Supplements After 50: Zinc

Oysters are a great source of zinc

This article is part of a series called “Supplements After 50”. You can view other posts in the series here: creatine, fish oil, vitamin D, magnesium, leucine, and protein.

Why Zinc?

Zinc is a micronutrient that is essential for your health. Zinc has been linked to a host of conditions (1) but for us middle-aged guys there are some specific reasons to supplement, like age-related vision loss, colon and rectal tumors, depression, muscle cramps, protein synthesis, and testosterone production(2).

As an athlete and middle-aged man with steadily decreasing testosterone and sarcopenia (age-related muscle shrinkage), the protein synthesis and testosterone production benefits are enough for me.

Sources of Zinc

Zinc is not something that is made in, or stored by, your body, so you’ve got to get it from an external source, either from food or by supplements. Food sources of zinc include oysters (super high in zinc) and beef, then in lower amounts in legumes, chicken and pork.(3)

When it comes to supplements, there are (at least) two things to take into consideration:

  1. Zinc as a gluconate has a couple of advantages over other zinc supplements. First, apparently many zinc supplements frequently contain cadmium as well because they two are “chemically similar and found together in nature”. When zinc is processed as zinc gluconate it contains lower levels of cadmium(1). Second, gluconates are often absorbed by the body easier than other methods, like zinc oxide.(4) (That’s why I also take magnesium as a gluconate as well).
  2. ZMA (zinc, magnesium aspartate, and B6) is a combination that has a controversial past. In 2000 the Journal of Exercise Physiology published a study(5) that showed that when a group of NCAA football players took a formulation of ZMA their free testosterone increased 30% (wow!) along with increases in growth hormone. However, the company who made the ZMA supplement also sponsored the study (conflict of interest), and subsequent studies haven’t been able to replicate the findings.

Final Thoughts on Zinc

It’s important to note that while doing the research on zinc supplementation I found several studies and statements across sites that said that most Americans and Europeans weren’t deficient in zinc. You can (and probably should) be tested for zinc levels during your annual checkup.

With that said, here is how and why I supplement: Since zinc is not produced or stored by the body, it’s essential that we get it from outside sources. Our bodies also use more zinc or flush zinc depending on our activity level. For instance,  zinc loss happens as we sweat and our need for zinc increases if our body is under certain stresses. As an athlete I beat my body up five days a week. I sweat buckets and damage my body through heavy resistance and interval training, and occasional rugby games and practices. With that in mind, I supplement primarily on days when I’ve had a physically grueling workout. It’s typical for me to supplement with 50mg before bed on Monday/Wednesday/Friday because they’re heavy lifting days, or after a rugby match. Otherwise, on running or interval training days or weekend recovery days, I won’t supplement.

Finally, I’ve been waiting for my magnesium and zinc supplements to run low so that I can do a round of ZMA supplementation. If I’m already taking these two minerals, then I don’t see the harm in replacing my current regimen with ZMA to see if I notice a difference. (Of course, it will be subjective since I won’t be getting blood work done during the trial).

Do you take a zinc supplement? If so, what kind and why?  Share in the comments below.

References

[1] https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-982/zinc
[2] “Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults.”, Nutrition, 1996, May 12, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8875519?dopt=Abstract&holding=npg
[3] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3901420/
[5] “Effects of a Novel Zinc-Magnesium Formulation on Hormones and Strength”, Journal of Exercise Physiology online, Volume 3 Number 4 October 2000, https://www.asep.org/asep/asep/BrillaV2.PDF

Supplements After 50: Creatine

Steak is a great source of creatine

This article is part of a series called “Supplements After 50”. You can view the first 5 posts here: fish oil, vitamin D, magnesium, leucine and protein.

What Is Creatine?

Creatine is a chemical that is found in your body, in both muscle and brain tissue. It’s one of the most studied performance-enhancing supplements on the market. Creatine is used during energy production for activities that are short, explosive, powerful movements like short sprints and powerlifting that last 10-15 seconds. When plenty of creatine exists in your body, you’re able to refuel that energy system quicker and more often after those explosive bouts of exercise.

Why Take A Creatine Supplement?

I’ve already hinted at the answer to this question, but it lies in your body’s ability to refuel after exercise. Your body’s natural store of creatine will only last so long: adding creatine to your diet will allow you to repeat those sprints or lifts more often, and with shorter recovery times between reps.

