Monday, September 15, 2014

18% Increased Protein Breakdown W/ 20g of Egg Protein Before Workout - Reason Enough for Avoiding Pre-Workout Protein Supps? Rational & Experimental Counter-Evidence

Protein before workouts "accelerates protein catabolism"? That sounds worse than it actually is (photo BSN).
Most of you will probably consume a protein shake after their workout. Probably whey, if you've read all SuppVersity articles, maybe 25g whey + 10g casein (learn why), or something like that. But what do you do before your workouts? Do you consume a protein shake 60-90 minutes before your workout? If so, you will be shocked about the conclusion of a recent study from the Tokyo University of Agriculture which says: "[...]  pre-exercise protein supplementation taken in excess may accelerate protein catabolism" (Hasegawa. 2014).

But is it actually possible that consuming more protein (albeit at the wrong time) will have a negative impact on your gains?
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Before we can answer this important question it is necessary to take a look at the actual design of the randomized cross-over study.
Figure 1: Graphical overview of the experimental protocol (Hasegawa. 2014)
The participants, six healthy male university students [21.2 (±0.3) years, 173.6 (±2.8) cm, and 62.7 (±2.8)kg] with no allergies to egg white or soy, the two protein sources the effects of which the researchers initially wanted to compare, underwent three 8-day testing periods with an exercise at the end (the 8-day intervals were separated by at least seven days).
"Each  testing period began on Day-1 and ended the meat-free diet  consisting of grains, beans, and milk, and 24- hour urine sample collection on Day-8 (Figure 1). Participants were allocated into  one of three groups; egg white protein (E), soy protein (S), and mineral water control (C) group with no additive, and all were carried out this study protocol three times, and asked not to change their lifestyle behaviors." (Hasegawa. 2014). 
The result of this study should remind you of the "Protein-Wheysting" Article | more is not always better!
On Day-5, the day of the workout, the  participants arrived at the  laboratory at 8:00 AM, and had a breakfast consisting of a rice ball (energy, 355 kcal; protein, 6.7 g; carbohydrate, 78.1 g). At 9:30 AM, after the baseline blood sample collection and perceived muscle soreness (MS) measurements, the subjects received one of the three test beverages which contained
  • 20 g of egg protein,
  • 20g of soy protein, or
  • an isoenergetic placebo without protein
that had been dissolved in 200ml of mineral water. 90 minutes later, at 11:00 AM, the previously untrained participants started a resistance training protocol that involved seated rows, flys, leg extensions, and leg presses.

The exercises were performed for three sets of 10 repetitions at ~80% of a predetermined 1-RM with one min rest between sets and two minutes between each exercise.
Figure 2: no significant difference in perceived fatique, but a significant reduction in peak muscle soreness in the soy (grey blocks) vs. the control (white triangles) group (Hasegawa. 2014).
As you can see in Figure 2, the initially mentioned negative effects of the protein supplement were not the only significant inter-trial differences the scientists observed; and what's more, the significantly decreased muscle soreness in response to both protein powders (the peak levels differed statistically significantly only for control vs. soy) stands in stark contrast the mainstream interpretation of protein breakdown (which is "protein breakdown = muscle loss").

How is that possible? Increased protein breakdown and reduced muscle soreness?

So, here we are with an obvious contradiction between the reduced muscle soreness (Figure 2) and the scientists claim that "pre-exercise protein supplementation taken in excess may accelerate protein catabolism" (Hasegawa. 2014)... you already guessed it: The contradiction depends on the false assumption that "protein catabolism" means "catabolism of muscle protein", which is not generally the case and in this specific case certainly wrong.
Figure 3: Urinary nitrogen excretion measured for 72h after the workout (Hasegawa. 2014)
The process we are talking about here is thus most likely not an increase in "mucle catabolism" but rather about the absence of a reduction in protein wasting, i.e a "protein sparing" mechanism that won't be triggered if there is plenty of protein around during the workout.
"So you're saying we don't have to worry?" Basically this is the message of today's SuppVersity article, yes. The notion that the increased amount of nitrogen the scientists measured in their subjects urine is the end product of muscle protein breakdown is highly questionable. It's more likely that the provision of extra protein makes the initiation of protein sparing mechanisms which would otherwise reduce the nitrogen excretion in the control group superfluous - I mean, look at Figure 3 again: Compared to Day 4 (i.e. baseline before workout), the levels remain stable in both protein supplementation groups.

If your pre-workout protein makes you hypo, stop using it or buffer the drop in blood sugar w/ CHO | learn why
You still have doubts!? Well, I have evidence to support my conclusion. Wycherley et al. (2010), for example, were able to show that their dieting subjects saw the same improvements in body composition no matter whether they consumed their protein + carbohydrate beverage (likewise 20g of protein) before or after their resistance training workouts. Rasmussen et al. (2000) report significant increases in muscle protein anabolism after resistance training with pre-workout EAA supplementation. And a protein + carbohydrate supplement reduced (not increased) the muscle damage (as evidenced by 33% reduced increase in myoglobin) in some, but not all subjects in a resistance training study by Baty et al. (7 free weight ex; 3 sets x8 reps to failure | Baty. 2007).

All in all, it does therefore not appear to be indicated to change your current supplementation practice (if you are consuming protein before your workouts)... well, unless you feel wiped out, whenever you consume protein before your workout. In that case, the protein induced increase in insulin is probably sending you right down the hypoglycemia alley. In view of given negative effects on your exercise performance and the touted increases in obesity risk, this is something you should try to avoid by either buffering the insulin spike with carbs or simply avoiding the ingestion of fast digesting protein supplements before your workouts | Comment on Facebook!
  • Baty, Jacob J., et al. "The effect of a carbohydrate and protein supplement on resistance exercise performance, hormonal response, and muscle damage." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 21.2 (2007): 321-329.
  • Hasegawa, Yuko, et al. "Effect of Egg White Protein Supplementation Prior to Acute Resistance Training on Muscle Damage Indices in Untrained Japanese Men." Monten. J. Sports Sci. Med. 3 (2014) 2: 5–12.
  • Rasmussen, Blake B., et al. "An oral essential amino acid-carbohydrate supplement enhances muscle protein anabolism after resistance exercise." Journal of Applied Physiology 88.2 (2000): 386-392.
  • Wycherley, Thomas Philip, et al. "Timing of protein ingestion relative to resistance exercise training does not influence body composition, energy expenditure, glycaemic control or cardiometabolic risk factors in a hypocaloric, high protein diet in patients with type 2 diabetes." Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism 12.12 (2010): 1097-1105.