We’ve all heard growing up how we must ensure we are “getting enough protein in”. What is protein, and why is it so critical to incorporate into our diet?
Protein is one of the three major macronutrients that make up your diet, along with fat and carbohydrates. It is often referred to as “the building blocks of life”, as it is a chain of amino acids found in every cell of the body. It is found in muscles, bones, skin, hair and virtually every other body part or tissue. At least 10,000 different proteins make you what you are, and keep you that way. It has many different jobs, including repairing and generating new cells, protecting the body from bacteria and viruses, and ensuring proper growth and development. It is found in various combinations and quantities in every food we eat, but some people find it hard to get their daily recommendation from food alone.
So, how much Protein do we need?
Protein should account for 10 to 35 percent of your daily caloric intake. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs (68 kg), then you would need about 55 grams of protein per day. It may sound like a lot, but it is apparent that if you a well-balanced diet could help you achieve this number fairly easily. There are “Complete” and “Incomplete” Proteins, with a “Complete” protein source containing all nine essential amino acids in the body. “Complete” Proteins include animal products (meat,eggs, dairy), quinoa and various soy products.
Top Recommended Types of Protein:
Poultry (Chicken and Turkey)
One of the most commonly consumed high protein foods, chicken is almost pure protein, with 27 grams of protein in a standard 3-ounce breast. It is a good source of other essential nutrients, including niacin, choline, selenium and pantothenic acids. The breast is said to be the healthiest part of the chicken, as darker cuts like thighs are higher in calories and fat. Without the skin, chicken is noted to be very healthy, but whole chickens and some cuts may be soaked in brine, upping the sodium content substantially. Turkey contains slightly less protein than chicken but is slightly leaner and contains other beneficial nutrients.
Dairy products are a simple way to incorporate more protein into your diet, containing protein as well as valuable calcium and vitamin D. For example, nonfat Greek yogurt contains 17 grams of protein per serving. Skim and low-fat dairy contain the same protein content as whole fat products, making to better to opt for low or nonfat dairy options.
Many fish are low in fat and high in protein, containing essential minerals and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Tuna has the highest protein content, providing 29 grams of protein per 100 grams. Other fish with high protein content include anchovies, salmon, halibut, snapper and tilapia, all containing around 26-29 g per 100-gram serving. Some fish like swordfish and yellowfin tun contain high levels of mercury, so be careful about the amount of these types of fish you consume.
Legumes, Tofu, Tempeh and Edamame (Soy)
Whole soy is a complete source of the nine essential amino acids your body needs. Soy products contain various amounts of protein per 100 grams, from tofu containing 8 grams and tempeh containing 19 grams. All these different soy products can be used for a variety of dishes and snacks, making it an extremely versatile protein.
Protein ranges from about 4 grams (walnuts) to about 7 grams (pistachios) per quarter-cup. They also contain essential omega-3 fatty acids as well as other vitamins and minerals. Studies have shown nuts have numerous health benefits like improving cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of cancer and diabetes. They serve as a good snack or additive to easily incorporate more protein in your diet.
One medium sized egg has 6 g of protein, as well as choline and vitamins B-12 and D. The American Heart Association says normal healthy adults can safely enjoy an egg a day. Eggs also serve as an easy snack to add protein into your diet.
Although sometimes controversial, red meat is a fantastic source of protein, containing roughly 23-28g per 4 ounce serving. It is loaded essential nutrients, including zinc and vitamin B12. Although it is nutritious, it is important to try to avoid processed meats and opt for grass-feed beef. Many studies still link red meat with higher mortality risk, so be mindful of the amount you consume each week.
Protein Alternatives: Protein Powders
Some people find it expensive, inconvenient or even uncomfortable to consume enough protein from these sources. This is when protein powders and bars are helpful! Below is a list of different types of protein powder that are in the market and which one best fits your dietary needs.
This is the most popular form of protein powder because it’s easy to find, mixes well and gets absorbed quickly. Whey liquid is collected as a by-product of cheese or yogurt production. It then undergoes several processes to increase its protein content. When dried whey concentrate powder consists of up to 80% protein and 20% carbohydrates and fats.
Simply due to the method in which whey isolate is processed, it contains less fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, lactose and calories compared to other protein powders. It also has a higher protein content per serving than whey concentrate. It is absorbed very quickly, making it a good choice immediately before and after physical activity. On the downside, whey isolate tends to be more expensive than whey concentrate.
Whey Hydrolysate that has been partially broken down before you drink it. This type of protein is ideal for stimulating muscle growth. It has been demonstrated to provide the greatest anabolic response to weight training because your body is able to quickly absorb it to immediately start rebuilding damaged muscle tissue. Hydrolysate protein is also much better on the digestive system compared to whey concentrates.
There are two proteins that comes from milk and casein. Although most attention is on whey, Casein makes up a full 80 percent of the protein in milk. Unlike whey protein, your body absorbs casein more slowly, but it provides you with a steady stream of amino acids drawn out over several hours. Therefore, casein is best taken before bed since it prevents your muscles from feeding on themselves when you run out of fuel in your system overnight, and helps you avoid waking up hungry in the middle of the night.
Milk Protein Isolate
Milk protein is made of whey protein and casein protein, about 20 percent whey and 80 percent casein. Through gentle filtration process, a good amount of carbohydrates and fat from cows’ milk is taken out. In additional to powerful amino acids, MPC contains beneficial milk peptides and micro fractions, such as beta-lactoglobulin and alpha lactalbumin which provide health benefits and antioxidant properties.
Egg Protein Concentrate
This is a popular ingredient in blends, because it takes longer than whey protein to digest, but not as long as casein. Many athletes also get their egg protein from liquid egg whites, or of course, eggs!
Popular among vegetarians and vegans, pea protein powder is made from yellow split peas, containing high amounts of BCAAs and fiber. Other popular plant protein powder sources, such as hemp protein or brown rice protein are not technically complete protein sources, as they are lacking one of more of the essential amino acids. Yet, whey protein contains three times the amount of BCAAs as pea protein. BCAA’s are one of the top contributors to muscle gain, making whey overall more effective than pea protein in terms of muscle growth. Yet, if you are avoiding dairy or eggs, pea protein is a fantastic alternative.
So, what is the best protein powder to take?
Instead of asking which is the best one, you should really be asking what is the best protein powder for you? Some considerations you should be asking yourself is which one tastes best to you, helps you reach your goals you are looking for and which is in your price budget.