Protein is the single most important nutrient for gaining muscle, strength and size, losing fat and reducing your appetite. It is essential for life as it is an important component of every cell in the body. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues and an important building block of bones, organs, blood, muscles, cartilage, skin, and enzymes.
It is crucial for building and maintaining muscle mass. It also increases satiety, which is why it’s so important to get enough protein when you’re limiting your calories to meet a fat-loss goal and a vital part of the muscle-building process.
The nutrients you need in large quantities are called macronutrients (aka ‘macros’). Breaking it down, the three kind of macronutrients are; carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Vitamins and minerals, which are needed in only small quantities that your body needs to carry out its daily functions, are called “micronutrients”. In a simple way of looking at it, macronutrients supply you with your energy, and micronutrients help your body unlock and use that energy.
However, unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body does not store protein, and therefore has no reservoir to draw on when it needs a new supply. Protein is found in large quantities in meat and animal products (like eggs and dairy) and plant-based sources such as quinoa, beans, hemp, and legumes. It is important to note, since each high-protein food contains a different amino-acid profile, it’s important to eat a range of protein sources.
What happens when you eat Protein?
When you eat protein, it is broken down into smaller compounds called amino acids. There are nine essential amino acids that your body can’t make them by itself — you must get them from food. Protein from animal sources such as, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products are complete protein sources because it supplies all these essential amino acids. Nuts and seeds, legumes, grains, and vegetables, among other things, are usually incomplete proteins. There is nothing wrong with incomplete proteins however, and there are many healthy, high protein foods that are incomplete proteins.
Cow’s milk is widely considered a decent source of protein (about 10 grams in a glass) but it contains two kinds of protein: 20 percent of it is whey and 80 percent of it is casein. Whey and casein are two of the most popular supplemental sources of protein. Both casein and whey are by-products of cheese production.
Whey protein is the more popular option due to its superior amino acid content, fast rate of digestion, and pleasantness. It releases the amino acids relatively quickly into the system, ready to be used by muscle for restoration and growth.
Casein on the other hand is a slow releasing protein, meaning that it takes longer to digest and releases the amino acids over a longer period of time compared to whey. Casien is more of a specialty protein for those needing slow-release protein.
Whey Protein, the different types
There are three main types of whey protein powder, Whey Protein Isolate (WPI), Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) and Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH). Each of these protein powders have unique attributes that may vary in importance depending on an individual’s training regime and body type.
The key difference between WPC, WPI and WPH is refinement, as all begin in the same place, as whey liquid. WPC is usually manufactured via ultrafiltration process. This technique leaves most of the protein fractions in whey intact. Most WPC products contain 70-80% protein and, contain a small amount of carbs and fats.
WPI is processed even further than the concentrate through longer filtering or ion-exchange, removing lactose and any other elements of the concentrate to give a purer protein of around 90% protein content. Due to its lower carb and fat content, WPI is a slightly faster-digesting protein than WPC.
WPH is produced when WPC or WPI is taken through the extra step of hydrolysis to break the amino acid bonds. They are pre-treated with special enzymes that transform the long molecule chains into simpler smaller molecules that get to work quickly, however, it often has a bitter taste requiring many other ingredients to sweeten and mask its natural flavour. It is also the more expensive of the three.
So how much protein do I need?
So what are some good sources of protein?
There are many options for you to chose from to ensure you are meeting your daily protein requirements. Here is a quick list of food options and their protein content:
- 1 scoop of ISO+ Whey Protein Isolate = 30g protein (clink to product here)
- 65g of beef, pork or lamb or 80g chicken = approximately 20-25g protein
- 30g nuts, seeds and nut/seed butters = approximately 10-15g protein
- 1 large egg = approximately 7g protein
- 100g tuna = approximately 30g protein
- 100-150g legumes = approximately 15-20g protein
- ½ cup of oats = approximately 7g protein
- 1 cup cooked quinoa = approximately 8g protein
- 100g tofu = 12-15g protein
- 100g yoghurt = approximately 10g protein
Is there a better time to eat my protein?
This really depends on your health and fitness goals. So, depending on whether you want to lose weight, build muscle or preserve muscle, you may need to consume it at a particular time of day.
For losing weight, consuming protein-rich snacks between meals is better. It can help curb hunger, which could lead you to eat fewer calories throughout the day.
To build muscle, in the 15-30 minutes post workout the body needs protein in order to kick-start the recovery process.
To help prevent muscle loss, aim to eat 25–30 grams of protein per to help spread your intake over the day.
Endurance athletes may see improved performance and recovery from taking protein with a source of carbs during and after exercise. Resistance-training athletes can benefit from taking protein either immediately before or after a workout.
- NIH, “What are proteins and what do they do?”, ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/howgeneswork/protein.
- Health.com, “How to Figure Out Exactly How Many Calories You Need to Lose Weight, According to a Nutritionist”, www.health.com/weight-loss/how-many-calories-to-eat-to-lose-weight.