Part 2: What Are The Best Pre-Workout Proteins?
The problem with diet plans is that no one knows your body as well as you do. By learning enough of the science, you’ll be able to make smart decisions in a consistent, structured manner. Most importantly, you’ll begin to think a different way – whatever your objective may be or whatever frustration you’ve ran into trying to build muscle and change your physique, take comfort in knowing that there’s an answer out there. This blog series’ primary intention is to provide that answer. Be sure to check out Part 1 in this series – this, and future posts in this blog series are meant to complement one another. That is, this diet strategy is designed to be utilized together. Soon, I’ll discuss pre-workout supplementation, intra- and post-workout, as well as your other meals throughout the day.
It should come as no surprise that protein prior to training is essential. But how is an ideal protein choice determined? It’s useful to know how protein is actually assessed first. While there are numerous ways of determining protein quality, the fundamental assessments stem from essential amino acid composition, digestibility, and bioavailability.
Protein Efficiency Ratio
While this doesn’t really pertain to our goal, this term shows up quite often. It is useful to know its definition simply as a means of defense against those using it improperly. The protein efficiency ratio is a measurement of animal growth. Rats are fed some type of protein and their subsequent weight gain is checked. This number is compared with that of a standard value derived from casein protein-tested rats. Anything higher than 2.7 is considered an excellent protein source. Again, this assessment isn’t of much value to us.
The biological value of a protein expresses protein quality as a percentage of nitrogen absorbed. That is, the amount of nitrogen used for tissue formation is divided by the amount of nitrogen absorbed from the protein source. The closer to 100, the better. This, in theory, measures how well our bodies are utilizing the amino acid content found in that protein source. Foods with higher scores usually have higher essential amino acid content. Bear in mind, that even though protein sources have measured biological values, that might not always be the best choice for everyone. Digestibility and food intolerances can act as powerful variables that may bump up protein choices that otherwise would not be considered. This is one reason, among many, why it is crucial to always keep a variety of proteins in your diet.
Net Protein Utilization
This measurement is very similar to the biological value of protein. This number is seen as either a percentage or a scale of 0-1. “1” indicates 100% utilization and “0”, well, 0%. Net protein utilization is based on the percentage of ingested nitrogen that is retained in the body, and thus, utilized. Biological value measures what is absorbed. Net protein utilization has the same problems as the biological value in that it doesn’t consider the digestibility of proteins.
Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS)
Since digestibility has been an issue in determining the quality of a protein, the PDCAAS was developed. It evaluates protein quality based on amino acid requirements and our ability to digest it. This score ranges from 0-1, with “1” being the highest possible score. A “1” score indicates that after digestion, a protein provides 100% of amino acids required by us as humans. In this context, we care most about PDCAAS.
As you can see, whey protein has high scores across the board. So, is this ideal to be having pre-workout? Not quite. While it’s not a bad choice, it’s important to remember the purpose of a pre-workout meal: optimize the hormonal environment necessary for maximal muscle growth. This translates to maximizing our body’s ability to produce growth hormone. Remember, growth hormone is suppressed in the presence of insulin. It’s apparent that carbohydrates must be kept under check, but what about protein? Protein is insulinotropic (elicits an insulin response), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless the timing isn’t right. While small insulin increases are unavoidable, major spikes must be avoided – whey protein can be responsible for this. It has been demonstrated that whey protein can increase insulin by 87% and 139% 15 minutes and 30 minutes, respectively, after ingestion when compared with white bread (Salehil, 2012). White bread is used frequently as a bench mark for studies on insulin as its glycemic index is quite high. Now admittedly, I’m splitting hairs here. If consumed 90-120 minutes prior to training, the whey protein-induced insulin response probably isn’t an issue. That being said, it is still something to consider as everyone’s ability to regulate blood sugar differs. So, is there something potentially better?
Cue Egg Whites
Referring to the chart above, you can see that egg whites have virtually identical (some would argue, better) scores. Egg whites have a PDCAAS score of 1.00, indicating ideal amino acid content even after digestion. And their effect on insulin? Not substantial. Of several proteins tested, egg whites continually demonstrated the lowest rise in insulin levels (Nuttall, 1990). Some practical advice – while it may not seem too appealing, drinking pasteurized egg whites (found in carton-form) is the most convenient way of consuming these. A common complaint is the taste of cooked egg whites – liquid egg whites don’t have much of a taste. Furthermore, egg whites tend to take on whatever flavor is put into. A splash of unsweetened almond milk is all that’s needed to mask the mild flavor of the egg whites, making them taste almost entirely like almond milk. This concept is what supplement companies, such as Muscle Egg, are built on. Don’t discount it until you’ve tried it.
How many grams of protein, from egg whites, should be consumed prior to training? From the (pretty substantial) body of research, it appears 40 grams of protein before training, has been shown to yield considerable increases in muscle mass. Consume this 90-120 minutes prior to training.
So building off Part 1, what’s our take-aways for pre-workout meal programming?
• The goal of our pre-workout meal is to maximize the potential for results from the training session. This requires regulating blood sugar in order to manage insulin levels.
• Lower glycemic carbohydrates, the right source of protein, and waiting the allotted time before working out will ensure growth hormone levels won’t be negatively impacted for the session.
Nuttall, F. Q., & Gannon, M. C. (1990). Metabolic response to egg white and cottage cheese protein in normal subjects. Metabolism,39(7), 749-755. doi:10.1016/0026-0495(90)90112-p
Salehi, A., Gunnerud, U., Muhammed, S. J., Östman, E., Holst, J. J., Björck, I., & Rorsman, P. (2012). The insulinogenic effect of whey protein is partially mediated by a direct effect of amino acids and GIP on β-cells. Nutrition & Metabolism,9(1), 48. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-48