Protein: How Much, What Kind?

There are a number of different views on protein intake and everyone seems to be selling some, so which is going to fit your lifestyle?  Let’s take a closer look and hopefully make the protein choice a little easier.

First off, what even is protein?  Protein is a collection of amino acids strung together into a larger structure.  Amino acids are simply a carbon ring with a few differing features compared to carbohydrates or fatty acids.  They have an amino group (hence the amino acid name) and a “R” group (chemical structure nomenclature) that gives the amino acid its name.  So when you see things on the shelf like branch chain amino acids, don’t fret, it is simply a particular cluster of amino acids clumped together.

Branch chain amino acids are, as stated previously, a particular clump of amino acids strung together as they are thought to provide extra energy, and, perhaps more importantly to the performing athlete, are processed a little different than a simple protein supplement.  Branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s), use a different shuttle mechanism when being digested which allows them to be processed a little quicker in some instances.  Why is that important?  Well it is important to help that whole recovery thing take place a little quicker.  Especially when you have back-to-back games like in college sports or club/AAU sports.

Protein supplements are also important to recovery and diet.  There are even some diets out there that consist of nearly all your daily calories coming from protein supplements.  Sounds enticing I know, but it is also very challenging to swallow six shakes a day with all your caloric needs.

Protein supplements traditionally come in either whey or casein form, however, more recently have begun to show up in a number of other varieties.  To make it even more confusing, they have taken things like whey protein and created about 30 different versions like isolate, amplified whey, isomer, wheybolic, etc.  Don’t be confused.  Sometimes companies like to throw random names mashed together that don’t really mean anything, but sound cool.

Let’s start simple.  Whey is animal protein and casein is plant-based protein.  In most cases whey is considered complete and casein incomplete because of it’s source.  Complete proteins are considered complete because they contain all of the essential amino acids that the body can’t make on it’s own.  Also, whey has been shown in research to be a little quicker to act versus casein in terms of digestion/absorption.

In the process of turning whey, a gel that separates from milk, into a dry substance, there can be some minor changes.  To turn a gel into a dry mixture you must either add a lot of heat, a chemical, or some other more costly, stringent, tedious processes.  To save money, most companies elect to add heat or chemicals.  The problem is that this will also denature some of the protein structures.  Here you are in a store reading the label and it reads: “30g protein per serving”.  Although this is technically true, a good portion of that protein has been denatured–unable to be processed by the body–so who really knows how much you are really getting.  Some companies will elect to go the more costly route to have less denatured and these proteins tend to taste better, anecdotally.  There is also something known as isolate, which simply means that through some process that they have removed some of the sugars that would create havoc for lactose sensitive individuals.

This free-form type of protein is generally associated with the recovery process and what most people finishing a workout chug.  It is also speculated that free form protein can have a little “back-up” in terms of shuttling for absorption.  This is why considering BCAAs would be a good idea for the performing athlete.  It will enhance the recovery process just a little bit, but hey, every little bit helps.

So this is the basic knowledge you can use when determining what supplements to buy.  Don’t waste your resources on a supplement that will only deliver partially.  Another interesting topic is how the body will do whatever it needs to do in order to preserve energy stores.  Feel free to add comments.

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Long-Slow Distance Cardio

First off, it has been a little bit since my last check-in.  I have been busy with licensure testing, changing a few details professionally, and jumping right into some continuing education.  All those things, plus I have been coaching a high school lacrosse team in the area.

I was kicking back, sipping on a nice cup of coffee the other morning, reading over some “professional development” type material, when I came across a post along the lines of “why do long slow distance aerobic work?”  That  post of course got some great professional feedback, but it got me thinking too.

Most of what I was reading in terms of feedback was along the lines of: why indeed?  Now, I like bang for the buck type exercise regimens.  I feel as though we do a really good job of accomplishing both anaerobic and aerobic work in a relatively short period of time on a daily basis at our facility.  By using simple concepts like HIIT in our lifts we are able to develop strength and power via resistance training at appropriate, demanding percentages; and, also tax the aerobic system at the same time.  We also incorporate a conditioning portion after the lift that works usually on some type of lactic or alactic interval (think Certified Conditioning Coach)  in the preseason phases.

But where can we fit in the long-slow distance type conditioning???

This is where I reflect back to my magical weekend at IFAST, listening to Joel himself hurl information grenades at all of us innocent Performance Coaches.  In a very organized manner, he managed to explain to us how to use each concept that he has written about in books like “Ultimate MMA Conditioning”.  Long story short, one cannot sustain all out lactic intervals 7 days a week for very long.  This makes sense, right?!

With all the concepts in strength and conditioning regarding the importance of the nervous system, this should be a no-brainer.  Simply put, sometimes it is just better to let your foot off the gas pedal, slow down, and let your body (and nervous system) relax.  Let’s find that parasympathetic state for once in our training year.

