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February 05, 2008

Building The Perfect Workout Drink With Whey Protein Isolate

Man_with_sports_drink"When is the best time to take your Whey Protein Isolate?"  We hear this question a lot at Integrated Supplements, but surprisingly, it's actually somewhat of a difficult one to answer.

That's because technically, there is no "best" time to take it.  A lot depends on your schedule - you can mix it up with milk or yogurt for a quick and easy breakfast as you're running out the door in the morning, or do the same as a late-night snack in the evening.  You can even take it with meals, simply to bump up the amount of high-quality protein in your diet.

But, without a doubt if we absolutely had to choose a best time to take whey isolate, we'd choose immediately prior to a workout.  There's simply no better protein than whey isolate for supporting exercise performance and recovery - and for those of us who workout, the strategic timing of our protein intake can be integral to helping us maximize our training efforts.  In fact, an intense workout without the nutritional support of whey protein isolate can be like skydiving without a parachute - not a very good idea to say the least.

A Fine Line Between Exercise And Self-Torture

In our previous blog post, we talked about just how much damage we can actually do to ourselves with a good workout.  We showed you how intense exercise can cause significant and long-lasting increases in markers of oxidative stress, inflammation, and lipid peroxidation; and how it can sometimes take days or even weeks for our bodies to fully recover from a single bout of intense exercise. 

It's not a groundbreaking new discovery to be sure, but it's worth explicitly stating that it's not exercise itself, but only our recovery from exercise which provides health (or physique) benefits in the long run.  In our "no-pain-no-gain" culture, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that, no matter how dedicated we are to our training schedule, all of us are only as good as our ability to recover.

But with exercise, it's like we're caught in a catch-22.  We know that we need to exercise intensely to "spark" a response from our body - be it muscle growth, improved endurance, or fat loss.  But the more intensely we train, the more bodily damage we can do.  In essence, this probably explains why over the years, exercise becomes a textbook case of "diminishing returns."  As we reach a high level of training, it often seems that we have to work harder and harder just to reap fewer and fewer gains.  As we get older and stronger, our body simply can't keep up with our recovery demands the way it once did.   

Stacking The Deck In Your Favor

But before we assume that exercise only favors a select few genetically gifted individuals with superior recuperative ability, we should all realize that there are tons of nutritional strategies we can use to help us stack the deck in our favor.  Young or old, professional athlete or weekend warrior, the combination of proper training with proper nutrition builds champions time and time again.  But as we've shown you, even something as simple as proper nutrition can become remarkably complicated when you look to the sports supplement industry for assistance.  Sadly, many of the nutritional products available today (even the ones used and endorsed by professional athletes) can't even begin to support optimal recovery, or optimal performance.  To reach your full athletic potential, you've got to search a little bit deeper than the advertisements that fill the bodybuilding and fitness magazines.

Why Whey Isolate?

In the Integrated Supplements Blog, we've talked about whey protein isolate and its unique ability to support muscle building, exercise recovery, and immune function by elevating levels of a powerfully protective cellular antioxidant called glutathione.

We've talked about whey's high content of the branched-chain amino acids (including leucine) which are integral for protein synthesis and proper recovery from training.

And we've also talked about how only whey isolate offers the full benefits of whey protein.  Cheaper proteins like whey protein concentrate are common in the nutritional supplement industry, but will often contain relatively high levels of undesirable "residual" ingredients like lactose, denatured proteins, and cholesterol.

We've even shown (in part one and part two) that the amino acid glycine can exert some remarkably protective effects in response to training and other stresses (for these reasons, and due to the fact that glycine is a component of the above-mentioned glutathione, we've included precise amounts of glycine in the flavored versions of Integrated Supplements CFM® Whey Protein Isolate).

So, clearly, Integrated Supplements Whey Protein Isolate can be an athlete’s best friend.  Taken immediately before training, it can bathe our working muscles in protective antioxidants and growth-promoting amino acids.  In essence, it can make our muscle cells "bullet-proof" to the harmful effects of training, and can supply them with the nutritional building blocks they need to repair, and adapt - growing larger and stronger in the process.

But even for all of its remarkable benefits in helping to support exercise recovery, whey protein can’t do the job alone. 

The Carbohydrate Paradox - Timing is Everything

While protein can be thought of as a source of "building blocks" for muscle, carbohydrate (more precisely, the sugar glucose) is the muscle's preferred fuel source under most exercise conditions.

This explains why carbohydrate-containing sports drinks have been staples in the nutritional arsenals of athletes for decades - they are easy to digest during physical activity and they do actually seem to improve performance.

But most of us have to tread cautiously using such drinks.  In general, the high amounts of sugar they contain can be a double-edged sword to say the least.  Certainly, sugar can provide a quick source of energy to fuel our training, but at the same time, it can be all too easy these days to consume far too much sugar - especially when it's delivered in liquid form as is the case with sports drinks.

So, the question naturally arises, can sports drinks (or other sources of rapidly digesting carbohydrates) be an asset to improving our recovery, or are they just sources of over-priced sugar-water certain to decimate our overall health?

The answer: It depends. 

Rather than thinking of sports drinks as inherently "good" or "bad," it may help to think of sports drinks merely as a tool.  Like any tool, when used correctly at the right time, they can be helpful; but when used incorrectly, in excess, or at the wrong time, they can be useless and even harmful.

In other words, to use carbohydrate-containing sports drinks correctly, we want to take in an amount which will fuel the intense demands of our training - and no more.  Such drinks should be consumed only immediately prior to, and possibly during, training - when our body can utilize the carbohydrates they provide as a quick and immediate source of energy.  To consume these drinks without stimulating the energy-requirements of training, on the other hand, is only asking for trouble in the form of increased body fat and elevated risk of various metabolic disorders.

