How to Get More From Your Protein with Digestive Enzymes

One of the biggest hot button topics in health and wellness right now is gut health. While you might not immediately associate enzymes with gut health, they are a key part of the digestion process. There’s a trio of enzyme varieties that help break down food in the stomach, so it’s more readily absorbed and put to use:

  • Amylases: Break down carbohydrates into simple sugars
  • Proteases: Break down protein into peptides and then amino acids 
  • Lipases: Break down fat into a glycerol molecule and three different fatty acids 

Without these enzymes, the digestive system would struggle to reduce any food into smaller pieces that can be used to generate energy, either via ketones or glucose (the liver and pancreas go to work alongside the stomach to get the job done). If enzyme activity slowed or stopped completely, digestion would become a more resource-intensive process – one which already accounts for around 10 percent of total caloric expenditure.  

Digestive Enzymes and Protein 

Today we’re going to focus on the second type of enzyme of the three listed above: proteases. These enzymes are used in many areas of the body to repair tissues, regulate immune system function, and kill off overgrowth of “bad” bacteria in the gut. When it comes to the digestive system, proteases are the potent enzymes utilized for dissolving protein into their simplest form – amino acids.

Think of the protein in your daily shake as a LEGO set, and the protease enzymes in your gut as a team of LEGO experts. They break down the big protein molecules into little tiny peptides and amino acids that can be readily absorbed and used for muscle growth (hypertrophy) and repair. When looking at protein consumed after a heavy workout, the sooner your body is able to break down this protein LEGO set, the sooner the recovery process begins.

The Potential Problem with Protein Digestion

The body naturally works to utilize protease every time you ingest protein, but there are situations in which it can use some extra help. When you consume a protein shake before, during, or after a workout, you are asking your body to digest and absorb a large amount of protein, quickly. If your protein is going to be used to maximum effect, it must be broken down into its smaller building blocks pieces within a 90-minute time window after eating – a process known as hydrolysis. Any protein that is not digested soon after the workout has a diminishing effect on recovery.

Additionally, your stomach may have trouble digesting large whey protein peptides, which can lead to a slew of uncomfortable symptoms. Failure to break down these peptides can lead to bloating, excess gas, nausea, and stomach cramps. Athletes often wrongly associate these symptoms with lactose intolerance, but a high quality whey isolate contains minimal or no lactose due to the way it is processed.

Protein + Enzymes = A Winning Combination

So if people often have problems with digesting protein without discomfort, what’s to be done? To start, you could add foods that contain digestive enzymes to your shopping basket. Good choices include pineapple, papaya, and raw, local honey, as well as fermented foods. When choosing your supplements however, you should seek out a protein with protease enzymes that are proven to do their job and aid protein breakdown and absorption. The industry gold-standard for the latter piece of the puzzle is ProHydrolase. When our team of Performance Engineers recommended that we include protease in our whey isolate protein formulas, we scoured the globe to find the absolute best enzyme blend available.


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ProHydrolase was our choice because it is proven to be pure and efficacious. One in-vitro study concluded that with ProHydrolase, only two percent of amino acids were lost due to non-digestion after 90 minutes. Compare that with the two competing protein-enzyme combinations that lost 75 and 80 percent of amino acids. Another in-vitro experiment noted that ProHydrolase degrades 99 percent of the large whey protein peptides often responsible for discomfort, while with other products, 22, 61, and 82 percent of these molecules remained. ProHydrolase has also been found to hydrolyze whey protein quicker and more completely than other protein degrading, sports-focused formulas. 

Two human clinical studies on ProHydrolase found that the formula increased total amino acid concentrations in participants’ bloodstreams by 55mg compared to simply ingesting whey protein. The study also observed that ProHydrolase decreased C-reactive protein, a key marker for inflammation that typically spikes after strength and intense endurance training. While it boosts the bioavailability of amino acids and small peptides during protein digestion to make them more readily available in energy production, ProHydrolase does not affect blood insulin levels.      

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Athletes and Protein Absorption 

So what does all this mean for you as an athlete – or, if you’re a coach, for your clients? The faster and more thoroughly protein is broken down, the more effective and efficient it’s going to be in promoting muscle repair and growth. This is key to recovering after one session and being ready to give 100 percent in the next one. As protein is also involved in immunity, cellular health, and many other bodily processes, choosing a high-quality whey isolate protein source that’s combined with an enzyme blend such as ProHydrolase can also increase overall wellbeing. And if you or your athletes have ever suffered from bloating, cramping, or other issues after choking down a chalky protein shake, you’ll also feel better if you upgrade your daily protein supplement to one that contains digestive enzymes. 

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