Whey Protein Powder Isolate Supplements - Benefits, Side-Effects

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Whey Protein Powder Isolate Supplements - Benefits, Side Effects
by Dusty R. Green, Research Scientist and Author of Smart Eats, Smart Supplements and Smart Exercise

Protein supplementation, contrary to common beliefs shared by many of my college and university colleagues, is of great benefit to all exercisers.  The research backing the benefits can no longer be ignored -- particularly concerning whey protein.

Positive Nitrogen Balance
The physiological principles of protein supplementation are simple:  Exercise grows muscle, period.  Protein supplementation provides a positive environment for the muscle to grow.  Protein supplementation without exercise will not produce muscle growth.  Supplementation provides a positive nitrogen balance in the body.  Negative nitrogen balance puts the body in a catabolic state (muscle cannibalism), the state that most exercisers are in when they do not use protein supplements correctly.  Amino acids (building blocks of protein) in the right amounts are necessary for the anabolic state (muscle growth).  As we age, we lose muscle on a slow, consistent basis if we do not take the steps necessary to prevent the loss.  Muscle is metabolically active and the slow loss of muscle contributes to our fat stores.

Vegetarian diets are notoriously low in protein.  Vegetables contain protein but in the wrong ratios (bcaa's - branch chain amino acids) to maintain a positive nitrogen balance.  Generally, consuming any and all foodstuffs without protein supplementation will not provide the positive environment needed to grow muscle.  And, it will not keep you from losing muscle if you exercise aerobically (activities that require oxygen) or anaerobically (activities that do not require oxygen).

There is an exception to the above statement:  If you consume mass quantities of egg whites or other high protein foods (of animal origin) regularly you may stay in a positive nitrogen balance (when involved in a consistent exercise program).  Unfortunately, the biological value of animal protein is not as good as whey protein due to the side effects of cooking, injection of hormones, steroids, and genetic altering by our agricultural industry.

Aerobic activities make your body need extra protein because you are creating a negative nitrogen balance.  Have you ever noticed distance runners with well developed butt, thighs, and calves but comparatively small upper bodies?  If you deplete your muscles of glycogen (fuel formed from carbohydrates), the body literally eats its own muscle (mainly upper body in this case) for fuel.  Losses of protein in sweat, respiration, and hemolysis (death of red blood cells) increase dramatically as you exercise.

Burn patients and those experiencing other traumas display the side effects of severe muscle loss.  Their protein requirements are as high as athletes in intense training.  People in this desperate state have suppressed immune systems.  Proper protein intake can help enhance the immune system.

Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for Protein Intake
Studies prior to 1974 used sedentary individuals confined to metabolic wards as subjects for protein studies.  As a result, most colleagues I mentioned before "hang their hats" on the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs).  The RDA equates to approximately .36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.  Uninformed professors, physicians, nutritionists, and dieticians who are funded by the meat and dairy industries still encourage you to eat their high fat products for protein fulfillment.  If the proteins you eat are inadequate or inferior, the structures of your body may be inadequate and inferior.  Because of the RDA's being set at such a low range, it is easy for us to reach the .36 grams per pound of body weight by consuming high fat meat and dairy products.

Dr. I. Gontzea and colleagues at the Institute of Medicine in Bucharest were the first to show in 1974 that exercising bodies need more than the RDA.  For two weeks they gave sedentary athletes (not in training at the time of the study) .48 grams of protein per pound of body weight.  That amount is 72 grams for a 150-pound person, equating to 33 percent more than the RDA.  They stayed in a positive nitrogen balance.  After the two week sedentary period, they instructed the athletes to exercise for two hours per day.  Nitrogen balance dropped to negative within two days.  Protein intake one third higher than the RDA put them into the catabolic state when they exercised two hours a day.

Dr. Gontzea then fed protein to another group of athletes in amounts twice the RDA of .72 grams per pound of body weight, which is 108 grams for a 150-pound person.  As long as they remained sedentary, their nitrogen balance stayed positive.  When they began exercising for two hours a day, it took four days for their nitrogen balance to drop to the negative status.

A study conducted at Tufts University by Dr. William Evans and colleagues showed that men who exercise regularly and moderately (less than two hours/day) in endurance sports such as swimming, running, and/or cycling need about .64 grams of protein per pound of body weight on days of exercise, equating to 96 grams for a 150 pound person.

