For years bodybuilders have assertedthat they need more protein than averagepeople, and all the while nutritionists havekindly replied, “No, you don’t.” Most ofthe scientific studies show that athleticactivity does not appreciably increase pro-tein requirements. Could it be that body-builders really don’t need any “extra” pro-tein? Think about this for a minute:Muscle is about 75% water, so a poundof muscle only contains about 100 gramsof protein. Most people would considergaining 10 pounds of muscle a year to begood progress, and that would amount to1,000 grams of protein. Over a year’stime, that equals out to gaining 2.74 gramsof protein per day, which is about one ortwo bites of a chicken breast. So, theysay, eat a couple extra bites of chickenbreast and that’s enough protein to growas big as Arnold.Bodybuilders, on the other hand, havesaid that if they want muscles twice asbig as everybody else they have to eattwice as much protein as everybody else.They need extra protein to supply thebuilding blocks to build extra muscle. Sowho’s right?Well, neither party turned out to beexactly right.
Bodybuilders do need moreprotein than average people, but not forthe reason they thought. In fact, thosetwo extra bites of chicken every daywould be enough to grow muscles as bigas Arnold’s, if it all ended up being con-verted to muscle. The problem is, itdoesn’t. The original studies looking atprotein requirements of athletes wereflawed in several ways. First, they useduntrained athletes and the exercise proto-cols were not very intense. The subjectssimply did not exercise long enough orhard enough to see an effect of exerciseon protein requirements. Second, in theold studies nitrogen lost in sweat was notmeasured, and this turns out to be signifi-cant.A little background: What body-builders seek to achieve is a stateof positive protein balance.
Thismeans that more protein is com-ing into the body than is leav-ing. Protein is on averageabout 16% nitrogen byweight. Since nitrogen iseasy to measure in thelab, nitrogen balance isused as a way to mea-sure protein balance.Nitrogen is also a goodway to keep track ofthe protein economyin the body becausecarbohydrate and fatdo not contain ni-trogen. You see,when we eat ex-cess protein itcan be stored asmuscle, but itcould also beconverted tofat. If it isconverted tofat, the nitrogen is removed (as ammo-nia) and is excreted in the urine (after theammonia is converted to urea). Thisleaves the carbon skeleton of the aminoacids, which can be broken down andused to make fat. By measuring nitrogenbalance we see how much nitrogen isentering the body and how much is leav-ing, and any that remains in the body mustrepresent new protein tissue.The old studies measuring nitrogenbalance in athletes looked at how muchnitrogen was consumed as protein in thediet versus how much nitrogen was ex-creted in urine and feces. They foundthat athletes could remain in nitrogen bal-ance without eating much, if any, extraprotein. This is the basis for the long-standing disagreement between bodybuild-ers and nutritionists. During the last fewyears a number of important studies havebeen performed showing that hard-train-ing athletes may actually need vastly moreprotein than average people. The newexperiments also measure nitrogen lost insweat, which the older studies failed todo.
Also, the new experiments are muchmore realistic, using experienced athletesin intense training programs. It turns outthat a significant amount of nitrogen canbe lost in sweat, and if this is factored inthen intensely training athletes may needas much as two or three times as muchprotein as an average person to maintainnitrogen balance (1-18). (I have includeda rather extensive reference list here, asthis controversial topic has been the sub-ject of much research. If you’re onlygoing to read one reference, read #17 byPeter Lemon. It’s an excellent review that puts a lot of this in perspective.)So what does all of this mean? Doathletes need more protein? Yes, definitely,they need significantly more protein thansedentary people. The controversy isover on this argument, and now even theold-school nutritionists agree. Do body-builders need more protein so they canhave more substrate to build new muscletissue? No, they need more protein be-cause they excrete more nitrogen duringexercise. In other words, very little extraprotein is needed to build new muscle tis-sue, but a lot of extra protein is needed tomake up for how much is burned as fuelduring exercise.The branched chain amino acids(BCAAs) are of special importance to ath-letes because they are metabolized inmuscle, rather than in the liver. Here’swhat happens: After you eat the food isdigested and absorbed into the blood-stream through the small intestine.