In contrast to the other supplements in the “Supplements After 50” series, I would categorize this supplement as an option for athletes, especially power athletes. Creatine supplementation won’t do much for a distance athlete, since long-term aerobic exercise system doesn’t rely on the ATP-PC (adenosine triphosphate – phosphocreatine) energy system.

Two articles that are great in explaining this more fully are this one from Pubmed and this one from Brickhouse Nutrition.

Sources of Creatine

You can supplement your creatine naturally through high protein foods like red meat, wild game, and fish such as salmon and tuna.

Creatine supplements are available as Creatine Monohydrate or “micronized” Creatine Monohydrate, with a smaller particle size for quicker uptake. Most supplement suppliers have some form of creatine supplement available, either as a powder or capsule. Personally, I buy mine from BulkSupplements on Amazon (Affiliate link). Several creatine supplement powders I’ve purchased in the past recommend a “loading” phase. Personally, I skip the loading phase and use a straight dose. I add it to my morning shake daily, and will cycle off for a couple of weeks after I finish a bag.

Final Thoughts

Again,  this is an optional supplement for athletes. As a lifter and a rugby player, I’m engaging in some kind of explosive exercise almost every day. Maximizing every edge, especially at my age, is important.  That’s why I add creatine to my diet. You may skip this altogether, depending on your exercise needs.

Supplements After 50: Leucine

Lean meat is a good source of leucine

This article is part of a series called “Supplements After 50”. You can view the first 3 posts here: fish oil, vitamin D, magnesium, and protein.

Why Take A Leucine Supplement?

Leucine is an essential amino acid that directly influences, among other things, muscle protein synthesis (MPS)[1]. If you’ve been following this series and read the post on protein supplementation, you’ll remember that MPS is a big deal for guys as they get older. As we age, we begin losing muscle (a process known as sarcopenia). But if we’re physically active and keep our protein intake up, we can slow the process. Some studies have shown that increasing our protein intake is even more beneficial as we age. [2]

Because leucine assists in MPS, increasing your plasma leucine level assists in metabolizing protein and therefore building – and maintaining – muscle tissue.

Sources of Leucine

Lean meat like beef, pork or chicken is high in leucine. Dairy products, especially cheese and Greek yogurt, are generally high in leucine as well. In fact, a serving of Greek yogurt has about as much leucine as four eggs.[3] Finally, legumes, which are also high in protein, also contain a significant amount of leucine.[4]

You can purchase (affiliate link) a leucine supplement by itself or as a part of a BCAA (branched chain amino acid) supplement. Or, many protein powders contain some sort of added leucine / BCAA cocktail as well.

When To Take Leucine

Research has shown that leucine can have an affect both pre and post-workout.[5] Because leucine seems to impede muscle breakdown during workouts, many folks take some kind of supplement either before or during workouts. And because leucine helps kick protein synthesis into high gear, often it can be taken with a protein supplement post-workout to make the most out of the anabolic response to your workout. (If you’re sucking down a protein shake post-workout, you may already be getting the leucine you need, because many protein powders contain added leucine.)

There has been some speculation that taking leucine before bedtime is helpful as well. But even though protein ingestion before bed has been proven to boost MPS, research seems to indicate that adding a leucine supplement at bedtime has no effect. [6] Why waste it?

Conclusion

If you’re looking to build and/or maintain muscle mass and strength after 50, you have to make the most of every opportunity to increase muscle protein synthesis. Resistance exercise kicks MPS into gear, added protein provides the raw materials, and leucine seems to provide the pathway. Add a leucine supplement to your pre or post-workout shake to build even more muscle.

References

[1] Dan J. Weinert, DC, MS*, “Nutrition and muscle protein synthesis: a descriptive review”. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association. 2009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2732256/

[2] Paddon-Jones D, Short KR, Campbell WW, Volpi E, Wolfe RR. “Role of dietary protein in the sarcopenia of aging”. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(5):1562S-1566S. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18469288

[3] Leucine Content In Common Foods, Whey Protein Institute, wheyoflife.com. 2013.

