High protein diets have always been popular, our parents parents were told to eat steak with eggs and we are told to eat protein shakes. And rightly so, because protein is a crucial compound for a healthy body. As it is the building blocks for your bones, muscles, cartilage, blood, skin, hair, nails, hormones and enzymes. That said, how much protein do we truly require? And what are the best sources of protein?
Lets start from the beginning. When you consume food containing protein, the enzyme protease in the digestive system breaks down the protein to create amino acids. These then go into the bloodstream to travel to where it is most needed. In total, the human body requires 22 amino acids. 13 of these amino acids are called non-essential because your body produces them and the other 9 are called essential because they need to come from your diet.
Protein for muscle growth and energy
There are two major components of muscle growth; stimulation and repair. During a workout stimulation causes damage to the fibers of your skeletal muscles. And during rest your body will repair the muscles by producing new and stronger fibres. To repair and heal your muscles you need protein, but please remember protein does not make you gain extra muscle.
The recommended daily allowance of protein is your body weight in kilograms X 0.8. The rda average intake for men is 56KG and 46KG for women. This recommendation is very brief because it does not take into account your diet and how active you are. For example, someone that drives to their office job everyday is not going to need as much protein as a personal trainer.
Protein can be chemically changed in the body to be used as an energy source. To do so, your body has to go through a series of reactions which actually use up energy to make the energy. The end product of the reaction is glucose, which you get directly from carbs anyway. The moral of the story is, do not be afraid of carbs!
Sources of plant protein
Pulses, seeds, oats, spirulina, nuts and nut butters, tofu, dark green vegetables, chia seeds, beans and quinoa.
Sources of animal protein
Fish, chicken, cheese, beef, pork, milk/milk products and eggs.
Plant and animal protein differences
The China Study, written by T. Colin Campbell shows the nutrient composition of plant and animal based foods per 500 calories. The plant based foods were equal parts of tomatoes, spinach, lima beans, peas and potatoes. And the animal based foods were equal parts of beef, pork, chicken and whole milk. The results of this study may shock some of you because we have always been told meat is the only and greatest source of protein. As the plant based food contained 33g of protein and the animal based food contained 34g of protein.
As you can see from the table below, not only do we get a sufficient amount of protein from plant based foods we also receive an abundance of essential micronutrients. New research has actually shown too much animal based protein in your diet can actually do more bad than good, it has been linked to illnesses such as cancer, weight gain, kidney problems and osteoporosis.
Some plant based proteins are known as incomplete proteins because they do not contain all 9 of the essential proteins. Therefore, if on a vegan or even vegetarian diet you need to make sure you eat a variety of plants. Campbell also states that if you eat a sufficient amount of calories from a well-balanced diet, you will have a sufficient amount of protein for you body.
What is in your protein shake?
Protein powder is a processed food. There are two types of protein powder on the market; whey and casein. Both whey and casein are a byproduct of cheese production. Fortunately, casein is the least favourable protein of the two because it triggers the brains opioid receptors, hence why dairy is so addictive. To produce protein powder whey and casein are filtered to be separated and fat is removed.
MyProtein “impact whey protein” is the UKs number one best seller. It is 96% whey protein concentrate, which is the cheapest form of protein. The other 4% is soy lecithin and sucralose, aka E-numbers. 25 g of impact whey contains 1.9g of fat, 1g of carbs and 21g of protein. Sounds like the perfect source of protein! But it does not contain any glorious micronutrients that you get from plant based sources of protein, instead it contains cell destroying e-numbers.
A healthier route
There are now healthier protein powders, made from organic pea and hemp. Although these are not better for you than real food, they are a massive improvement to the usual powders made from cheese and E numbers.
All I suggest is you think about what your body really needs. Your body wants real nourishing food after a work out! Such as protein to repair torn muscle, carbohydrates for energy, water to rehydrate, vitamins and minerals to feed your cells. You are working hard to work out, treat your body nicely afterwards! Make some simple changes such as creating a tasty smoothie with added ingredients rich in protein from the list below.