Now that both sides of the continuum are screaming at me, let me elaborate.  First off, no, I do not think that you should be performing long-slow distance aerobic conditioning all year round–unless your sport is running a marathon or the Tour de France in which case you still shouldn’t do it on consecutive days.  Will you see strength and therefore power decrements as a result? Maybe.  Will you be introducing a new variable into your training regimen? Absolutely!  Cooling the jets for a few weeks will not have an absurd impact on strength/power/muscle fiber type.  But, it may afford you the potential to get even better because you let the body experience a new stimulus.

Personally, I don’t like long distance cardio.  I get bored with it, unless I am chasing a ball or object.  Cycling is more doable, but still, the struggle is real.  However, when no one is watching, I will jump on the Assault Bike for about 45-60 minutes and get in a good cardio sesh.

Body Mass and Performance

I was asked the other day by one of my athletes what the ideal body mass was for helping his performance.  Now, this could be answered a number of ways.

According to “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning” the text for the NSCA-CSCS, this individual should present with 11-13% body fat being a baseball player.  This will put him in the leaner than average category, but it doesn’t really define what position he plays.  This is based off normative data that a sample of baseball players who are considered to be a good representation of all baseball players present as.  I don’t think I would argue much.  However, you’re going to see a wide spectrum of body composition across the sport.

Some research looks to see how body fat% has an impact on performance.  Items like agility tests and sprint tests are the items in question.  In terms of performance markers for the sport, I think that they are a decent representation.  Assuming that the quality of the research was acceptable (few are), it almost seems like common sense that the more body fat I carry, the slower I will be.  Again, not really a good reflection of position.

Some other research was actually done to reflect positions in baseball.  That was cool to look at.  Finally something objective to the actual position with a large enough sample size to rule out error.  And…short stops are leaner than everyone (roughly 11%), pitchers are fatter (14.4%).  Now we’re getting somewhere with this.  Even if the research was exclusive to minor league baseball.

Another research article pointed to the direct relationship of body weight and velocity in pitchers.  So now we have a reason for pitchers to think big.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean to pack on the fat.

Anecdotally, if this baseball player is a pitcher and is working hard in his offseason training, he will be getting stronger which in turn will lay the foundation for him to also become more powerful.  Once January hits and he is in the cages pitching, he should see a nice improvement in his velocity.  At the end of the day that is what we are trying to accomplish with a pitcher.  Maybe his body fat% is hovering the 11-13% range, maybe it’s 20%, or maybe it’s 8% which has been reported by some as the standard.

Bottom line is, eat a diet centered around whole foods making sure to get enough food to stay in an anabolic range when recovering.  Get plenty of sleep keeping in mind that those hours of sleep before midnight are much more valuable and we should be aiming for 8 uninterrupted hours.  Put the time in the gym!  Don’t sign up for 4 days per week and make excuses as to why you make it 1-2 times.  The gym should be exciting and a grind all at the same time.

We are 3 weeks into our baseball offseason training program and it’s going great!  If you have any questions please feel free to reach out.

Guest Post: Time for a Change

This is a guest post from one of my interns from the summer and current sports performance coach.  Kathy is a very intelligent and driven individual who has donated her time around a hectic schedule to Young Performance.  She aspires to bridge the gap between PT and performance and has some really good ideas.  You can find more on her blog at blendingptandsc

             I’m a PT student who, like most people, has no solid idea of what field to practice in. After going on a few clinicals, I found out that my expectations of rehab didn’t really exist in the real world – at least not yet. Having this existential crisis, I decided to go figure it out. I began throwing myself into different jobs and internships in the health and fitness field. This summer alone, I’ve been a PT aide at 3 separate clinics, a personal trainer in training , a kickboxing instructor, and a strength coach intern – which has lead to the creation of this blog. There were two glaring problems that I kept noticing: 1. the health and fitness field is muddled with misinformation and 2. everyone is constantly trying to one-up each other.

1.  People are quick to believe what they hear or read without looking for evidence.

Carbohydrates are bad. All fats are bad. No rest during a workout is a good thing. There are so many health myths, so many “fads” backed with no scientific evidence, and, with the rise of social media, so much bad information posted by a lot of unqualified people. Not only is it dangerous, but it also creates another barrier for health providers who must spend their time re-educating and getting buy-in from their clients.

