by Josh Hodnik
Not many supplements have had a bigger impact on the sports nutrition industry over the past few decades than whey protein. Until the early 90s, the only powdered protein available was in the form of soy, egg, or milk. These protein powders from decades ago tasted horrible, clumped when mixed, and digested poorly. When whey protein was first introduced as a sports supplement, it was praised for it’s high absorption rate, solubility, and superior taste. Finally, a protein powder was available that allowed bodybuilders to consume higher levels of protein that contained high levels of BCAAs, without having to consume it all in the form of whole foods.
Whey protein is considered by many to be a superior form of protein when it comes to protein powders due to its high absorption rate and amino acid profile. There has been some debate over the past few years on whether a fast releasing protein like whey or a slow releasing protein such as casein is more beneficial for muscle growth. Whey and casein make up the majority of protein sold to bodybuilders and other athletes in the United States.
One characteristic that whey protein, whey protein concentrate in particular, possesses is its ability to fight against overtraining syndrome (OTS). Anyone that has experienced overtraining syndrome can attest to its ability to suppress the immune system, which leaves a person very vulnerable to becoming sick. OTS carries a number of symptoms that many people have experienced at some point if they have trained as an endurance athlete or with heavy weights over a long period of time.
The Symptoms Include:
* Lack of energy
* Aches and pains in muscles and joints
* Moodiness and irritability
* Decreased appetite
* Inability to recover properly
* Increase in injuries
OTS often occurs in endurance athletes and will occasionally occur in people that weight train at high levels without enough recovery time, enough sleep, or the right nutrients to fuel the body’s recovery process properly. Other factors such as emotional stress and environmental stress can lead to OTS as well.
Electrons (negatively charged particles) are involved in chemical reactions and are the substance that bonds atoms together to form molecules. Bonds don’t normally split in a way that leaves a molecule with an unpaired electron. But when weak bonds split, free radicals are formed. Free radicals will generally attack the nearest molecule to steal an electron in an attempt to gain stability. When the attacked molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical, starting a chain reaction. Once this process is started, damage to living cells can occur. Some free radicals are formed normally from metabolism, and the body’s immune system can create them to neutralize bacteria and viruses. When high stress is present, such as during overtraining, excess free radicals are produced and damage to cells occur.
Antioxidants protect the body against free radicals by donating an electron. This neutralizes the free radical and ends the process of electron stealing. Vitamin E and C are well known antioxidants that have been shown to protect the body against free radical damage. But when very high levels of free radicals are present, these antioxidants can have a hard time keeping up. That is where glutathione can help. This antioxidant that is comprised of three amino acids bonded together (cysteine, glycine, and glutamine), is the most powerful antioxidant utilized by the human body. Glutathione is produced in the body to fight free radicals, eliminate toxins, and support the immune system. Levels of glutathione can be greatly reduced during times of stress when excess free radicals are present. Glutathione levels can decline with age. Reduced glutathione levels have been associated with diseases such as AIDS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
Overtraining has been linked to low levels of glutathione. When levels become low from overtraining, it becomes difficult to rid the body of toxins produced during training, free radical levels are elevated, and the immune system suffers. This all leads to slower recovery, and the person becomes more susceptible to injury and disease. It seems obvious that during times of stress that can occur with high intensity training, it would be beneficial to raise glutathione levels. This is where whey protein comes into the picture. Whey protein concentrate has been shown to raise glutathione higher than normal levels and beyond that of any other protein source studied. Several U.S. patents have been granted for the treatment of AIDS using whey protein concentrates to improve the immune system. If whey protein concentrate’s immune boosting ability can have an impact on a patient suffering from AIDS, it can surely work wonders for people that suffer from OTS. Whey protein concentrates contain lactoferrin and various other immunoglobins, which are key in raising glutathione levels. The immunoglobins and lactoferrin are found in only trace amounts in whey protein isolates due to the filtration process. So whey protein concentrate would be the obvious choice when trying to boost immune function.
OTS is generally related to individuals that train too long and too often, and who do not get enough rest and nutrients to recover. But some people can be much more susceptible to OTS if their glutathione levels are naturally below normal. Levels of this antioxidant can decline with age, but high levels of stress have been shown to have the biggest impact on lowering glutathione levels.
It is known that whey protein concentrate can dramatically raise glutathione levels in the human body. By doing this, there is less likelihood of cell damage, joint inflammation, or soft tissue damage. When the body is able to fight off free radicals with the help of glutathione, there is less chance of OTS. Overtraining syndrome is a huge roadblock for muscle growth. Never have I seen a case where someone experienced muscle gains while OTS symptoms were present. Whey protein concentrate is something that every bodybuilder or any other athlete should consume on a regular basis to avoid OTS and to keep