All about protein
by Tobias • 5 minutes read
Last updated: 18 Jan, 2023
Today we will be writing about everything protein. As part of a muscle building regimen a high protein diet is a must. Whether you are interested in weight gain or weight loss. Foods that are high in protein are vital to a fit and healthy lifestyle.
Types of protein
A long running debate amongst health and fitness experts is the effect from the differences in protein sources. Normally split between what is broadly termed plant protein and animal protein. Animal protein is either the flesh of the animal, think fish, meat or poultry, or a product that came directly from an animal like milk, cheese and eggs. Plant proteins are proteins that come from almost anything else. This includes fruit and vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds.
Another way that proteins are grouped is as complete and incomplete proteins, a protein is considered a complete protein if it contains all 9 indispensable amino acids, formerly known as essential amino acids. These 9 amino acids are called indispensable, or essential, as the body cannot produce them itself and instead they need to come from the food that we eat.
An incomplete protein is a protein that doesn't have all of these indispensable amino acids within it. An example of an incomplete protein would be spinach, mushrooms or peas. When eaten in isolation they will not provide a full protein spectrum but when combined in the correct way then they can create a complete protein. As a rule of thumb the best way to make a complete protein from an incomplete source is to pair legumes and grains. These are what's known as "complementary proteins". A few examples of complementary proteins would be black beans and rice, pasta and peas or whole-wheat bread and peanut butter. By combining foods in this way, a person who eats on a plant-based diet can obtain the full amino acid profile.
How much protein do you need
Whilst making sure to get adequate protein is very important in any health and fitness routine, there is a risk adverse side effects if you eat too much protein. The exact amount that constitutes too much varies from person to person based on a multitude of variables such as height, weight, age and gender.
Protein is the building block used to create almost every cell in your body, more than just the normal muscle growth that people normally associate with protein. Protein is responsible for hair and nail growth, using a protein called Keratin. A common addition to face creams, collagen is a protein known to be responsible for maintaining skin elasticity and potentially minimising wrinkles. Every single accidental cut and scrape you have gained over your lifetime has been repaired by protein. Protein is also vital to maintaining a fully functioning immune system.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that adults consume 50 grams of protein a day, as part of a 2,000 calorie diet. The amount of protein will be change depending on the amount of calories consumed. A 2,000 calorie diet is recommended for the average woman. Bare in mind the above figure is based on a minimum amount of protein.
As we have discussed in our "What are macros?" article, the recommended amount for someone looking to build muscle is 0.8g-1.3g of protein per pound of body weight. For the average person a target of 1g/1lb is perfect. Remember this is the goal body weight, so if you currently weigh 260lbs and want to lose fat and build muscle and eventually reach 200lbs then you should be aiming to eat 200g of protein a day. It is generally unnecessary to eat much more 200g of protein a day. If you are eating the correct amount of daily calories, a 200g intake of protein daily and still aren't growing muscles, then an increase of protein will do very little to increase your muscles mass and instead you should look at other areas of weakness such as an ineffective workout routine.
If you are someone that doesn't want to weigh their food and read every nutritional label then we will give a simple piece of advice, for each of your main meals make sure to include a good source of protein and you should have no problems consuming enough protein.
For some people who are trying to gain a lot of muscle quickly, it can be difficult to get enough protein to reach your goals. Whilst protein supplements can never replace good food sources, they can be used to supplement your diet. The clue is in the name.
If I were to write this article 5 years ago I would say there are two main protein supplements to be aware of but now there is a third and a fourth that needs to be included on this list, Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's) and Plant-based protein. A BCAA is an amino acid which, as discussed above, is a partially digested protein. A BCAA is best during or just before a workout to provide the body with the protein components it needs to maintain and build muscle. Historically whey protein was used for this purpose but BCAA's work even faster. If you think of it in terms of carbs, if you want to quickly spike your blood sugar you would eat a sugary sweet, not bread. As it is already broken down into glucose and therefore can be used quicker.
A plant-based protein shake normally derives its protein from a mixture of pea and rice protein to produce a complete protein source. For vegans the addition of a plant-based shake can be vital to ensure they are provided with a good amount of protein.
The main two types of protein supplements are normally offered as "shakes" and can be split into two categories, those containing whey protein and those containing casein protein. Whey protein is digested faster and is therefore better to consume straight after a workout. Whereas casein is digested much slower and is often recommended to be taken before falling asleep so it can continue to provide protein to your muscles overnight. There are some protein products that offer a mixture of whey and casein in a single shake, though the effectiveness of this is still being debated.
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