[4] Joanne Marie, “A List of Leucine-Rich Foods”. Livestrong.com. 2017. https://www.livestrong.com/article/346375-a-list-of-leucine-rich-foods/

[5] Matthew Stark, Judith Lukaszuk, Aimee Prawitz, and Amanda Salacinski, “Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training”. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3529694/

[6] Jorn Trommelen and Luc J. C. van Loon, “Pre-Sleep Protein Ingestion to Improve the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise Training”. Nutrients. 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5188418/

Supplements After 50: Fish Oil

Salmon is a good source of fish oil

This article is part of a series called “Supplements After 50”. You can view the first 3 posts here, here, and here.

There are lots of reasons to take supplements. I take a bunch. Because of our diet, lifestyle, and the natural aging process, middle-aged guys like me sometimes need to fill in the gaps with supplements. Hopefully this series will help you think about the gaps you might have.

Why Take Fish Oil?

The benefits of fish oil have been studied for decades. In the ’70’s researchers noticed that Inuit people, who have a history of eating fatty meat and fish, didn’t seem to have the same coronary heart disease as would be expected. It was theorized that the fish oil in their diet protected them from heart disease.[1] Even though that theory has largely been debunked, the research surrounding it has given us reason to continue to pursue a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil.

Fish oil, or, more specifically omega-3 fatty acids, have been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce sudden cardiac mortality (by 45%!!!)  and all-cause mortality by 20%. In addition – and this is the big one for me – omega-3 fatty acids can reduce triglyceride levels by up to 30-50%.[2]

I’ve been plagued with high cholesterol / triglycerides since I was in my 20’s. My grandfather had a terrible time with his cholesterol, leading to a series of debilitating strokes which eventually led to his institutionalization and death by age 66. Not me.

And, finally, fish oil works as a pain reliever. In an amazing series of studies, fish oil was found to be as effective as prescription NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) medications, like ibuprofen. In one study of 250 participants, “[f]ifty-nine percent discontinued to take their prescription NSAID medications for pain. Sixty percent stated that their overall pain was improved, and 60% stated that their joint pain had improved. Eighty percent stated they were satisfied with their improvement, and 88% stated they would continue to take the fish oil.”[3] I get beat up a lot, both on the rugby field and in the gym. If I were to scarf down a handful of ibuprofen or Tylenol every time I was beat up, my stomach would look like Swiss cheese.

Sources of Omega-3

I’ve used fish oil and omega-3 almost interchangeably so far in this post, but there really is a difference. There are lots of different places to get omega-3’s, and fish oil is just one of them.

There are different types of omega-3’s as well. ALA, DHA and EPA are all forms you’ve probably seen on foods and supplements. DHA and EPA are easier for your body to work with. It’s harder for your body to work with ALA, especially plant-based. [4]

Fish are a great source of omega-3’s, thus the explosion of fish oil supplements. It’s always great to get what you need from your diet, rather than supplements, so if you’re a pescatarian, you’re in luck: tuna, salmon, sardines, you name it; they’re good sources of omega-3. In fact, I’ve heard Tim Ferriss tout Wild Planet Canned Sardines in Olive Oil (which itself has omega-3’s) for breakfast. Personally, I buy the multi-packs of tuna at Costco and eat them straight out of the can. And, I eat sardines with breakfast each morning.

Many nuts are high in omega-3’s. Walnuts, flaxseed, hemp seeds and cashews all contain AHA (which, again, isn’t very efficient, but helpful nonetheless). I buy large containers of cashews at Costco, and bags of walnuts at Kroger. A handful of walnuts are a part of my breakfast each morning, and I carry a handful of cashews with me during the day to snack on.

A lot of dairy products either come with omega-3 fatty acids naturally, or have it added during packaging / production. Eggs, milk and yogurt often contain modest amount of omega-3’s.

Also, leafy vegetables in the brassica family such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli contain omega-3’s.

Finally, if your diet isn’t providing what you want you can take a supplement. There’s a lot of “snake oil” fish oil supplements out there, so be careful what you buy. One concern is the mercury level found in fish, and its concentration in fish oil supplements. Labdoor has a nice comparison chart over at https://labdoor.com/rankings/fish-oil . Bodynutrition.org has another chart available at https://bodynutrition.org/fish-oil/.

Personally, due to affordability and accessibility, I use the Costco 1200 mg “One Per Day”  fish oil (Amazon affiliate link http://amzn.to/2BW77EE). I take two per day, however.

Conclusion

First of all, this is the part where I tell you I’m not a nutritionist or dietician; I’m just telling you what I do for my health. Your mileage may vary.

