Protein. Sounds pretty basic and straight-forward, right? It’s one of three macronutrients and can be consumed in a variety of ways. But it is much more intricate than that.
Is protein great post-workout? Yes! Is protein important when trying to gain muscle or lose weight? Yes! But what I bet that you might not know is that people who consume more protein experience reduced risk of osteoporosis, have higher metabolisms, and lower blood pressure.
Anytime we want to make a change to our body whether it is to increase muscle or decrease fat one of the most important things we want to do is preserve lean muscle. In order to do that we need to make sure we are getting enough quality protein. Now depending on your individual goals and the intensity of your training, you need to consume anywhere between 0.8-1.5 grams per pound of body weight.
Now that we know about how much protein to consume, let’s dive into what type of protein that should be. There are two primary ways to consume protein, via whole foods or via supplements.
Whole protein sources (anything that comes from an animal) are complete proteins, which mean they contain all nine essential amino acids. On the other hand, most plant-based proteins (with the exception of tofu and quinoa) are incomplete proteins as they are missing one or more essential amino acid. No need to worry if you aren’t a meat eater, you can still get all the essential amino acids by consuming a wide variety of plant based proteins. Let’s look at a few examples of both whole food and supplemental protein sources.
WHOLE FOOD EXAMPLES
SUPPLEMENTAL PROTEIN EXAMPLES
When we start to look at supplement proteins things can get confusing quickly. There are several different kinds of protein powders and each has their own pros and cons. The most important thing to look for in any protein powder is the quality of the ingredients. Ideally you want to look for an option where protein is the number one ingredient, it has minimal other ingredients, and is either unsweetened or naturally sweetened.
Whey protein is digested quickly. It absorbs into your bloodstream and gets to work rebuilding your muscles faster than any other protein source. There are two main forms of whey protein powders: isolate and concentrate. Whey isolate undergoes additional processing and as a result has more protein per serving, fewer carbohydrates, less fat, and lower lactose content than a whey concentrate powder.
Casein is similar to whey in that it is also a milk derivative. The key difference here is that casein digests at a slower rate. It’s for this reason that casein is often recommended as a bedtime snack. A nighttime serving of casein will help your body recover and reduce muscle breakdown all while you are fast asleep.
Egg protein is a solid alternative for those who have milk allergies or who are unable to properly digest whey or casein. The only potential drawback is that egg protein might not keep you feeling as full as other protein power options.
Soy protein is the only plant-based protein considered to be a high-quality protein. Soy often gets a bad rap because it contains phytoestrogens, which in larger quantities may decrease testosterone and increase estrogen levels.
Pea protein contains all but one essential amino acid and is popular among vegetarians, vegans, and people with dairy sensitivities. Studies are limited but early research suggests that pea protein may promote fullness and increase muscle growth as effectively as animal-based proteins.
If you’re going to overeat any macronutrient, always opt for more protein (lean source) as this will help preserve lean muscle tissue and keep you fuller, longer.
If you have the option, go for whole foods first then turn to protein powders to supplement your diet.
There’s nothing wrong with having a shake for a snack or convenience, just make sure it’s not your primary source of protein for the day.
Consume a variety of protein sources.