What is the best possible protein supplement, who needs to take it, and when?
Any athlete, or those training like one, aught to ingest extra protein about 30 minutes after training, and it should come from whole foods, in a low fat, ratio of 4/1 carbohydrate/protein. The perfect post exercise recovery drink as it turns out is most likely low fat chocolate milk!
Cows milk contains 8 grams of protein and 12 grams of sugar (in the form of lactose), And 8 grams of fat, per serving (1 cup). The protein is a mix of two main types: whey protein (20%) and casein protein (80%). The chocolate syrup provides another 15-20 grams of sugar. I’m going to discuss the difference in those proteins, then get into carbohydrates, and nutrition in general.
As the article states, whey is a “fast acting” protein that is quickly absorbed into the blood stream for use by the body, while casein takes a little longer to be digested and used. Post exercise, this naturally occurring combo in milk provides the best option for immediate and overnight recovery.
But how much? All protein, when separated from its original source regardless of its chemical composition, works out to 4 calories per gram. Fish protein=4 calories. Steak protein=4 calories. Milk protein and peanut butter protein and soy protein; all 4 calories/gram. Depending on what you do in terms of exercise, an adult diet should consist of 20-30% protein.
An adult sedentary male should eat around 2000 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight. 20% protein would = 400 calories of protein; or 100 grams of protein per day. That 400 calories leaves this imaginary person with 1600 calories left to eat. 1600 calories that must come from carbohydrates and fat, the only other sources of calories a person can eat.
A carbohydrate is anything that can be turned into glucose easily during digestion. This includes sugar (in all its forms from refined table sugar to honey, agave, molasses, maple syrup, etc) to grains, fruits, and vegetables. Now, like protein, some sugars are fast acting (digest rapidly) and others less fast acting (digest relatively slower). This is not a value judgement on good and bad anymore than it was with the proteins. It’s a question of proper timing on your part. Fast digesting sugars help energize the body in the moment, and can aid in recovery immediately after exercise, while slower digesting carbs can help the body recover quickly, stay active over the long day, and continue to recover during sleep. That’s why chocolate milk is such a good post exercise recovery drink. The sugars and whey help with immediate recovery while the casein and the (low) fat content help with the longer term recovery.
All carbs are 4 calories/gram when separated from their parent source. Carbs from sugar, carbs from lettuce. Carbs from yellow peppers, potatoes, or rice, are all 4 calories. And 40-60% of imaginary mans 2000 calories per day should come from carbohydrates. Because our mystery man wants to eat as low fat a diet as possible like most health conscious people (though not me), lets say 60% carbs out of
the remaining 1600 calories for the day. thats 960 calories or 240grams of carbs.
That means our sedentary male has consumed 1360 calories from protein and carbs. 640 calories to go! But where can we get them?
Fat. Fat is a dense energy source containing 9 calories/gram. A calorie is simply a measure of energy, so 1 gram of fat has a drop more than twice the calorie (energy) of either protein or carbohydrate. All fats are comparatively slow to digest, and can aid in long term recovery (overnight) if properly timed during a day with exercise. You realize that there are “good” fats like fish and olive oil (unsaturated) and “bad” fats like those found in red meat (saturated). But regardless of whether a fat is “good” or “bad” (a different argument and blog post on that controversy) they are all 9 calories/gram. That means the remainder of this persons calories must come from fat; 71 grams of fat for the day to be precise; to get to a healthy calorie total. This person might tweak the carbs and protein up a bit to cut down the fat content, but either way, it’s a 2 for 1 exchange. He must add two grams of either protein or carbs for every 1 of fat he cuts. And there are definite downsides to that, as well.
There are nutritional exceptions: water and alcoholic drinks. Water has 0 calories, while alcoholic drinks are like super carbs, and possess 7 calories per gram (a chemical change that takes place during fermentation). So every serving of beer, wine, brandy, or scotch requires a reduction of calories. Two servings of carbs or proteins for every 1 serving of alcohol, or about an even exchange of fat for alcohol. The problem with alcohol is the more you drink, the less you’ll pay attention to making smart eating decisions!
The link below talks about protein supplements for athletic recovery, but lacks the context for the layman that I’ve sought to provide above.
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For a long time I was told that the chocolate in chocolate milk offset the benefits of the milk. I’m not glad that I ignored that information. Does drinking chocolate milk have similar good effects when drunk before exercise?
The only benefit that is “offset” is that calcium absorption is somewhat reduced. From the popular media 20 years ago you’d think that adding chocolate was going to cause osteoporosis! The reality is, instead of absorbing 70-80% of the calcium in the milk you’d “only” absorb 60-70%. Then, comparing best case vs. worst case, it looks like adding chocolate syrup reduces your calcium absorption by 20%. The media failed to accentuate that you still get way more calcium from chocolate milk than if you didn’t drink milk at all!
And none of this has anything to do with all the other health and fitness benefits of drinking milk; chocolate or otherwise. The protein and carbs aren’t affected negatively at all, and the extra carbs; as the article points out; actually help your body absorb the protein more quickly, which is why it’s highly recommended as a “post exercise” supplement, for recovery purposes. Pre-exercise it would be ok, but no more so than any other “meal”. It’s energy to burn, if you need it, that is.