Second, it’s been a while since I’ve had any blood work done, so it’s hard for me to give you any kind of before / after comparison after I started taking fish oil.

I can tell you that I don’t take ibuprofen any more for pain. I can also tell you that I’m confident that I’m doing what I can to keep my triglycerides in check, outside of taking a statin drug. The next time I have a checkup (hopefully first quarter of 2018) I’ll let you know.

Are you taking any kind of omega-3 supplement? If so, what?

References

[1] “Fish oil and the ‘Eskimo diet’: another medical myth debunked”, https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2014/08/fish-oil-and-eskimo-diet-another-medical-myth-debunked
[2] “From Inuit to implementation: omega-3 fatty acids come of age.”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10852422
[3] “Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain.”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16531187
[4] “Your Omega-3 Family Shopping List”, https://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/your-omega-3-family-shopping-list#1

Supplements After 50: Magnesium

Almonds contain magnesium

This article is part of a series called “Supplements After 50”. The first two posts are here and here.

Magnesium is a recent addition to my supplement regimen. If you’re like me, you mindlessly take a daily multi-vitamin, expecting that your “recommended daily allowances” are in that horse pill. Just like we discovered with vitamin D, if you’re over 50, you may not be getting all the magnesium you need, even in one of those “Silver” multi-vitamins.

Why Take Magnesium?

I had heard lots of folks online talk about magnesium (and you know everything you read on the Internet is true!). But it wasn’t until my chiropractor suggested I take it that I took it seriously. At the time I was recovering from a particularly nasty shoulder injury after a tough week of rugby. My muscles were in knots, and we were trying to get them to release some of the tension they were holding. That’s when he suggested I take a supplement. As it turns out, magnesium plays a major role in muscle function, including its ability to contract and relax. Theoretically, then, supplementing an deficient athlete’s magnesium intake could affect performance and recovery.

Magnesium plays a role in plenty of bodily functions, but here are some reasons why I take it:

  • Exercise recovery – A 2006 study[1] stated “Magnesium supplementation or increased dietary intake of magnesium will have beneficial effects on exercise performance in magnesium-deficient individuals”. See comments, above.
  • Better sleep – I struggle with sleep quality, and have for years. Although the reasons aren’t entirely known, magnesium improves several indicators of good sleep. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study (the gold standard) in 2012 by the Faculty of Nutrition and Food Technology, Tehran, Iran [2] concluded that supplementation improved “sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency, early morning awakening, and likewise, insomnia objective measures such as concentration of serum renin, melatonin, and serum cortisol, in elderly people”.
  • Increased testosterone – I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but testosterone production decreases in men as they age. Yet it’s one of those elements that makes men – well – men! Although many of my peers have decided to start hormone therapy, I’m holding off as long as possible. Magnesium seems to affect testosterone levels. A 2010 study “show[ed] that supplementation with magnesium increases free and total testosterone values in sedentary and in athletes”[3]. Add that to my regimen!
  • Insulin sensitivity – Again, I’ve written about this before. In a family where both sides are passing me an inclination towards diabetes, I’ll try anything to stave it off as long as I can. A randomized double-blind study by the Medical Research Unit in Clinical Epidemiology in Mexico determined that insulin sensitivity was improved with oral magnesium supplementation.[4]
  • Other – Other conditions magnesium is known for improving include inflammation (in adults older than 51), depression (especially in younger adults), and bone health (by increasing the efficiency of calcium uptake).

Update (September 21, 2018) The journal Open Heart published a very long and detailed report on hypomagnesemia (low magnesium) in its January 13, 2018 issue. It goes far beyond what I can cover. Download the PDF here.

Natural Sources of Magnesium

First of all, let me say that before trying to supplement with magnesium that you should consult your doctor. As always in life, too much of a good thing can turn out to be bad.

The US RDA for magnesium is 420 mg/day for men 31 years old and up.

Natural sources of magnesium include green, leafy vegetables (like spinach or chard), nuts (a cup of sliced almonds has around 250 mg), yogurt or kefir, and black beans.

My Experience

If you go the oral supplementation route, you have several choices, but let me share my experience in hunting down the best I could find and afford.

Off the shelf at your local grocery or pharmacy you’ll find two main magnesium supplements available: magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide. I had a terrible time tolerating these. If you don’t recognize it, magnesium citrate is the stuff you get before having a colonoscopy. It induces explosive diarrhea. Most people don’t want that.

