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      Back to the gym - tips on Protein Nutrition

      (Health N Vitality, September 2005)

      With the arrival of fall and the impetus to go back to the gym, many individuals will want to increase their nutritional intake in order to help their bodies adjust to changes in both weather and training emphasis. In this article I’d like to address protein nutrition, particularly in regards to protein supplementation.

      Protein nutrition, the rationale

      Proteins are the building blocks of life. Or at least, that’s how the saying goes. This saying, however, is not without truth.

      As the source of amino acids, proteins have an essential role to play in the development and maintenance of human life. They are required for proper brain function, immunity, hormone production, enzymes, skin hair and bone health, energy production etc.

      There just isn’t any bodily function that is not dependant, directly or indirectly on certain specific amino acids.

      However, proteins and other nitrogen-containing compounds are continuously broken down and rebuilt in the body. These metabolic processes lead to protein losses that must be replaced daily. During illness the body requires far more protein than it normally does. Exercise increases the need for protein. Finally, the elderly have a high protein turnover rate. They will require more protein than they normally consume. There is one way to compensate for the proteins that we loose through our normal metabolic process, we have to consume them in our diet from foods or supplements.

      Protein nutrition, the issues

      Unfortunately, one of the major problems associated with protein nutrition is the difficulty of getting a high quality protein source that does not also supply the foreign chemicals often associated with protein sources. These chemicals, which generally come from the animals’ feed or are given in supplemental form, are used to increase the animal’s lean mass, chemicals such as antibiotics and hormones increase the toxic load on the body making it weaker and more susceptible to disease or premature aging. Unless organically fed, beef may contain antibiotic residues, poultry generally contain antibiotic residues and fish is often contaminated by both mercury and PCBs. Significantly increasing the intake of these proteins may also proportionately increase our intake of their “contaminants”.

      Though they cannot replace “real food sources” of protein, high quality protein supplements have the advantage of supplying protein that is generally exempt of these exogenous chemicals as well as the animals’ endogenous bio-chemicals such as cholesterol.

      So, protein supplementation offers high quality “clean” protein that compensates for the accrued loss due to the increase in exercise.

      Selecting a protein source

      One of the major issues involved in protein supplementation, however, is the selection of the type of protein to use. This is the subject I’d like to address in this article.

      Though various suppliers will suggest that their protein source is the ideal, there are many variables to contend with in choosing a specific type protein supplement.

      Here, in graphic format, are some of the issues:

      Soy protein isolate or concentrate

      Soy protein isolate supplies approximately 90% protein (70% from concentrate). It is therefore highly concentrated requiring less total product for the same amount of protein. It is a virtually perfect protein according to the World Health Organization.

      Soy protein isolates and concentrates are also vegan friendly.

      Soy is a major allergen, and, consuming soy protein on a daily basis may increase the risk of developing an allergy to soy.

      Soy is one of the most highly modified (read here genetically modified) foods. Though there is no proof the GMOs are a health hazard, there is no proof they are safe either.

      Choose non-GMO soy protein. Furthermore, give yourself a break once in a while and rotate with at least another protein source.

      Soy protein is quite easily used but absorbed more slowly than say whey protein. Because of this soy protein is most effective as a pre workout drink or as a meal replacement.

      Fermented Soy

      Fermented soy has the advantage of being a whole food – the whole bean, not an isolated protein.

      The whole fermented soy bean is not potentially goitrogen and has less allergenicity.

      Fermented soy supplies various nutrients found in the whole soy bean such as calcium and vitamin C.

      Fermented soy is vegan friendly.

      Whole fermented soy beans supply 35-40% protein. It therefore requires far more of the soy to obtain a specific amount of protein – at least twice as much as soy isolate.

      Fermented soy should be considered a whole food supplement rather than a protein supplement, though it does supply about 1/3 protein.

      Persons who are looking for high protein will probably prefer using fermented soy as one of their sources of protein, not the sole one.

      Whey Protein

      Whey protein isolate supplies over 90% protein.

      From a biological point of view it is slightly superior to egg or soy protein.

      Though it is a dairy protein, high quality whey protein contains very little or none of the dairy protein, casein, that is involved in allergies.