What does this have to do with whey protein you ask?  Well, as it turns out, carbohydrates are in such high demand by working muscles during training that our body can actually convert protein into carbohydrates to fuel intense activity (scientists call this phenomenon glyconeogenesis - literally, the creation of sugar).  From a survival standpoint, this is a genius work of engineering by our body, but if we're trying to build muscle mass, the last thing we want is for our body to start using protein (from food, supplements, or our very own muscle) as fuel. 

So, by combining whey protein isolate with an easily-absorbed source of carbohydrates, and by consuming this mixture before training, we can create the perfect environment for fueling optimal performance, and increased recovery.  If we supply our body with the easily absorbed carbohydrates it needs to fuel muscular activity, our valuable protein will then be used for muscular growth, repair and recovery - and not simply "burned off" as a fuel source.  This is often called a "protein-sparing" effect of carbohydrates.  Together, the pair represent the essence of nutrient synergy - a match made in workout heaven.

Before Training? Not After?

If you've been kicking around the gym for a while, and especially if you've been into nutritional supplements for a time, the idea of combining protein and carbohydrates together to enhance recovery probably isn't new to you.  But even if you're an experienced athlete, you may not yet realize the power of consuming such a mixture before your workouts. 

For years, several protein and carbohydrate mixtures have been touted as sources of post-workout nutrition, to be taken after workouts to improve recovery.  This isn't a bad idea per se, (proper post-workout nutrition is important to recovery as well), but recent research has shown that pre-workout carbohydrate and protein mixtures stimulated an even greater amino acid uptake, and greater protein synthesis, versus the same mixtures consumed after training.

Study Link - Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise

Quote from the above study - These results indicate that the response of net muscle protein synthesis to consumption of an EAC [Essential Amino Acid and Carbohydrate] solution immediately before resistance exercise is greater than that when the solution is consumed after exercise, primarily because of an increase in muscle protein synthesis as a result of increased delivery of amino acids. . .

The researchers theorized that the greater blood flow to working muscles during exercise enhanced the muscles' uptake of amino acids and improved protein synthesis.  Consumed after training, this particular "window of opportunity" is closed, and the same mixture then failed to enhance protein synthesis to the same degree.

(Note: an increase in protein synthesis is indicative of the rebuilding and repairing of muscle.  Elevated protein synthesis is one of the "holy grails" of exercise - it means that our muscles are adapting and growing stronger.  All of us, young and old, should be aiming to enhance protein synthesis as much as possible.)

It's also worth noting that many of the carb-and-protein "recovery drinks" which continue to be sold today often contain lower quality protein sources than whey protein isolate.  Many of these drinks, because of the lactose, fat, and denatured proteins they contain, can cause bloating and an upset stomach, so their use is not much suited for pre-workout nutrition.

Whey protein isolate, on the other hand, is very easy to digest (even during the demands of training), and makes the perfect addition to any pre-workout drink.

How Much?

As far as specific doses are concerned, it probably doesn't take a whole lot in the way of carbohydrate to sufficiently fuel a workout - a little bit can probably go a long way for the typical gym-goer.  For the average sized-male engaging in weight training, a dose of 20-30 grams of carbohydrate along with 15-20 grams of protein from whey protein isolate should suffice.  Larger bodybuilders engaging in heavy training could double these numbers, and women, for the most part, could cut them in half.  (And yes, proper pre-workout nutrition is important for women as well, even if they're not trying to build large muscles).

Endurance athletes may need slightly more than these amounts depending on the volume of their training; and despite what some people still seem to believe, protein supplementation is extremely important for endurance athletes to prevent excessive muscle breakdown.

And if sports drinks aren't your thing, as a carbohydrate source, that's fine too.  Any easily absorbed source of carbohydrates will do a good job of fueling your training.  A cup of good-old-fashioned orange juice will contain 25 grams of carbohydrates, and it won't be loaded with artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners like some sports drinks are.  You will, however, want to dilute the mixture a bit if you use fruit juices.  This will make it easier to digest and absorb.  One part orange juice to 2-3 parts of water should do the trick nicely.

(Note: even most commercial sports drinks are too concentrated for optimal absorption.  If you decide to use them, you may want to dilute these with water too if digestion during training is an issue.)

Putting It All Together

For as powerful as proper pre-workout nutrition can be, it doesn't have to be at all complicated.

Adding ½ to 1 scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream flavor Integrated Supplements CFM® Whey Protein Isolate to orange juice (or an orange-flavored sports drink) makes a delicious "orange creamsicle" workout drink - probably one of the tastiest ways you'll ever find to enhance your recovery, and reap the full benefits from your training.

Powdered sports drinks can be an especially convenient and economical choice (there are even a few powdered sports drinks on the market enhanced with nutritional bells and whistles like electrolytes, and vitamins).  You can just combine these powders and CFM® Whey Isolate in a shaker bottle, and fill it up with water when you’re ready to drink it.  Nothing could be simpler.

"But wait," you say, "aren't there products on the market which contain similar pre-workout formulas in one product?" 

Well, as we mentioned, there are some carbohydrate and protein mixtures out there to be sure, but if you examine them closely, you'll see that they're sometimes not what they appear to be.

We'll take a closer look at some of these so-called "recovery drinks" in our next blog post.

In the meantime, if you’re not already doing it, start taking advantage of proper pre-workout nutrition - a simple strategy so powerful, that you could start noticing results as quickly as your very next workout. 

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