes A. Creatine supplementation enhances muscle force recovery after eccentrically-induced muscle damage in healthy individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2009;6:13. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-6-13.
  34. Dickinson H, Ellery S, Ireland Z, LaRosa D, Snow R, Walker DW. Creatine supplementation during pregnancy: summary of experimental studies suggesting a treatment to improve fetal and neonatal morbidity and reduce mortality in high-risk human pregnancy. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2014;14:150. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-150.
  35. Jäger, Ralf; Analysis of the Efficacy, Safety, and Regulatory Status of Novel Forms of Creatine. Amino Acids 40.5 (2011): 1369-383.
  36. Buford TW, Kreider RB, Stout JR, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2007;4:6. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-6.

Training Fasted: Pros and Cons

If you want to know the pros and cons of training fasted and whether or not it is superior for losing fat or building muscle, you want to read this article.

For decades, if you wanted to lose weight and get rid of that unsightly body fat, you performed hour after hour of fasted cardio.

Entire lifetimes have been spent slogging it out on treadmills, bikes and ellipticals under the premise that training with no food in your stomach (a.k.a. training fasted) was the one true way to banish body fat for good.

And, off the bat, it sounds like a pretty solid idea.

When deprived of food, the body inherently turns to stored energy (i.e. body fat) for fuel, but does that logic hold up in research?

Does training fasted lead to better fat loss and body composition?

We answer all of those questions and more in this review of the pros and cons of fasted training.

What is Fasted Training?

Fasted training is simply performing exercise when food is no longer being digested or absorbed by your body.

Your body enters this fasted state approximately three to six hours after you eat a meal. The time it takes to fully digest and absorb a given meal depends on the overall size (caloric density) of the meal, as well as how much protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber constitute said meal.

The greater amount of fiber, fat, and/or protein a meal contains, the longer it will take to digest.

Benefits (Pros) of Fasted Cardio

Enhances Fat Burning

Exercise science has pretty well established that performing fasted cardio burns significantly more fat than performing the same bout of cardio in a fed state. A 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis including 27 studies even concluded that: [1] 

“… aerobic exercise performed in the fasted state induces higher fat oxidation than exercise performed in the fed state.”

The reason your body burns more fat when you train fasted as opposed to when it’s fed is pretty simple, and it’s rooted in your physiology. You see, the body is incredibly adept at burning carbohydrates for fuel during exercise. [2] And, when more of it is available (i.e. in the 2-3 hours following a meal), your body will by default burn those carbohydrates first, then turn to fat for the additional energy, should it be needed.

This is the main reason why study after study over the decades has noted that when people consume carbohydrates prior to exercise, they inherently burn more carbohydrate for fuel, along with less fat, during their workout. [3,4]

So, to “force” your body, in a sense, to utilize fat for fuel, you avoid eating prior to training.

Helps Eliminate Unwanted Belly Fat

No matter how slim, toned, or ripped you may be, you’re bound to have at least one area on your body that holds some “stubborn” fat. Be it the hips, thighs, or lower abdomen, each of us has one region of fat that won’t go away, regardless of how much we diet or exercise.

But, just because we have trouble with that one area of stubborn fat, doesn’t mean we have poor genetics. You see, stubborn fat is a “defense mechanism” of sorts your body has to protect against extremely low levels of body fat.

The good news is, is that fasted cardio can help you eliminate stubborn fat.

How so?

Let’s review a bit about what makes stubborn body fat so “stubborn” anyway.

Every one of the fat cells in your body has receptors on them, and chemicals your body produces called catecholamines bind to these receptors. Now, these fat cell receptors fall into one of two categories — alpha receptors and beta receptors. [5,6]

We’ll spare you the complex inner workings of how these receptors specifically affect fat loss/storage, and summarize it as basically:

  • Alpha receptors — block fat burning
  • Beta receptors — promote fat burning

The more alpha receptors a fat cell has, the more “stubborn” it is to release its stored fatty acids for oxidation, and the more beta receptors a fat cell has, the more readily it can be accessed.

As you probably guessed, the regions of fat on your body that won’t see to go away are more densely packed with alpha receptors than beta receptors, which is part of the reason they are harder to get rid.

But it doesn’t end there.

Regions of stubborn body fat also receive less blood flow, and this brings us back to our discussion of catecholamines and alpha/beta receptors.

The less blood flow an area of fat your body receives, the fewer catecholamines those fat cells are exposed two. Coupled with the fact that those areas already have a higher concentration of alpha receptors than beta receptors, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for incredibly stubborn body fat that just won’t go away.

Now, here’s where the real beauty of fasted cardio comes into the picture.

When you train in a fasted state, blood flow to the abdominal region is increased [8], which means that those areas of stubborn body fat receive greater amounts of those fat burning chemicals called catecholamines.

