One of the most common questions from new and intermediate weightlifters and bodybuilders is about which protein is best for them to be using. And no wonder, given all the hype and noise from the supplement companies about their product being the only one that works – or at least that their protein works best.
So which protein IS best for weightlifters and bodybuilders? The question is more complicated than it appears on the surface and depends mostly on the time of day and your particular dietary regimen. For example, vegans will want to stay with soy protein – while it doesn’t have a great biological value (BV), it isn’t derived from animal sources. Vegetarians will be better using milk-based proteins and egg protein, but won’t want to include proteins from chicken, fish and beef.
The majority of weightlifters and bodybuilders are neither vegan nor vegetarian though, so for you the question of which protein is best depends entirely on timing. Getting your proteins from natural foods is preferable and can even be enough for some, but a whey protein supplement is a wise choice on the days you’re hitting the gym.
Whey protein is considered the gold standard for weightlifters and bodybuilders, and it is – but ONLY for your pre-workout and post-workout shakes. While whey is the fastest and most biologically available (highest BV) protein, it clears the bloodstream within 90 minutes or so and does cause a spike in blood sugars. Both of these traits are ideal before and after your exercises, as you want the protein into your bloodstream fast so that it’s available when needed, and the insulin release from the sugar spike helps transport the proteins and glucose to the muscles to build, and then replace, your muscle energy.
But because whey clears your system so quickly, you would need to replenish your protein supply every 90 minutes to keep it available to your system – not a viable solution for almost anyone. Not to mention you’d be missing out on a lot of the digestive enzymes and other nutrients found in protein-rich fish and meats.
So at other times during your workout days and throughout your rest days you should be consuming protein from natural sources. Examples include steak and eggs or bacon and eggs for breakfast, chicken for lunch (since it’s also good cold), and alternating fish and beef for supper. Eggs, chicken, fish and beef all have good BV values, absorb at a moderate pace and contain the other ingredients that help to support your protein intake and synthesis within the body. Include low-carb, high-fiber vegetables with your lunch and supper, especially raw vegetables, to balance out your nutritional needs.
Your longest fast each day is, of course, while you sleep at night. But while you are sleeping, your body is still burning calories, healing the micro-tears from your workouts and re-balancing your body. Since this is obviously a time when it’s best to have protein available for as long as possible, you want one that has a high BV buts is absorbed much more slowly than whey or even most of the other proteins.
Fortunately casein protein fits the bill perfectly, remaining active in your system for up to 4 hours. Supplement your diet with casein each night using either a casein supplement or by eating a cup or two of low-fat cottage cheese – either way you’ll keep your body efficiently using protein, burning calories digesting it and be protecting your existing muscle mass from themogenic processes while you sleep.
So as you can see, the best protein for weightlifters and bodybuilders depends on the day and time and includes whey, egg, beef, fish, chicken and casein proteins. It will take a bit of planning to start this type of healthy nutrition plan, but soon it will be automatic – and if you only wanted the easiest way to do things you wouldn’t already be weightlifting or bodybuilding, would you?