Protein seems to be appearing everywhere, it’s become a new buzz word and sales strategy. There’s Protein chocolate, bread, cereal, sweets, drinks, cheese and even pizza! But what is this added protein and what does it really do?
The Protein Basics
Protein is an essential macronutrient that we need in our bodies. It is found in our muscle tissues, skin cells, blood and in the enzymes used to digest our food. When we work out and exercise, our muscles break down and with the help of protein, they are able to repair and rebuild efficiently.
Protein is a compound of chains of smaller molecules known as amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, 9 of these are essential to our bodies and the rest non-essential. The essential amino acids must come from your diet and food, and the other 11 non- essential amino acids can be created by your body. Failing to obtain even 1 of the 9 essential amino acids results in breakdown of muscles.
Proteins can be known as complete proteins and incomplete proteins. A complete protein is one where all the essential amino acids are present and therefore, complete. An incomplete protein is when some of the amino acids are missing resulting in the structure being incomplete.
Complete proteins are high quality protein sources such as eggs, fish, poultry, meat and dairy. Incomplete protein sources, which do not contain all of the essential amino acids, include grains, legumes and vegetables.
This doesn’t mean that if your vegetarian or vegan you are deficient in protein. It just means you must have the knowledge to know what amino acids you’re eating to ensure you are eating enough protein. For example, if you had rice and a bean chilli for dinner and the essential amino acids are called ABCD. The rice might only contain A and D but the beans contain ABC. So, in that one meal the all of the essential amino acids are complete. Alternatively, you could supplement with soy protein because that is the only plant-based protein source that is complete.
How much Protein do I need?
Whether you exercise or not, protein should be a major component of your daily diet. However, if you do exercise regularly, protein is even more important in your diet. As I mentioned earlier, when you work out and use your muscles during exercise the muscles break down and take 24-48 hours to re-build. The Protein you eat acts as a building block for your muscles. Therefore, from eating complete protein sources your muscles can rebuild bigger, stronger and faster.
The amount of protein we need is very much a HOT topic. For trained individuals, the amount of protein you should be eating would be much greater than someone who sits on a sofa all day. As a general guideline for an active individual, I would recommend 0.8 -1g per pound of body weight. However, if in a dieting phase or calorie deficit this may be increased to prevent muscle breakdown.
By increasing your protein intake, you will also find your hunger may decrease too. Protein gives great satiety which means that it fills you up very quickly. This could be another reason to increase your protein slightly when in a dieting phase as you will be full for longer and less hungry between meals.
Should I be using Protein Powders?
Whey Protein Powder is the most popular supplement in the fitness industry. Whey is a complete protein source containing all of the essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids. However, a common misconception with protein powder is that it has some magical advantage over protein found in meat, dairy, eggs etc… This is not the case, however, it is a good quality complete protein source. But remember it’s not some magical powder which will make you gain weight, become manly or bulky.. It’s just protein!
An advantage of using whey protein powder is that it is very convenient. Especially if you’re someone that struggles to get their recommended daily intake of protein from food. You can read more about the protein powder I use here (if you are going to buy some protein please give this a read, as there are so many fake and nasty brands out there.)
If exercising and training is something you enjoy and do regularly, ensuring you are eating enough protein is very important. Without that, you won’t be seeing the results making progress and most likely be getting major DOMS!
I hope this post has helped you understand that protein isn’t something we should be afraid of. It will not make you manly or bulky, it is essential for our bodies for all sorts of reasons.