You can further up the ante on eliminating stubborn body fat, by supplementing with ingredients such as yohimbine, which serve as alpha receptor antagonists. These compounds bind to alpha receptors, turning them “off” in a sense and allowing greater amounts of catecholamines like adrenaline and noradrenaline to bind to beta receptors and “open the floodgates” to help burn stubborn body fat.

Workout Done for the Day

One of the less discussed benefits of training fasted is that by working out first thing in the morning, you’ve already ticked the “work out” box of the day, and now you have the rest of the day to focus on the more important things like work, family, etc.

Plus, as an added bonus, you’ll also have greater energy, mood, and focus thanks to the flood of brain-boosting chemicals that are released during the course of exercise, helping you be more productive during the early part of your day when so many other people can’t seem to function without 4-6 cups of coffee.

Avoid Stomach Upset

For many people, they train fasted simply because training shortly after eating leads to indigestion, nausea, and just a general feeling of sluggishness and lethargy. By training fasted, you avoid the rather unpleasant sensation of feeling like you’re going to puke after a set of heavy squats (at least partially) or high-intensity interval training.

The Drawback (Cons) of Fasted Cardio

Increased Potential to “Bonking”

Food is fuel for our body.

If you train first thing in the morning upon waking, and your muscles have fully replenished their glycogen stores overnight, it’s very possible you will “bonk” or “hit a wall” during your workout.

This “bonking” sensation is caused by low blood glucose and glycogen levels in the body. In a sense, your muscles are running low and fuel, and your ability to hit “top speed” is significantly diminished.

But what if eating prior to training causes my stomach to feel upset?

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t like to train with a full-feeling stomach, yet still seems to bonk during their workouts, try having a small, low-fiber snack like a banana or glass of orange juice 30-45 minutes prior to training.

These options are rapidly digested, meaning they’ll be in and out of your stomach quickly. You’ll avoid the full stomach feeling and have ample glucose to power you through your training.

Reduced Training Intensity

Training fasted, while it might be good for burning belly fat, isn’t really all that ideal when it comes to high-intensity forms of exercise, such as sprinting or heavy resistance training.

Remember, glucose (glycogen) is the kind of fuel your muscles thrive on for intense exercise, regardless of what the keto, primal, and low carb communities tell you. Simply put, if you want a superior quality workout, you want some form of carbohydrate in your system.

Your body cannot oxidize fat as quickly as it can glucose [12].

You see, the body will prioritize which nutrient it burns for fuel, provided all are available. This order of energy substrate utilization is:

  1. Blood Glucose (blood sugar)
  2. Muscle Glycogen (the storage form of glucose)
  3. Body Fat
  4. Protein (pulled from muscle)

So, what this means, is that if carbs are available, whether in the form of circulating blood sugar or muscle glycogen, your body will burn it before it touches body fat or dietary fat. This also means that during high-intensity exercise, your body will want carbohydrates to burn, as it is the nutrient most easily converted to usable energy. It can use fat, but it’s far from optimal and not very efficient.

As such, if you want to maximize performance, you don’t want to train on a fasted stomach.

Higher Cortisol Levels

Cortisol is the stress hormone your body releases when energy stores are low. Performing exercise of any kind prompts an increase in cortisol, as does fasting. Do both of these actions frequently enough (i.e. fasted training) and you may start to develop chronically elevated cortisol levels, which promotes fat storage and reduce fat burning. [9,10]

The Verdict on Fasted Training

So, it appears that there’s both good and bad when it comes to fasted training, as it is with most things in life.

But, there are a few other things that warrant consideration.

First, we know that that the number of calories you burn during a workout account for a very small fraction of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). What you eat during the day and how much of a deficit you use has a far greater impact on your ability to lose weight than whether you train fasted or not.

There’s even some research by Dr. Brad Schoenfeld et al. that shows that there is no difference in body composition changes (i.e. fat loss) when it comes to training fasted vs training fed. [11]

Additionally, there’s also some research noting that if you burn greater amounts of fat during an earlier part of the day (i.e. performing fasted cardio first thing in the morning), your body will actually burn less fat later on in the day. [13]

Essentially what happens, is that the body more or less “compensates” for the increased fat burning it did earlier in the day by downregulating fat burning and upregulating glucose burning the rest of the day.

In the end, training fasted can be useful for some morning bouts of cardio if you’re trying to lose some stubborn body fat, but if you’re looking to maximize performance or just lose fat in general, training fed would be the superior option.

Training in a fed state ensures that energy stores are topped off and you’ll be able to push harder in your workouts, which allows you to burn more calories, ultimately creating a larger caloric deficit. This ultimately winds up in a better fat loss and body composition.