Dr. Peter Lemon, a leading researcher in the area of protein found that endurance athletes need 25-50 percent more protein than the RDA, dependent upon the intensity and duration of the activity.

A study reported in The Physician and Sports Medicine showed that weight trainers (those who spend lots of time in the gym) need protein at a rate of 438 percent higher than the RDA to keep them in a positive nitrogen balance, equating to about two grams per pound of body weight; 300 grams for a 150-pound person.

Dr. Michael Colgan at The Colgan Institute in California created a guide for us to follow for protein supplementation.  It is based on activity levels and body weight shown in table 21-1 below.

Table 21-1 -- Sports Training Category

Daily Protein Requirements for Athletes (in grams)

Body Weight/Pounds1 Class 1 Class 2 Class 3
88 80 68 56
110 100 85 70
132 120 102 84
154 140 119 98
176 160 136 112
198 180 153 126
220 200 170 140
242 220 187 154
264 240 204 168


Table 21-1 above taken from Optimum Sports Nutrition, pg. 151: Used by permission from Advanced Research Press and The Colgan Institute.

Dr. Colgan defines Class 1 sports as those that demand strength first, then speed, then endurance.  Class I includes weight training, shot put, javelin, discus, and men's gymnastics.  Class 2 sports are those that demand speed first, then strength, then endurance.  Sprints of all kinds, jumping, boxing, wrestling, karate, judo, women's gymnastics, and most ball games are in this class.  Class 3 sports are those in which endurance dominates.  These include middle and long distance running, triathlons, cross-country skiing, cycling, racquetball, and tennis.

Dr. Colgan adds that this system is for competition athletes and is based on maximum training levels of three hours per day or more.  He says that if you put in only one to two hours per day, you need less protein and, therefore, need to move one class to the right.  If you are already in Class 3, then move to the next lower bodyweight.

Dr. Colgan continues to say that the most amount of muscle gain they have measured in a year is 18.25 pounds in drug-free athletes.

Which Protein Is Best?
Egg whites, turkey, chicken, beef, etc. have low biological values (BV) compared to whey protein supplements.  The side effects of cooking causes cross-linking which is a form of oxidation.  It causes an undesirable bond between nucleic acids and proteins (free radical activity).  You are consuming damaged protein.

Well-processed whey hydrolysate (pre-digested) is by far the best protein on the market.  It has the highest BV of any protein.  BV is the measure that scientists use to rate how well nitrogen is absorbed into muscles.  Studies show that whey hydrolysate is much more effective than free form amino acids, soy, egg whites, and casein proteins.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)
Whey protein contains all of the essential and nonessential amino acids and has the three branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) in the highest concentrations found in nature (as in animal protein).  The BCAAs make up one third of muscle protein.  L-Leucine, L-Valine, and L-Isoleucine make up the BCAAs.  L-Leucine is used up faster than L-Valine or L-Isoleucine.  Therefore, L-Leucine should make up the highest content of the three in the protein supplement you choose.  Most whey supplements have been formulated based on this science.  Space your protein consumption throughout the day.  Some people have a hard time digesting more than 30 grams of protein per sitting.

If you are not taking in enough protein, you will know by watching your bodyweight and circumferential measurements drop without a drop in body fat.  If you are getting too much, you may experience the side effects of low back pain and feelings of malaise.  If you do not want to chance this discomfort, you may want to have a blood test for urea called blood urea nitrogen (BUN) during the time you are taking protein.  Some labs call it Urea Nitr for short or Urea Nitrogen.  The normal range varies from lab to lab.  Some say 4-24 milligrams per deciliter (mg./dl.) and others say 7-25 mg./dl.  Dr. Richard Passwater suggests that a BUN over 21 mg./dl. indicates poor health.  My BUN measured 15 mg./dl. on July 22, 1995 while in the midst of consuming 85-160 grams of protein per day.  I never experienced low back pain or feelings of malaise.  If these symptoms or side effects happen to you, lower your protein consumption.  After a while, you will excrete the excess and perk back up nicely.

High BUN can also be caused by dehydration.  If you are NOT urinating every three hours, you might want to consider bumping-up your water consumption.

Dangerous Iron Levels
Beware of many of the protein supplements on the market.  Many contain dangerous levels of iron (heart disease can be a side effect) particularly as you increase your protein intake.  Others have higher-than-needed ratios of carbohydrate to protein.  This means you would have to consume a lot of carbohydrates to get your needed protein, thus, over-loading you with unnecessary calories from carbohydrates.

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