Know Your Protein

We know it’s important but what do you get for your returns?

Once over, when the research wasn’t as easily understood, protein was associated mainly with building muscle. If you wanted to look like Arnie you ate protein… and lifted weights.

However, the research is now for more advanced than it was back then, and it shows higher protein diets can help:

  • Increase/maintain muscle tissue
  • Repair and recover
  • Reduce body fat (or maintain current levels of body fat)
  • Maintain good bone density
  • Increase satiety (basically keeping you fuller)
  • Maintain a healthy immune system

Metabolism:

Consuming a higher protein diet also increases your metabolism. This is because protein has a high thermic effect of food (TEF) .. You can check more on metabolism here (CLICK LINK FOR METABOLISM)

For your body to use protein for all those important metabolic processes it must first break it down in to amino acids. Unlike fats and carbohydrates, protein is much more difficult for your body to process. Therefore, it needs to work harder. And if it’s working harder it expends more energy.

Amino acids:

All foods contain amino acids but not all food contain all 20 amino acids. For example, most animal-based products contain all 20 amino acids, so this qualifies as a complete protein, whereas plant-based foods only contain limited amounts and would be considered an incomplete protein.

All 20 amino acids are essential for a fully functioning and healthy body.

This is why people that take to vegan and vegetarian diets must understand the amino acid profiles of the foods they choose as they risk being deficient in certain amino acids.

The combination of particular foods within a meal will ensure a complete profile of amino acids which is why prior research is essential. 

For example, combining beans with bread AKA beans on toast will give you a complete protein.

Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting you replace your steak with beans on toast… But there’s nothing wrong with variety from time to time.  

Each amino acid plays a different role within the body and these can be categorised in to three parts:

Essential: These can’t be produced by your body and must be obtained through foods… this is why vegans and vegetarians must be smart with their food choices.  

Non-essential: These are amino acids that the body can make from other amino acids by rearranging the molecules (transamination)

Conditionally essential: These are amino acids that are usually not essential but may be needed at certain times such as bouts of stress or illness. Premature babies need conditional amino acids.

Essential Non-essential Conditionally essential
Histidine Alanine Arginine
Isoleucine Aspartic acid Cystine
Leucine Asparagine Glutamine
Lysine Glutamic acid Tyrosine
Methionine Serine Glycine
Phenylalanine   Proline
Threonine    
Tryptophan    
Valine    

Branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s):

Huge in the bodybuilding world and they have fast become a staple on supplement shop shelves. But are they all that?

BCAA’s (Leucine, isoleucine and valine) are shown in the research (8) to trigger protein synthesis (rebuilding of proteins) particularly leucine.

They have long been claimed as an anabolic (muscle building) essential for anyone looking to build good quality lean tissue. However, it’s now believed consuming the full spectrum of essential amino acids maybe be far more effective than BCAA’s.

Take home: Don’t waste your money on BCAA’s. Consuming enough good quality protein throughout the day is all you need to promote lean tissue development.    

How much protein?

For most people getting too caught up in the numbers becomes more hassle than worth and it really isn’t necessary. Just make sure you have around a palm sized portion of protein with every meal.

Note: Each gram of protein contains 4kcals of energy.

But if you’re like me and like the numbers they look like this (I’m going off the assumption you’re a regular gym goer and do some form of resistance training):

Anywhere from 1.4g/2.2g per kg of body weight daily but I like things simple, so I generally recommend 1g per lb of bodyweight.

A 140lb individual would be at 140g protein per day.

A couple of things to note:

  • If your protein intake has been relatively low over the years don’t look to suddenly change and hit the higher end. Simply increase your intake over time.
  • If you’re older (50+) consuming a higher protein diet could be beneficial as it’s believed the body’s ability to digest and absorb protein declines with age. 

What are good examples of protein:

Beef, pork, poultry, wild game

Fish

Seafood

Eggs

Dairy such as cottage cheese or Greek yogurt

Tofu, tempeh, other soy products

Beans & legumes

This list is not exhaustive.

Protein shakes?

Ah, protein shakes! The holy grail to fitness Because this is the first thing most people think of once they start a new fitness regime.

So, the question is, should you use protein powders? And the answer is completely dependent on individual requirements but let me give you my recommendations and you can decide for yourself.

Whey, as an example, is derived from milk and is a quick digesting form of protein. Most commonly, protein shakes are consumed post training due this easy digestion and quick absorption rate.

Think about it this way,

You’ve just finished a hard training session and you need to start the recovery period. As we’ve already learned protein is a key contributor for recovery (repair & regeneration) so consuming protein soon after makes sense.

Why consuming a meal straight after training could have its disadvantages?

  1. Most people really don’t feel like eating soon after training.
  2. Sometimes meals may not be convenient.
  3. Some of the blood that is currently providing your tired and damaged muscles with nutrients from your kick ass session will be called upon to digest your food instead.
  4. Due to point 3 you MAY also experience digestive discomfort or issues. Because blood is still required in your muscles you may not get exactly what you need for optimal digestion… depending on the size of your meal of course.

Consuming a protein shake soon after (within 60 minutes) could have its advantages:

  1. Convenience. It’s far easier to take a shake to the gym with you than a full meal.
  2. The ease of digestion and absorption will make it less taxing on your digestive system.
  3. Due to the quick absorption rate you’ll start the recovery process far sooner.

This would be my recommendation post training:

10-30 minutes: Protein shake (20-25g or 1 scoop)

60-90 minutes: Protein and carb-based meal 

Other than this I prefer my clients to achieve their protein targets through whole foods.

Hopefully now you have a little more understanding on protein and its importance. It’s not magic but it is essential.

References:

Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Lejeune MPGM, Nijs I, van Ooijen M, Kovacs EMR. High protein intake sustains weight maintenance after body weight loss in humans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Jan;28(1):57-64

Hall KD, Kahan S. Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity. Med Clin North Am. 2018 Jan;102(1):183-97

Coffey VG, Moore DR, Burd NA, Rerecich T, Stellingwerff T, Garnham AP, et al. Nutrient Provision Increases Signalling and Protein Synthesis in Human Skeletal Muscle After Repeated Sprints. Eur J Apply Physiol. 2011 Jul;111(7):1473-83

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