But, for those days when you want to sweat it out first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and rid stubborn belly fat for good, there’s only one option…

Steel Sweat — THE Best Pre-Workout for Fasted Cardio

Steel Sweat™ is a metabolic catalyst that increases thermogenesis, energy expenditure, and fat burning. The all-natural ingredients in Steel Sweat™ help burn stubborn body fat and help you achieve the lean, trim physique that you’ve strived so long to achieve.

Simply mix up a scoop first thing in the morning before hitting the gym and you’re on your way to banishing belly fat for good!

References

  1. Vieira, A. F., Costa, R. R., Macedo, R. C. O., Coconcelli, L., & Kruel, L. F. M. (2016). Effects of aerobic exercise performed in fasted v. fed state on fat and carbohydrate metabolism in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Nutrition, 116(7), 1153–1164. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114516003160
  2. Burke, L. M., Kiens, B., & Ivy, J. L. (2004). Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery. Journal of Sports Sciences, 22(1), 15–30. https://doi.org/10.1080/0264041031000140527
  3. Ahlborg, G., & Felig, P. (1976). Influence of glucose ingestion on fuel-hormone response during prolonged exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 41(5 Pt. 1), 683–688. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1976.41.5.683
  4. Horowitz, J. F., Mora-Rodriguez, R., Byerley, L. O., & Coyle, E. F. (1997). Lipolytic suppression following carbohydrate ingestion limits fat oxidation during exercise. The American Journal of Physiology, 273(4 Pt 1), E768-75.
  5. Lefkowitz, R. J. (1979). Direct binding studies of adrenergic receptors: biochemical, physiologic, and clinical implications. Annals of Internal Medicine, 91(3), 450–458.
  6. Strosberg AD. Structure, function, and regulation of adrenergic receptors. Protein Science : A Publication of the Protein Society. 1993;2(8):1198-1209.
  7. Manolopoulos, K. N., Karpe, F., & Frayn, K. N. (2012). Marked resistance of femoral adipose tissue blood flow and lipolysis to adrenaline in vivo. Diabetologia, 55(11), 3029–3037. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-012-2676-0
  8. Gjedsted, J., Gormsen, L. C., Nielsen, S., Schmitz, O., Djurhuus, C. B., Keiding, S., … Moller, N. (2007). Effects of a 3-day fast on regional lipid and glucose metabolism in human skeletal muscle and adipose tissue. Acta Physiologica (Oxford, England), 191(3), 205–216. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1716.2007.01740.x
  9. Hill, E. E., Zack, E., Battaglini, C., Viru, M., Viru, A., & Hackney, A. C. (2008). Exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect. Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, 31(7), 587–591. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03345606
  10. Moyer, A. E., Rodin, J., Grilo, C. M., Cummings, N., Larson, L. M., & Rebuffe-Scrive, M. (1994). Stress-induced cortisol response and fat distribution in women. Obesity Research, 2(3), 255–262.
  11. Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., Wilborn, C. D., Krieger, J. W., & Sonmez, G. T. (2014). Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 54. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-014-0054-7
  12. Jeukendrup A. A Step Towards Personalized Sports Nutrition: Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.z). 2014;44(Suppl 1):25-33. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0148-z.
  13. Paoli, A., Marcolin, G., Zonin, F., Neri, M., Sivieri, A., & Pacelli, Q. F. (2011). Exercising fasting or fed to enhance fat loss? Influence of food intake on respiratory ratio and excess postexercise oxygen consumption after a bout of endurance training. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 21(1), 48–54.

How Nutrients Get Absorbed into Muscles

Building muscle requires a few important things:

  • Resistance-Training
  • Progressive Overload
  • High Protein Intake
  • Caloric Surplus
  • Plenty of Sleep

While each of these is important in their own right, all the sleeping, resistance training, and progressive overloading you do won’t do a lick of good if you’re not consuming a sufficient number of calories.

The way your body utilizes all of those calories is via the gastrointestinal (GI) system. It’s the foundation of muscle building, cognitive function, and overall health. The organs comprising your GI system work together to convert food into energy and the other essential nutrients required by the body.

But, how exactly do those nutrients make their way from your stomach to your muscles?

Let’s find out!

How is Food Digested

In order to understand how nutrients, get absorbed into your muscles, we first need to explain how food is digested in the body. The GI system includes your:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Small Intestine
  • Large Intestine
  • Anus

Though we typically think of food being digested in the stomach, the process of digestion actually begins in the mouth. In fact, the mouth is responsible for mechanical and chemical digestion. Mechanical digestion is accomplished through the act of chewing, while chemical digestion is caused by the enzymes secreted by the salivary glands in saliva. But, saliva isn’t just for breaking down food, it also moistens food so it can work its way down your esophagus and into your stomach.

Upon entering the stomach, a mish-mash of enzymes and acids (hydrochloric acid) continue to break down food in addition to the stomach muscles that mix the food with these digestive juices. Not to be forgotten during digestion is the important role the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder serve. These three organs secrete the bile, digestive juices, and other important enzymes required to break down the wide variety of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins contained in the food you just ate.