2. The health field, it’s a very “cut-throat” environment.

Everyone wants to have all of the credentials, the letters after their name in order to be the “best”. People also want to believe that their way of thinking is the right and only way. Hip vs foot, barefoot running vs orthotics – these topics cause a lot of frustration and bickering. It seems likewe’ve  all forgotten why we started in this field, forgotten that we are looking down on our peerswho are using their best judgement to get to the same goal. Just because their way looks different, doesn’t make it wrong. The first thing we learn is that everyone is different and something that might work for Joe Shmoe might not work for the next person – so why are we still stuck on trying to have one golden principle? It’s all theory at the end of the day and if it works, it works!

Long story short, everyone wihin the health and fitness field needs to come together and not only educate people but to encourage peers for their different perspectives and ways of thinking. Without that, we will not progress very far.Guest

How to Develop Power

At Young Performance, we use a number of tactics to create greater power output for the athlete.  Power, simply, is just the ability to produce force in an instant.  So when we think of power, we think of things like jumps in a variety of fashions.

In reality, I should start off by saying that we need to start by building a strong foundation of strength before we really dial into power.  Some key differences in strength versus power would be the amount of time you’re actually moving the weight.  For power, time is a variable that is measured; and, for strength time isn’t considered necessarily (of course we have our tables that measure relative time under tension, but for the sake of simplicity).  I know this is a huge dump of physics review and believe me I’m gagging just thinking about it.

Now you have a variety of options available to you to help enhance power.  There exists a continuum from general strength to speed/power.  Of course we can start to differentiate different movements into the continuum, but again for the sake of simplicity we will just say that strength-speed, speed-strength, and speed are all products of power.

IMG_0353When I think of my hockey, football, and rugby athletes I think of performing the Olympic lifts and loading them up to fairly high intensities.  The reason for this is to help the athletes absorb force as well as produce a lot of force in an instant to get the bar moving.  I will usually use Olympic lifts with my other athletes as well–baseball excluded mostly–but to a much less degree.  I like to spend my weekend evenings sifting through peer reviewed articles and I have been able to find some interesting statistics.  Mostly that you only need roughly 40% of someones 1RM, or 1 repetition max, to help develop power.  That’s particularly nice for my non-contact athletes who don’t necessarily see the value of a heavy hang clean.

IMG_0385For those athletes who have contraindications to Olympic lifting, or are baseball players, we have a number of other options that we can use.  Most simply, I like to use jump squats with either a weighted vest or dumbbells.  My next go-to would be the kettlebell swing varieties.  It helps to teach extension of the hips and knees in an explosive manner and it does well to keep most athletes in neutral.  I have also programmed things like RFE split squat jumps (RFE=rear foot elevated), split squat jumps, single leg jumps on a box/bench, and landmine push presses.  I feel that these different options help to reinforce the triple extension/jump patterns and offer a variety to the athlete.

We also have our own little built in showcase almost every day.  Especially for our general prep guys.  In our plyometric/power section of the day we include either box jumps or hurdle hops.  We have a number of ways that we can perform them–single leg, medial/lateral, stick, mini-bounce, etc–but the point remains clear.  I am not programming these exercises to weighted, instead, I want to see improvement with the power output.  In other words, I want to see how high they can jump today.

So there you have it, my take on programming for power.  Again, develop your foundation for strength first and then you can enhance your power output.  If you are in general prep or a new athlete to the performance world, you can still jump to enhance the movement pattern.

Guest Post: Protein Consumption

In this guest post from one of my summer interns and current sport performance coaches, Jake Schofield, he talks about protein and it’s importance.  Jake has created a niche here with the obesity epidemic and has created some strategies to attack.  If you would like to know more I encourage you to follow his blog at: jakeschofieldblog.wordpress.com.

The most asked questions I’ve heard by many of the athletes that come through the door are about protein, but one of the most common questions is when to take it. This question is up to debate in the fitness industry, since we have not perfected the time and amount for the maximum muscle gain.Protein is a macronutrient just like the carbs and fats that provide energy to our bodies as they’re consumed and broken down. Protein is essential in the production and repair of muscles. Foods that are high in protein are fish, nuts, red meats, and more. Many people tend to use shakes or powders to get the protein they need throughout the day. However, protein from animal based foods have complete proteins which contain all 48 essential amino acids. Plant based proteins are considered incomplete by missing one or more of these essential amino acids.There is protein in almost everything we eat, yet most people do not get enough protein in their diet. In general, someone needs 1.7g of protein per kg of body weight. The conversion from kilogram to pounds is 1kg = about 2.2 lbs. So now that we have an idea about protein, what it is, where it’s from, and what it does. The question really is when is the best time to take it being an athlete.

