You’ve probably heard by now that Protein is good for you. High protein diets are all the rage. Some of these diets are a bit extreme, but is there any legitimacy to the high protein hype?
Furthermore what kind of protein should you choose and what’s the scoop when it comes to protein powders?
If you’ve been wondering about these questions, read on…
First off lets define Protein and why we need it.
Proteins are long chains of amino acids and one of the key macronutrients in our diet. Protein is often described as the building blocks for muscle and tissues, key for muscle growth and repair.
Protein is found in meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, as well as tofu, legumes and nuts and seeds. Protein is also found in high amounts in dairy products, especially Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and milk. Soy alternatives can also be a good source. As an aside, those drinking almond milk for protein have been misguided. Unlike the nut itself, milk, or soy alternatives, almond milk has zero grams of protein. Check the label next time you’re grabbing a carton!
While most of us get sufficient protein to maintain body functions, if you’re working out regularly, trying to lose weight, or looking to build muscle mass, newer research shows a higher protein diet to be beneficial.
Furthermore, if you’re vegan or vegetarian and aren’t planning your diet carefully, you may be a bit short, especially if you have any of the above goals.
Are all proteins the same?
The answer is no. While all the listed foods will offer some amount of protein there’s a couple important points to remember.
- Vegetarian sources are less well absorbed by the body and aren’t considered complete proteins (except soy). You can achieve completion by including a variety of grains and legumes in your day.
- Some proteins are higher in fat than others. So, if your main sources of protein are coming from nuts and seeds, cheese, or high fat meats like pork belly and rib steak you may be inadvertently packing on the pounds.
Why the hype?
- Protein helps keep us full longer and more satisfied. When paired with carbohydrates at a meal or snack, it also helps slow the absorption of glucose into the blood stream, stabilizing blood sugars and helping to curb cravings.
- Protein is more metabolically demanding. Our body burns a bit more calories digesting and processing it compared to the other macronutrients (fat and carbs), aiding in weight loss.
- Protein doesn’t get stored as fat quite as readily as carbs and fats do, so filling up on LEAN protein sources like chicken and greek yogurt has its benefits for weight driven goals.
- Protein helps with building and maintaining muscle mass which drives metabolism. If you are doing a lot of strength work, long duration endurance training, or following a restrictive calorie diet, studies show that amping up your protein intake can help keep muscle mass intact so your resting metabolism stays high.
What about Protein Supplements?
The next question I get asked is “Should I take a protein supplement, and if so, what kind should I get?”
If you regularly have trouble meeting your protein needs from foods, a supplement may be in order. Shakes are not better than food, but they can function as an isolated, source of lean protein that’s quick and easy to consume. Those who don’t cook, are on the move, or have limited time to eat, especially post workout, tend to find a shake or bar handy.
My main beef with protein bars and powders is that they aren’t yet regulated so it’s hard to vouch for their quality and safety. Many products have a lot of additives and preservatives which isn’t ideal, and they sometimes cause tummy upset. Lastly the taste and chalky texture can be off putting so you may need to test a few before you find one you like. Of course the price canhttp://www.nsfsport.com/index.asp also be prohibitive. If you’re looking for products that are tested for quality and saftey, check out INFORMED CHOICE and NSF sport.
What form of Protein is best?
Choosing the right one comes down to when and why you’re taking it. As far as milk based protein powders, whey isolate proteins are the quickest absorbing and evidence shows it to be the ideal protein for post workout recovery and mass building. Casein on the other hand has a slower absorption rate and lasts longer thus useful pre workout, before bed, or in your breakfast smoothie. Incidentally, a serving of greek yogurt or cottage cheese offers a pretty good balance of both! Vegetarian proteins come in a variety of forms and are useful additions to a vegan or vegetarian diet, especially if you’re looking for isolated protein sources that aren’t combined with fats and carbs. However, since all vegetarian proteins are less well absorbed than their animal and dairy counterparts, they’re not gold standard for protein supplementation.
How much do you need?
This is very individualized. It’s based on your weight, your lean mass, your activity level, the type of sport you’re doing, your age, and of course, your goals. A registered dietitian can help with this. General guidelines suggest 0.8g/kg – 1.2g/kg body weight. This is sufficient. But new studies are linking considerably higher amounts to success in weight loss and of course lean muscle gains, as high as 1.5-2g/kg!
The long term safety of very high protein diets is still controversial and if you have kidney disease it’s a definite no! Maintaining a balanced diet that includes carbs, fats and protein is best. That said, re-distributing your calorie intake to make a little more room for more protein throughout the day may have legit benefits.