After spending time in the stomach, the digested food is transported to your intestines, and it’s here where we start to see how nutrients get absorbed into your muscles.

From the GI System to Everywhere Else

Digestion is still occurring when your “food” (if you can still call it that by this point in the digestive process) reaches the small intestine. In fact, a large portion of the breakdown of complex carbohydrates (maltose, isomaltose, trisaccharides, larger oligosaccharides, etc.) still needs to be broken down into monosaccharides (simple sugars) so that they can be taken up. This brings us to the critical aspect of muscle-building — nutrient absorption.

The majority of nutrient absorption occurs in the small intestines and then directs them to your circulatory system for transportation to all the various parts of the body. Your blood is responsible for carrying simple sugars (monosaccharides like glucose), amino acids (the building blocks of protein), glycerol, and certain vitamins and salts to your liver. The liver either stores or processes and delivers the required nutrients where they are needed.

One of the most important component of nutrient absorption is the main anabolic hormone of the body — insulin. When glucose enters the blood, it stimulates the release of insulin — the primary nutrient shuttling in the body. Insulin picks up nutrients from your blood and drives them into your cells, your muscle cells in particular. Insulin is also tasked with shuttling amino acids and fatty acids into your cells as well. Upon entering the cell, glucose is converted to glycogen (the stored form of energy your muscles use for high-intensity exercise) while the amino acids get to work repairing damaged muscle tissue and building new muscle tissue.

Improving Nutrient Absorption

Consuming the right amounts of essential nutrients is crucial, but it won’t do much good if your body isn’t properly absorbing the nutrient you’re ingesting. You see, widespread use of antibiotics coupled with overconsumption of hyper-processed foods (i.e. chicken nuggets) has led to the decimation of good gut bacteria which is tasked with digestion and absorption of the essential nutrients your body requires for survival.

Fortunately, there are some ways you can enhance the number of good gut bacteria in your body and your body’s absorption of the nutrients you put into it on a daily basis.

  • Eat Plenty of Fiber

    Dietary fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provides the necessary “fuel” your gut bacteria need to keep functioning. Without this food, gut bacteria leach what they need from the lining of your GI tract which can lead to “leaky gut” and further nutrient absorption issues.

  • Chew Food Thoroughly

    Chewing plays a critical, and often underestimated, role in digestion. The more you chew, the more your food is broken down, which means there’s less work that needs to be done by the rest of your digestive system later on in the process. As an added bonus, chewing your food more thoroughly slows down how fast you’re eating, which gives your brain time to receive the signal that you are full, thereby preventing overheating.

  • Drink plenty of water

    Consuming enough water aids in the digestion and dissolution of fats and soluble fiber you eat, making for better nutrient absorption.

  • Exercise

    Exercise increases blood flow to your muscles (including those of the GI tract), but it also enhances blood flow to your organs. This is important because the walls of your colon need to contract when eliminated waste from the body, and exercise helps keep those muscles stimulated and active.

  • Drink less alcohol

    Whenever you consume alcohol, it disrupts acid secretion and digestion, leading to poor nutrient absorption. If you’re serious about losing fat and building muscle, you need to prioritize those essential muscle-building nutrients, which means passing on the alcohol, lest you not best use what you’re putting into your body.

  • Try probiotics

    Remember when we discussed the “good” gut bacteria above? Probiotics are one of the “good” bacteria in your gut that support immune system function. Probiotics compete for space in your gut with bad bacteria and can even help reduce the number of bad bacteria in your gut. Unfortunately, due to years of poor diets, most people are sadly lacking in probiotics.

    The remedy for this is to invest in some probiotic supplements or eat probiotic-rich foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, etc.). This promotes the growth of more good gut bacteria, which can help ease IBS as well as combat allergies and the common cold.

References

  1. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The Digestive System and How It Works
  2. Mourad FH, Saade NE. Neural regulation of intestinal nutrient absorption. Prog Neurobiol. 2011;95(2):149-162. doi:10.1016/j.pneurobio.2011.07.010.
  3. Goodman BE. Insights into digestion and absorption of major nutrients in humans. Adv Physiol Educ. 2010;34(2):44-53. doi:10.1152/advan.00094.2009.
  4. Desai MS, Seekatz AM, Koropatkin NM, et al. A Dietary Fiber-Deprived Gut Microbiota Degrades the Colonic Mucus Barrier and Enhances Pathogen Susceptibility. Cell. 2018;167(5):1339-1353.e21. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2016.10.043.
  5. Tracey J. Smith, Diane Rigassio-Radler, Robert Denmark, Timothy Haley, Riva Touger-Decker. Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG® and Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis BB-12® on health-related quality of life in college students affected by upper respiratory infections. British Journal of Nutrition, 2012; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0007114512004138