Magnesium oxide is better absorbed by your body than magnesium citrate, but it’s still not an incredibly efficient source of magnesium. In addition, I still had considerable stomach issues taking it. It’s probably the cheapest magnesium supplement on the shelf, however, so some people may opt for this based on price.

I finally landed on magnesium glycinate. Because of the way the magnesium is combined with the amino acid glycinate, it is easily absorbed and also gentle on the stomach. However, it’s also the most expensive formulation I found. My first batch was from Metagenics ($25.95 for 120 100 mg tablets). I am now testing Doctor’s Best High Absorption Magnesium (Amazon affiliate link). It’s a little different formulation, but is still easy on my stomach at this point, and it’s a bit less expensive than the Metagenics ($14.60 for 240 200 mg tablets).

Are you taking a magnesium supplement? Why? Which one? Chime in below and let us know.

References

[1] “Update on the relationship between magnesium and exercise”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17172008
[2] “The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23853635
[3] “Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Testosterone Levels of Athletes and Sedentary Subjects at Rest and after Exhaustion”, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12011-010-8676-3
[4] “Oral Magnesium Supplementation Improves Insulin Sensitivity and Metabolic Control in Type 2 Diabetic Subjects”, http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/4/1147.short

Supplements After 50: Vitamin D

Sun and milk

This is the second in a series called “Supplements After 50”. The first post is here.

You – like me – know of vitamin D because it builds “healthy bones and teeth”. Since the 1920’s, vitamin D has been added to milk because of its ability to help the body absorb calcium. In the 1920’s a lot of kids had rickets (a condition where bones are weak and soft). Lots of people drank milk, so adding vitamin D to the milk was a way to blanket the population.

But there’s more to vitamin D than bones.

What is vitamin D good for?

Besides calcium absorption, there are a couple of other important benefits to adequate vitamin D absorption.

  • Testosterone levels: Since our T levels drop as we become older, anything that will help me keep my testosterone at a decent level is good. At least one study pointed toward an increase in testosterone when a group of men 20-49 supplemented with vitamin D.
  • Increased insulin sensitivity: I’ve spoken about this before, but type 2 diabetes is on the rise. It’s estimated that over 29 million people in the United States alone have some kind of diabetes. My family has a history of diabetes, and I don’t want to be another statistic. Increases in vitamin D increase your level of insulin sensitivity.
  • Brain function: It seems vitamin D receptors are scattered all through brain tissue. Some studies have shown that vitamin D helps increase cognitive function. This includes clearing the plaques that are precursors to Alzheimer’s disease.

Where does vitamin D come from?

There are two, main, natural sources for vitamin D. Food and the sun. Unfortunately, there are few food sources that contain significant levels of vitamin D. According to the National Institutes of Health, fatty fish such as tuna and salmon qualify, as does liver, eggs, and cheese, along with mushrooms. That’s about it.

The second source is the sun. But we’re in bad shape there, too. Most of us have indoor jobs that keep us out of the sun. And even when we do get outside, we lather ourselves in SPF 4000 sunscreen that blocks our skin’s ability to absorb the light our bodies need to produce vitamin D.

Add to that the fact that as we age, we are more likely to be deficient, and it becomes almost impossible to get enough vitamin D from natural sources.

Guidelines for taking vitamin D

It’s been estimated that virtually everyone living in the U.S. is deficient in vitamin D. That doesn’t mean you should rush out and start taking a supplement. Because there are some negative consequences to taking too much vitamin D, you should have your levels checked as part of your regular physical’s blood work.

Complications from too much vitamin D include kidney stones, kidney failure, excess bone loss, and calcification of arteries and soft tissues.

My experience

I started taking 2000 IU of D3 about six months ago. I may be abnormal, but I quickly noticed a difference in my mental clarity. I haven’t had my T-levels taken in quite a while, so I’m not sure how/if that has changed at all. But it was as if a cloud lifted off my brain. I can think quicker and recall details faster. Whether it was tied to some mild depression or something else, clearing the junk away has given me a better overall sense of well-being. I’m so glad I started taking it.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

Supplements After 50: Whey Protein

SteakAt 50 years old, I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. That’s actually a good thing. Most guys my age are trying to trim down, lose the “spare tire”, beer gut, whatever you want to call it. I’m on a quest to gain weight, particularly muscle.