Here’s my take on this interesting topic. Protein consumption needs to be spread out throughout the day. The body can only break down so much protein at once. So, having a meal with 50g of protein some of that would go to waste. The body needs a decent amount of protein so the best way is to spread it out in portions. As many of us know the best way to eat is smaller portions more often throughout the day. Unlike, the norm for American eating as just breakfast, lunch, and dinner. To better an athlete it should be breakfast, snack, lunch, post-workout, dinner. Now these snacks shouldn’t be chips and sweets, but such foods like nuts are high in protein and a very healthy option for athletes in and out of season. Your body repairs itself constantly throughout the day, but while you sleep is where a lot of the muscle gains come from. So, having protein available throughout the day allows the body to constantly have protein to use to build and repair muscle. Then having stored protein while sleeping from a protein filled dinner will only help build and repair muscles more because the body releases the most growth hormone while in REM sleep. So, protein is very good for consumption for athletes, so do the math and see how much protein you should be taking daily.

Guest Post: Celebrating Rest Days

This is a guest post being copied with permission from the original author Jill Simon.  Jill recently finished an internship here at Young Performance and has some really great insight on recovery, training, and nutrition.  I urge you to check out her blog at jillsimonblog.wordpress.com. 

We build muscle when we rest. We know this. Too much stress is bad for our bodies. We know this too. So why is there such a culture in the fitness world surrounding #thegrind”, “#nodaysoff”, and “#teamnosleep”?

I don’t have a good answer for that. But maybe we can work to promote change so that we don’t need to ask this question. We can promote recovery as an essential component to progress. We can remind ourselves, our peers, and our clients that without rest, we inhibit growth and can even cause fatigue and burnout. We can celebrate our rest days, guilt free. We can avoid labeling these days as being lazy or as cheating, which create a negative stigma around recovery days. And that’s just unfair. After all, didn’t we just agree that rest days are necessary for positive growth? Plus let’s be real, every once in a while, it feels amazing to binge watch an entire season of Game of Thrones in one day.

If you’re going to post about your #dailygrind, I challenge you to also post about your #restday and bask in its glory. Show the world what your favorite ways to improve are in all forms: in the gym, in the kitchen, and on the couch. Enjoy taking the elevator, instead of the stairs on your rest days, and don’t feel guilty for taking that 2-hour nap—your body will thank you for it.

Training Youth Athletes

A common question that I hear is, “how old do you have to be to start training at your facility?”  To me this is a pretty easy question to answer, but also a loaded answer.

When we talk about athletic development, there are a few windows of opportunity that we can expect to use to enhance performance in athletes.  Just because I have a window of opportunity to advance an athletes potential doesn’t mean I need to get all sport specific with it.  In previous articles I have eluded to spending a great deal of time developing the foundation for youth athletes, or general prep if that is easier to remember.  Just because I have an opportunity to improve athletic ability in a youth athlete doesn’t mean I need to make them proficient in 1RM cleans.  I “can” hold a firecracker in my hand and light it, but it wouldn’t be very intelligent.  Just like I “can” develop maximal cleans in a 10-year-old, but that still isn’t very intelligent.

The lost art of development, playing on the playground.  There are even schools where you aren’t allowed to run!  All because there is a fear of children getting hurt.  I could jump onto my soap box and have a complete rant, but I will stay on point here.  Kids in preschool, elementary, and middle school all are allotted time to go out and play.  They jump, run, bound, throw, play tag, etc.  If that isn’t athletic development I don’t know what is.  I spend the first 30 minutes of training sessions warming up and working on running, jumping, throwing, and agility.  These are the showcase items for my older athletes.

Specializing kids too early is a sure fire way to burn a kid out from ever wanting to play that sport again.  It’s also a great way for a kid to resent their parent.  Allowing a child to participate in a variety of events allows for better athletic development.  Experiencing movements outside of what is normal in their favorite sport will allow them to become more agile and athletic.

What can a child who hasn’t hit puberty expect to do and see?  There is no reason to take a prepubescent child and load them up under the bar.  Develop their ability to perform these exercises that you want to accomplish in the long term development plan.  Squatting, hinging, pressing, pulling are all exercises that can start off with simple body weight.  Once they become proficient in these bodyweight exercises you can consider handling a light weight.  Then slightly heavier.  And heavier.  The point is that these kids will become stronger (mostly through their nervous system adaptation), but not exactly larger.  How could they? They haven’t even hit puberty yet.

Once they hit puberty, the long term plan continues.  Start adding heavier weight and adding new challenges.  They will become more powerful, faster, stronger, insert any synonym.  They now have the hormonal profile to support what you are throwing at them.  But a word of caution: don’t throw the kitchen sink at them.  Allow for normal development.  The newest, coolest thing isn’t the best option.  Often times the new workout it either a fad or a new way of eliciting a response in an athlete who has already developed their foundation.

To sum up, kids can virtually start at any age, however, I wouldn’t really recommend them starting too early.  I have nine and 10 year olds at our facility, but realistically a mentor of mine said 11 years old is a great age to begin.  I’ll stick with that.