1. What is Protein and where does it come from?

Protein is one of the three primary macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and fat. All macronutrients contain carbon, oxygen and hydrogen molecules; however, protein differs in that it also contains nitrogen. Once protein is consumed, it is broken down into its component parts including the basic building blocks of protein, amino acids. Protein's building blocks, amino acids, are classified as essential, nonessential, and conditionally essential. Amino acids which the body cannot produce are essential because they must be consumed. Conditionally essential amino acids must be consumed only under certain circumstances. Amino acids which are important to the human body and their classification are displayed on the amino acid table of the amino acids page. Proteins containing all of the essential amino acids are deemed complete proteins because the body can break them down and create any proteins, nonessential amino acids, enzymes, hormones or structural components needed in the body. Examples of complete proteins, high in essential amino acids, are animal-based proteins such as chicken, beef, pork, fish, milk, cheese, as well as milk proteins such as whey, casein, egg and plant-based soy protein. Additionally, certain combinations of incomplete proteins such as beans and rice are complementary and form a complete protein when consumed together. The most convenient and highest quality protein sources available are protein shakes and protein bars, which are specifically formulated to have an ideal balance of essential amino acids to be effectively used within the body.

2. What does Protein do and what scientific studies give evidence to support this? What are the main types of protein supplements?

Protein is vital to life. Proteins are used in the body for anabolic purposes, assisting in the growth and repair of body tissues as well as for catabolic purposes such as energy production. Protein is an important nutrient for strength and stamina. It is a primary component of muscle tissue. Nevertheless, protein has all kinds of uses in the body, not just muscle building. It is used as structural material for cells and tissues, keratin in skin and elastin in connective tissue to name a few. It also plays a role in providing essential building blocks that help regulate important metabolic processes. The goal with athletes, bodybuilders and strength training individuals is to maintain nitrogen balance. Because nitrogen is a byproduct of protein metabolism, its excretion can be measured against its consumption. When nitrogen consumption and excretion are equal the body is said to be in nitrogen balance. If more nitrogen is excreted been consumed, the body is in negative nitrogen balance, which means one might be losing precious muscle. Supplementing one's diet with additional protein supplements can be highly beneficial, enhancing muscle tissue growth and serving as an energy source available during exercise. Due to the incredible efficiency of the human body, if adequate amino acids are not available during an intense workout, the body may start to cannibalize muscle tissue to make up for the deficit. That's why pre-workout and post-workout protein supplementation is vitally important for maintaining nitrogen balance and building muscle mass with protein consumption. One study found that when a group of individuals was split up and given either 40 g of essential amino acids or a placebo, then followed an identical resistance training program, the group taking amino acids showed greater muscle growth. A follow-up study was then conducted with the same protocols, except this time with 6 g of essential amino acids and 36 g of sucralose taken either pre-workout, postworkout, or at both times. what is interesting is that the data shows that group that consumed the essential amino acid and sugar combination before exercise produced a 158% greater anabolic effect than those who consumed it immediately after training (International Journal Of Sports Nutrition And Exercise Metabolism, 109-32. 2001). This study suggests that not only do amino acids assist muscle growth and energy for resistance training individuals, but the best time to consume this particular mixture is pre-workout. Some of the different types of protein supplements are:Meal Replacements, Whey Protein, Casein, Soy Protein, Egg Protein, and Protein bars. Of these some variations include: Low Carb, High Carb, Protein Blends, Protein Bars and straight Amino Acids. Let's look at each of these.

Meal Replacements : Nutritious "Fast Food" Meal Replacements (MRP's) are basically a protein powder that contains vitamins and minerals so that a serving will provide an adequate daily value of nutrients so as to "replace a meal". These are awesome, probably the most underrated supplement around. Many people use them because you know exactly what you are getting and they are a lot healthier than many other forms of fast food. These are a good way to go, although the price may be higher than basic protein sources such as whey protein concentrate.

Whey Protein : Most popular form of protein supplementation Whey Protein is derived from cheese. It is highly absorbed and easily assimilated. Whey is the way to go for a post workout shake because it gets into your system very rapidly and that's the most important time to get it! Less than half an hour is all it takes for the body to process it. Whey protein is generally available in as main types; the higher quality, more expensive isolate and the less expensive, generic concentrate.

 Casein : Slow digesting nighttime protein Casein is a milk based protein that takes longer than other types of protein supplements to be fully absorbed. Because it digests over a 2-7 hour time period, it works great as a nighttime protein supplement.

Soy Protein : Vegetarians' delight Soy Protein is one of the healthiest forms of protein because it provides a heart-healthy alternative to meat. As one of the only plant-based complete proteins, soy is great news for vegetarians. It is also beneficial for women because it provides estrogen support in women. It's ok for men to use soy, just not all the time as for women.

Egg Protein : Complete protein source Egg Protein is a good source, so long as no more than one yolk is consumed daily. More than one yolk exceeds the RDA for cholesterol (300 mg). Egg protein powder in a supplement shake provides a good anytime protein that absorbs at a medium pace (1.5-3 hours). Supplement powders also taste good and are great in terms of cholesterol as well.

Protein Blends : Versatile balanced protein source Protein Blends can be found in supplement protein powders and they have their benefits. For one thing, you get a variable absorption rate which means you get the best of all worlds. For another, you get a balanced source that is easy to consume.

 Low Carb : Strictly protein Straight protein supplement powders are low carb by nature; however, many manufacturers add in sugars to make it taste better. The low carb ones tend to be pretty much straight protein or use a sugar substitute that has little or no caloric value. These are great for those low carb diets and also for those who want to control their macronutrient intake with more precision, getting carbs from other sources. One caution: for the post workout shake, a little carbs are good to help your body absorb the protein easier by initiating an insulin spike.

High Carb/Weight Gainers : High calorie deliciousness On the other end of the spectrum, we have Weight Gainers (high carb). These are very popular for those trying to put on mass because they have a high ratio of carbs to proteins and may also include a healthy amount of fat. As calories are the real reason people put on weight, these tend to have higher serving sizes that are calorie dense.

Protein Bars : Convenient and tasty Protein bars are as convenient as can be and delicious if you find the right ones! Gone are the days of chalky disgusting protein bars. There are many chewy, delicious flavors to choose from! Many bars have a good mix of protein, carbs, fat, vitamins and minerals; but, they specialize so check the label. Also, remember you can always cut a bar in half, saving half for later and that would cut the calories in half if you're counting.

Amino Acids : The building blocks There are quite a few straight amino supplements out there and they can be great for muscle growth as well. You cannot get the quantity of protein this way, but you can get quality. You also know you're getting all the essential aminos to make a complete protein and branched chain aminos as well for increased muscle growth. These are great to take preworkout to give your body the building blocks it needs during your workout to respond to the stress you place on it.