When I was 46, I took up the sport of rugby. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s a story for another time. I had been back in the gym for about a year, and weighed close to 170 lbs. I thought I was fit, but after a couple of weeks of running my guts out in 90 degree weather, I dropped down to 160. That first season I got the crap kicked out of me. Not only was I the oldest guy on the team (by far), I was also the smallest. I needed more muscle to cushion the blows I was taking on the field.

Muscle Building at 50

The problem is that somewhere in your 30’s, your body quits building muscle and actually starts losing it. It’s a natural part of aging called sarcopenia. Of course, with that loss of muscle mass, you also lose strength. I have too many things that require a fair amount of strength; I still play rugby, I work on cars, and because I also have 5 other guys living with me, we get constant calls to help move or lift whatever needs to be moved or lifted.

And hey: I still want to look good naked. And clothed, I guess.

Protein Supplementation

If losing muscle is a fact of life, can we slow the process down? I’m on a quest to do just that, and at this point I’d say “yes”. It wasn’t until I discovered that there’s a magic protein formula that I started gaining weight and packing the muscle back on. Now I’m up from 160 lbs to 175 lbs.

There’s a lot of discussion about this on the interwebs, but the “magic formula” seems to be about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight in order to gain muscle weight. So at my current weight, I should aim for about 175 grams  of protein a day.

To give you an idea of what you’d have to eat to get that much protein, check out these numbers:

  • 1 lb chicken breast = 16 g
  • 1 lb ribeye steak = 108 g
  • Hard boiled egg = 6 g
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt = 8 g

Depending on what’s available in a given day, 175 g of protein would be hard to do. I certainly can’t afford steak every day. So I supplement with 2 protein shakes per day. Each shake contains about 27 g of protein. Along with my regular meals, this puts me in the ball park of my target.

Types of Protein Supplements

There are lots of options when it comes to protein supplements, but the big 3 are whey protein, casein protein, and some kind of vegetable protein. Let me say that as a high school kid I took protein shakes and they were awful. They never mixed well and they tasted terrible. My experience these days is that the whey and casein shakes generally taste pretty good and mix well. Not so with the vegetable protein powders. The ones I’ve tried are pretty terrible, so I’m not even going to mention them in this article.

So what’s the difference between whey and casein, and which one should you choose? It mainly boils down to how quickly the body metabolizes or synthesizes the protein. Whey protein causes your muscle protein synthesis to spike pretty high, but it’s short lived. Casein, on the other hand, takes much longer to work it’s way through your system, so your body is in synthesis mode for a longer period of time, giving you a bigger boost. Casein also has more amino acids that your body needs, especially if you’re really active.

Both casein and whey are derived from milk products, but extracted differently. Whey comes from the liquid portion of milk (mostly it’s a byproduct of yogurt production) whereas casein comes from milk solids. A whey supplement is usually cheaper than casein (because, again, it’s a byproduct of another process) so when pricing protein the cheaper option is probably a whey supplement. But high-quality protein powders will have some combination of the two. Also, you can be picky and buy an all-whey or all-casein supplement.

My Protein Supplement Strategy

Based on my budget, my goals and the application of some recent studies and articles I’ve read, here is how I approach my protein supplementation:

  • One whey protein shake in the morning about 9 am (or 12-14 hours after my last food intake the day before). This is my all-around breakfast shake, so it has more than just protein powder: it has milk, spinach, yogurt, berries, and banana as well.
  • On workout days, I drink another whey protein shake right after workouts. The quick spike in protein synthesis seems to be helpful after my body has shifted into high gear after a heavy workout.
  • On non-workout days I have a simple whey protein shake about  an hour to hour and 1/2 before bed time (which is 10 or 11 pm).
  • Every night I try to eat 150 g serving of Greek yogurt about an hour before bed. Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and other cheeses are good sources of casein protein. Rather than purchase another protein supplement, I get a shot of yogurt to give me that slow-release protein overnight.

Conclusion

This strategy has worked for me. 15 pounds over the course of last year, while dropping a waist size from 32 to 30. For now, 175 lbs seems to be my magic weight; I haven’t gained any additional weight in the last 3-6 months. But I’m at least holding steady, and my strength numbers are increasing in the gym.

Scott Rugby
175 lbs August 2017 Rugby Tournament

If you want some more geeky reading, here are a couple of articles that make sense of muscle protein synthesis, protein timing, etc.