Protein bonanza! You aren’t what you eat—you’re what you absorb. Here’s how to get more bang out of your protein drinks

Protein bonanza! You aren’t what you eat—you’re what you absorb. Here’s how to get more bang out of your protein drinks

Jeff Feliciano

We want you to be massive and hard. We really do.

That’s why FLEX has been sending you this message consistently: Consume a high-protein diet that includes whole foods such as beef, poultry and fish as the primary source of protein, then supplement with a protein you find digestible and affordable.

Sounds simple, but tell that to your stomach and intestines as another protein shake sputters and gurgles through your system. These power-packed liquids lose their potential potency when they come to a bad end, so to speak. Without getting graphic, let’s just say you’ll spend more time in the bathroom than in the gym if your system can’t tolerate these protein supplements. And if you’re not digesting them correctly, you aren’t getting all their benefits.

It’s different with whole foods. Tissue protein (e.g., meat and fish) is better tolerated due in part to the solid nature of the meal and its fat content. Solid meals and fat slow gastric emptying rate, which improves digestion and the absorption of macronutrients. Removing the fat and liquefying the meal, as in the typical protein powder, increases the likelihood of compromised digestion and absorption due to the speed at which the meal moves through the stomach and intestines.

A nice lean steak takes its time moving through your digestive system. On the other hand, if your liquid meal isn’t of a type of protein that agrees with you, it can fly through your system.

THE INSIDE TRACT There is accumulating evidence–as FLEX has been telling you for years–that rate of digestion is an independent yet significant factor in determining protein quality. Resolving the problem of poor gastrointestinal (GI) tolerance, however, has plagued protein manufacturers. Fifteen years ago, the only protein supplement on the market was calcium caseinate and there were few complaints about it. As more soluble protein supplements entered the market, poor GI tolerance became a prominent issue.

That’s too bad, because protein supplements have become much more affordable and effective, bolstered as they are by all kinds of well-known anabolic substances such as creatine and glutamine. The range of protein supplements widens when you add lesser-known growth gadgets such as beta-ecdysterone, methoxyisoflavone, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, pinitol, corosolic acid, alpha-lipoic acid, myostatin scavengers, myostatin gene inhibitors and human-growth-hormone-releasing peptides such as hexarelin or anticortisol compounds. But protein gadgets aren’t worth a damn if you can’t digest and absorb the protein matrix in which they are delivered.

FIBER, MILK AND RICE How do you increase protein digestibility and absorption without being limited to certain types or brands? There are several methods of decreasing the incidence of flatus and/or loose stool caused by a high-protein diet that includes a significant amount of liquid proteins such as total milk protein, whey, egg or soy. Here are a few.

* Increase soluble fiber intake. This is far from an instant solution. Your digestive system requires about six weeks to fully adapt to the changes fiber will produce (see “Gut Feeling” sidebar). We highly recommend that you make the effort, though.

Your first goal is to make sure that your gut morphology (structure) enhances digestive capacity, which improves digestion and absorption of highly motile liquid protein meals. You have to literally “develop” your digestive tract.

It’s important to increase your fiber intake gradually in order to avoid potential stomach upset, gas and diarrhea. Concentrate on eating cleaner by including more natural whole foods, particularly veggies and fruits, in your diet. Make sure that you have at least one serving with every meal except your immediate postworkout drink/meal. Commercial fruit juices don’t count (few contain any fiber), and, in fact, are not what you should be drinking, except perhaps as part of a postworkout meal.

Eat five to eight servings of veggies (plus some fruit) every day. If you’re not getting at least 25 grams (g) of fiber (including both soluble and insoluble) a day, then add a fiber supplement.

There are many fiber supplements available. Psyllium seed husk is the most common type of soluble fiber supplement. It comes in capsules that can be taken with meals or as a powder that can be mixed with water, juice, protein drinks, etc. When supplementing with fiber, start with no more than one teaspoon (a few grams) in the morning and one at night. Work up to a level that delivers (in addition to your whole foods) 10-12 g of fiber per thousand calories consumed, or even more fiber if you’re severely cutting calories. The truly hardcore can try adding a soluble fiber such as psyilium (3-6 g) in a protein drink and taking a dose of loperamide (Imodium). This is a strategy that should be used only occasionally by those who consume 80-100 g of protein powder per liquid meal.

* Got milk? Then drink it!

Another solution is to use whole milk instead of nonfat milk, water or juice. The fat content of whole milk, along with the micellar casein in it, slows motility, which gives your GI tract more time to digest and absorb the protein.

* Rice is nice. Another solution, which is one of our favorites, is to simply eat some steamed rice–one cup or so–with your protein shake. This method is especially effective when consuming large amounts of hydrolyzed whey protein or whey concentrate. Manufacturers of protein powders and ready-to-drink products are increasingly adding rice oligodextrins to their formulas in order to impart increased protein digestibility. TIMING IS KEY We have also consistently expressed our opinion that whey protein is perhaps the best supplement to consume immediately after training–better than meat or casein. Why? Because whey protein is digested and absorbed quickly, and your body’s ability to efficiently utilize a concentrated flux of amino acids is greatest following training. Add to this the high branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) content of whey protein and the fact that BCAAs are best repleted following exercise rather than during it, and you have the ideal postworkout protein.

Whey protein, simple carbs (dextrose is best) and creatine monohydrate are the best combination for immediate postexercise nutrition. A couple of formulas on the market were specifically designed for this purpose. Or, simply add whey protein to a dextrose/creatine monohydrate supplement to make an ass-kicking anabolic recovery drink.

Does this mean we don’t recommend consuming whey protein at any time other than postworkout? Not exactly–it’s also fine when taken with solid food or some fat (e.g., peanut butter). We at FLEX do believe, though, that the rapid absorption of whey makes it a better candidate than other proteins immediately after working out.

It’s hard enough to get adequate protein into your system every day without having to worry about which protein to use at a specific time. Your goal should be to aid your body in wasting less protein and getting more muscle-building nutrients into your system.

Now, go get massive and hard!


How does increasing soluble fiber boost protein digestibility? Consuming a high-protein limited-fiber diet produces fingerlike villus morphology. Villi are protrusions in the small intestine that serve as the sites of absorption for fluids and nutrients. As soluble fiber increases, the villi become larger, or somewhat leaf like. This change in morphology increases absorption surface area, which makes it easier to digest protein.

Although it takes time to change your gut’s morphology, we recommend it as standard operating bodybuilding procedure. It carries health effects that you’ll appreciate as you age because it not only benefits protein absorption but also colon health.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Weider Publications

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