The Pros of Protein

New sources of this vital nutrient have expanded your choice of shake options.

By Lisa James

January 2011


 

Making muscles stronger may seem like a goal that only a bodybuilder could love. But think about it: You use your muscles every time you climb stairs or carry bags in from the car. Strength training makes such tasks easier—and helps you look and feel better to boot.

Many fitness enthusiasts maximize the effects of their workouts with protein shakes. It’s easy to understand why, given that protein is the basic stuff of which muscles—and other types of tissue—are made. But the body also requires protein to produce hormones and antibodies, transport substances such as cholesterol through the bloodstream and help maintain proper fluid and acid-base balances, among other functions.

Whey To Go

Whey, the liquid created during cheese production, is a common source of protein powder. Protein derived from whey contains all the essential amino acids, those protein building blocks that the body can’t manufacture itself. Whey protein is readily digestible and helps keep hunger under control.
Whey protein also provides branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which have been shown to stimulate muscle creation. That’s especially important in fighting the loss of muscle, known as lean mass, that can occur as part of the aging process and which research has linked to frailty and poor health.

Whey protein may do more than just help the body build and maintain muscle mass. It may also promote cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and improving blood-vessel function (International Dairy Journal 11/10, Nutrition Journal 7/09). In one study, whey protein was able to reduce triglyceride levels in overweight women (Atherosclerosis 9/10).

Brown Power

Soy has long been the gold standard among plant-based protein powders. No wonder, given that the Food and Drug Administration has approved a health claim for soy: “25 grams of soy protein in a daily diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol can help reduce total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol that is moderately high to high.” Some manufacturers now blend soy protein isolate with fermented soy, the type that helps give Asian cuisines their healthy reputation.

Brown rice is another source of plant protein. Often thought of simply in terms of its carbohydrate content, brown rice supplies fiber and the minerals manganese, selenium and magnesium—along with significant amounts of protein in its bran and endosperm, the layers that are removed to create white rice.

Brown rice’s nutritional power is fully realized when it is sprouted by soaking it in water, as is traditionally done in Japan and other parts of the world where rice is a major part of the diet. This makes the nutrients in rice more readily available to the body by neutralizing phytic acid, a substance that binds nutrients to the grain.

It is this sprouted brown rice that is used to create rice protein. It is easily digestible with a balanced amino acid profile along with the BCAAs that help build muscle. In studies, brown rice
protein has shown the same heart-healthy characteristics of whey protein (Atherosclerosis 5/21/10 online).

Another type of plant protein is taken from peas. It has lowered blood pressure in laboratory animals (American Chemical Society, 2009 annual meeting). In large amounts pea protein can have a pronounced flavor, though, which is why some manufacturers blend it together with soy and rice proteins.

Protein powder shakes can help your reach your strength-training goals—and now you have more choices than ever before. —Lisa James

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