Theblood from the small intestine drains intoa special vein called the portal vein, whichgoes to the liver. So the liver gets first“dibs” on all the nutrients before they aretransported to the rest of the body. (Withthe exception of long chain fats, whichenter the lymphatics and bypass the liver.)The primary site for degradation of mostamino acids also happens to be the liver(19). The liver thus has the ability to breakdown most amino acids for energy whenit needs to, such as during starvation orduring intense exercise. The first step isto remove the amino group (-NH2) fromthe amino acid. This is accomplished byenzymes called transaminases oraminotransferases.However, the liver is very low inbranched chain aminotransferase, whichmeans it can’t break down BCAAs to asignificant extent. This results in releaseof any BCAAs from the liver into the cir-culation (19).Skeletal muscle does contain branchedchain aminotransferase and thus is ableto break down the BCAAs for energy.During periods of increased energy needsuch as starvation, trauma, or exercise,the enzyme pathways responsible forBCAA oxidation are activated. Notably,however, during resting periods in theabsorptive state (after a meal) when otherfuel sources are available such as glucoseor ketones from CapTri®, these alternatefuel sources “spare” the BCAAs fromcatabolism (degradation) leaving themavailable for use in protein synthesis.
Thusafter a meal there is a small burst in liverand muscle protein synthesis, after whichtime any left over amino acids are burnedfor energy or converted to glucose andstored as glycogen (20).It is estimated that about one third ofthe amino acids entering the liver fromthe portal vein are used for protein syn-thesis by the liver (serum proteins) or areconverted to glucose or used for energyby the liver (20). Thus a high protein mealonly increases serum amino acid levels byabout 20%.Well, so what, and what does all thishave to do with bodybuilding? Remem-ber that the liver does not have the en-zymes to metabolize the BCAAs, and thismeans that the BCAAs increase markedlyin the bloodstream after a meal. (In otherwords, they pass straight through the liverwithout being broken down.) In fact, theBCAAs can account for about 70% of theamino acids released from the small in-testine via the liver to the rest of the body(20). Are you starting to get the idea thatthe branched chain aminos are importantin muscle protein metabolism? Indeed, ithas been shown that the BCAAs accountfor 50-90% of the amino acids taken upby muscle tissue in the 3 hours followinga protein meal (20). The branched chainaminos are also effective at stimulatinginsulin secretion, which in turn stimulatesprotein synthesis.So what’s the bottom line here? Firstoff, the branched chains account for 50-90% of the amino acids taken up bymuscle after a protein meal. Once there,they are available to serve as substrate forprotein synthesis. They increase insulin,which further stimulates protein synthe-sis. This is their anabolic effect.
Duringperiods of intense exercise, they can beburned for energy, helping prevent break-down of muscle tissue to use as fuel. Thisis their anti-catabolic effect. Parrillo Per-formance Muscle Amino™ is a specialformulation of BCAAs in the proper bal-ance to help promote muscle growth andprevent muscle breakdown. The best wayto use it is to take it with meals, and to eatsix small meals per day. The most im-portant times to take it are the meal be-fore your workout and the meal after yourworkout. I suggest taking three to sixMuscle Amino™ caps with a Pro-Carb™drink after your workout. The carbohy-drates will prevent oxidation of theBCAAs, leaving them available for use inprotein synthesis. The insulin release fromthe Pro-Carb™ will help drive the aminos inside the muscle cells, as well as stimu-lating protein synthesis (20). This is alsothe optimum time to replenish glycogenstores. Another suggestion which seemsto be very effective is to use about onetablespoon of CapTri® with each meal.The ketones spare oxidation of theBCAAs, leaving them available for use asprotein. This enhances their anabolic ac-tivity. Combine this supplement programwith a healthy diet adequate in calories andprotein, and I think you’ve got the bestmuscle-building program modern sciencehas to offer.
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