Protein, the mighty macronutrient, holds the key to unlocking a myriad of health benefits and transforming your body. In this article, we'll dive into the world of protein, exploring its remarkable advantages, the types of protein to consume in moderation, the ones to prioritize, the best protein powder options, understanding the limits of protein intake, optimal timing for consumption, and some easy hacks to ensure you meet your protein requirements. Prepare to revolutionize your understanding of this essential nutrient and take your health and fitness journey to new heights.
At 4 calories per gram, protein is the body's last preferred source of fuel. It is made up of amino acids which are the building blocks of every cell. Protein is not only essential for building and repairing tissues, but also plays a vital role in numerous bodily functions. From supporting muscle growth and enhancing athletic performance to promoting satiety and aiding in weight management, the health benefits of protein are vast. Consuming an adequate amount of high-quality protein can even boost your immune system, improve bone health, and stabilize blood sugar levels.
Unlike carbodydrates, the body is unable to store protein. Another thing to keep in mind is that the body is unable to make all off the needed amino acids needed. This means that protein must be eaten on a daily basis. Nine of the amino acids are called "essential" because the only way to get these amino acids is through our diet.
Types of Protein: Animal-Based vs. Plant-Based and Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins
Protein can be derived from both animal and plant sources, each offering distinct nutritional profiles. Animal-based proteins, such as those found in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, are considered complete proteins. Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids that the body requires for optimal function. They are typically well-absorbed and provide a comprehensive array of essential nutrients. Animal-based proteins are particularly beneficial for individuals seeking to build and maintain muscle mass.
On the other hand, plant-based proteins, including legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables, are often referred to as incomplete proteins. Incomplete proteins lack one or more essential amino acids. However, this limitation can be overcome by combining various plant-based protein sources to form a complete protein profile. For example, pairing legumes with grains (e.g., rice and beans) or consuming a mix of different plant-based protein sources throughout the day can ensure a sufficient intake of all essential amino acids. There are a few plant-based proteins that are complete such as soy and quinoa.
Choosing Your Protein: Less of This
While protein is essential, some sources should be consumed in moderation. Highly processed meats, such as bacon, sausages, and deli meats, often contain high levels of sodium, unhealthy fats, and additives. These can have detrimental effects on your health if consumed excessively. Similarly, fried or breaded proteins should be limited due to their added unhealthy fats. If you see dydrogenated oil (trans fat) -consume very little if at all. Trans fats are just one molecule away from plastics. Our body does not know what to do with this additive. The inflammatory response leads to higher risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
Choosing Your Protein: More of This
Whenever possible, opt for animal protein that is fed it's natural diet. For example, grass fed beef, pasturized poultry, wild caught oily fish, bison, buffalo and lamb. Conventional raised animals are feed grain which causes inflammation in the animal- in turn causing inflammation in the consumer. Opt for lean protein options like skinless poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds, and tofu. These provide an abundance of essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Incorporating a variety of plant-based proteins can offer added benefits, as they are typically low in saturated fats and rich in fiber, promoting heart health and aiding digestion.
Choosing A Protein Powder
Protein powders are a convenient way to supplement your protein intake, especially for active individuals or those with specific dietary needs. Choosing the right protein powder depends on factors such as your goals, dietary restrictions, and taste preferences. Whey protein is a popular option due to its complete amino acid profile and quick absorption. It's suggested to choose organic grass fed options. For those with dairy sensitivities or following a vegan diet, plant-based options like pea, hemp, or brown rice protein are excellent alternatives.
Whether your protein is animal based or plant-based look for:
simple identifyable ingredients
less than 5 grams of sugar
no artificial sweetners (stevia leaf and monk fruit are ok)
no hydrogenated oils
How Much is Too Much Protein?
While protein is essential, it's crucial to understand that excessive intake may not necessarily provide added benefits. The optimal protein intake varies based on factors such as age, activity level, and overall health. Generally, a range of 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of desired body weight is recommended for most individuals. It's not recommended to fuel the excess weight coming from body fat. Consuming significantly more protein than your body needs may place unnecessary strain on your kidneys and potentially lead to imbalances in other nutrients. Remember, protein can not be stored so too much protein will be converted to glucose which will be stored as fat.
When to Eat Your Protein
Timing your protein intake strategically can optimize its benefits. Consuming protein throughout the day promotes muscle protein synthesis, aiding in muscle repair and growth. Distribute your protein intake across meals and snacks, ensuring a steady supply of amino acids to support your body's needs. Additionally, consuming protein shortly after a workout can enhance recovery and muscle adaptation.
Easy Hacks to Help Your Get the Protein You Need
Meeting your protein requirements doesn't have to be a daunting task. Implement these simple hacks into your routine to ensure you're getting enough protein:
Prepare your protein for the week at dinner and then use it for the next day's meals.
Use the crockpot or pressure cooker for a more hands off approach.
Smoothies for breakfast can be a time saving alternative.
Add beans to your salads, soups, and chillis.
Used canned fish such as wild caught salmon and skipjack tuna (both low in mercury)
When meal planning, plan around your protein source.
Diversify your protein sources.
If you need help determining your specific protein needs, set up a time to chat with me and I'll get you started on the right path and guide you throughout the process.