      Some whey proteins are potentially “contaminated” with either/or lactose or casein. It is important to assess the purity of the whey protein you consume.

      Some of the products may contain residues of Bovine Growth Hormones or antibiotics, though many Canadian products are sourced in order to be exempt of these contaminants.

      Whey protein is easily absorbed and rapidly used. It is most effective as a post-workout drink.

      Whey protein is easily absorbed and rapidly used. It is most effective as a post-workout drink.

      High Alpha Lactalbumin Whey protein

      This whey protein targets immunity and antioxidant activity more than any other form of protein.

      Research by Dr. Buonos of Montreal has highlighted the fact that the alpha lactalbumin fraction as well as the high lactoferin have a major antioxidant and immune enhancing effect.

      This specific whey protein may be taken as is or is generally added to other whey protein blends.

      The higher levels of tryptophane may also be useful for those with fibromyalgia and those looking to loose weight.

      Immune compromised and immune deficient individuals may benefit from this protein more than the others.

      Alpha lactalbumin is a whey protein fraction that does not have as much of an impact on muscle tissue regeneration as regular whey protein.

      For those looking strictly for muscle building properties this protein will not be as effective as regular whey or soy isolates

      This may be a good protein fraction to use daily, in small amounts, maybe 5-10 grams, along with another more concentrated source of protein particularly because of its immune enhancing and anti-aging properties.

      A few whey protein products on the market are now fortified with alpha lactalbumin.

      Rice Protein

      Isolated rice protein is an excellent source of protein. At about 80% protein this rice “extract” offers a good amino acid ratio.

      Its major advantage is that it is essentially hypoallergenic. Therefore, individuals who are allergic to soy or dairy can consume rice protein.


      Rice protein is vegan friendly.

      Rice protein is not as concentrated in protein or as biologically active as either soy or whey proteins.

      This is an excellent protein for individuals who wish to avoid the potentially allergic soy or who are looking for a whey replacement.

      Most individuals may want to introduce rice protein into their proteins supplementation one week a month to avoid the risk of developing an allergy to either soy or whey.

      Yellow Pea Protein (yes! I know the name sound bad)

      This is a vegan friendly, high protein and hypoallergenic source.

      Yellow pea proteins may be isolated, supplying as much as 90% protein or more.


      Yellow Pea Protein is not as biologically active as soy or whey, though it may be slightly superior to rice protein.

      The taste of yellow pea protein is very “beany” and may be more difficult to mask than even soy.

      Like rice protein, this is an excellent protein for hypoallergenic persons. It may also be used as part of a protein rotation program to avoid developing allergies to the various protein sources.

      What about hemp protein?

      Hemp does seem to be an interesting protein. However, at the time of writing, I do not have enough conclusive information to make precise recommendations in regards to this protein.

      How much is enough?

      The need for protein varies from individual to individual. However, a good rule of thumb could be to consume between 1 and 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. Individuals who are recuperating from illness as well as the elderly may need up to 2.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight.

      How much is too much?

      It is impossible to get too much protein if the other nutrients are consumed in proportion. The problem of excess protein has been debated for decades. The problems associated with excess protein are generally fourfold. First of all, we are not the protein we consume, we are the protein we digest and absorb. The capacity to digest protein is a major issue, particularly among the elderly. Digestive enzymes can help resolve this problem. A second issue is that of nutritional imbalance. Indeed, we should increase our intake of vitamins and minerals in proportion to our increased protein intake. Of course, this is generally not an issue when consuming protein from whole foods. The “B” vitamins are particularly important in this regard. A rule of thumb is to consume a B complex for every 30 grams of protein supplement consumed. The two remaining issues are those of fiber and acidosis. Extra protein require extra fiber. Furthermore, because protein is generally acidifying, there should be an increase in alkalinizing foods whenever there is an increase in protein intake. The consumption of extra protein should be compensated by the consumption of greater quantities of either vegetables or alkalinizing superfoods. If these parameters are respected, there is no increased risk of kidney, liver or cardiovascular problems often associated with excess proteins.


      Remember, proteins are the building blocks of life, and, protein supplementation is very important in helping maintain health and longevity in our modern society. Consuming enough high quality protein is a major factor in slowing down the ageing process, recuperating from illness, and enjoying overall health.