Proteins are a key component of the foods we eat. It’s a macronutrient along with carbohydrates and fats. These are the nutrients that the body needs in relatively large amounts to sustain life and we can only obtain them from the foods that we eat. So why are proteins such a huge discussion among dietary programming and athletic training?
To understand the importance of the macronutrient proteins, you must first understand what amino acids are.
Amino Acids are biologically important organic compounds. Long chains of amino acids form proteins. There are 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot produce. They must be ingested via our food sources – Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine. (source)
Proteins are your building blocks of cells, muscle tissue, and bones. Proteins are also stored in the blood supply to help the body fight diseases and heal and repair injuries. Because they are so important, and you must get your essential amino acids from food sources let’s take a look at our options.
ANIMAL vs. PLANT
In terms of food sources there are two sources of proteins, animal-based and plant-based. For the longest time animal sources were also called complete proteins including beef, poultry, fish and dairy products. These sources contain all the essential amino acids to help keep our bodies healthy and fit. Plant sources such as grains, nuts, beans, and select vegetables were considered incomplete sources. It was understood that these sources contain a limited array of amino acids and in order to get the full potential of the protein source it is best consumed alongside a complete protein for a full meal. However, the Amercian Dietetic Association did abandon this idea.
Incomplete proteins (i.e. vegetarian sources) do not mean they are inferior. In fact, beef protein contains only about 20% usable protein, while Spirulina averages 75-80% usable protein – so many vegan options can be just as complete and bioavailable as their animal counterparts. (source)
Biological value (BV) is a measure of the proportion of absorbed protein from a food which becomes incorporated into the proteins of the organism’s body. It captures how readily the digested protein can be used in protein synthesis. The process by which cells of an organism create proteins. But for the purposes of understanding this blog, proper protein synthesis leads to muscular growth and repair. One of the key factors in BV is preparation. We often (due to food regulations and safety) cook our animal sources of protein; where as, edible plant-sources of protein can be eaten raw or without exposure to heat.
Another factor to help you understand the incomplete versus complete protein debate is caloric density and common portions sizes. A steak may contain more grams of protein per typical portion size, therefore it’s been mistakenly called a “complete source” simply because one would need to eat 20 ounce of spirulina to reach relatively the same protein content, but yet the 20 ounce spirulina is still less in calories than the sirloin. See the chart below to compare.
Regardless of your protein source preference, protein density is another factor to consider when choosing the proteins for your diet. Proteins, like carbohydrates, contain 4 calories per 1 gram. For example a 4 ounce chicken breast contains approximately 35g of protein and contains a total of 186 calories.
(Step 1) 35 x 4 = 140
(Step 2) 140 / 186 = .75 (75%)
This means that 75% of the chicken breast’s total calories are from protein; making it a protein dense choice.
A diet high in natural protein sources has been proven to help minimize cravings and make you feel fuller longer. Proteins help with satiety and are an essential macronutrient responsible for building muscle tissue. If you wish to visually see a difference in the shape of your body and develop healthy muscle mass it is recommended to incorporate a protein source at every meal.
For protein recommendations based on body type and activity level – READ MORE at a previous blog.
Now let’s breakdown our main sources of protein.
When it comes to protein supplementation, whey protein, is the leading source because it has a BV ranging from 90 -100 for a concentrate and the isolate ranges from 100-150. It is one of the highest sources in branch chain amino acids and is quickly absorbed by the human body.
TYPES of WHEY
Whey Protein Concentration (Protein 25 – 89% / Lactose 4 – 52% / Fat 1 – 9%)
Whey Protein Isolate (90-95% / Lactose 0.5 – 1% / Fat 0.5 – 1%) — See the ABOUT TIME quality of Whey Isolate
Hydolyzed Whey Protein (Protein 80 – 90% / Lactose 0.5 – 10% / Fat 0.5 – 8%)
MISCELLUR CASEIN PROTEIN (can be seen as Calcium Caseinate)
Is another commonly supplemented protein because it is very similar to whey, except that it is slowly digested and absorbed by the body. This allows a steady flow of branch chain amino acids into the bloodstream, which can have a huge impact during long periods between meals (i.e. prior to overnight fasting or sleep). ABOUT TIME offers a Zz Recovery Formula that combines casein protein with added tryptophan and melatonin to aid in muscle recovery overnight.
It is derived from cow’s milk; in fact, 80% of milks total protein comes from casein, the other 20% from whey. Because of the higher lactose content, another allergen this is often not an option for supplementation. But for those that are not lactose-intolerant it can be an important source because of it’s unique property of becoming a gel as it comes in contact with stomach acid. This gel protein experiences is why casein has a slower digestion rate and allows for a slower and more efficient release and utilization of the protein’s amino acids.
At one time eggs were considered in the best protein supplement. The BV scale was original created based on the egg being the ranking benchmark of 100. Eggs, however, are the one of most allergenic of all the proteins and the allergenic proteins are actually concentrated in the egg whites. Eggs also have a high sulfer content so they can lead to intestinal gas issues. –FYI
Types of EGG PROTEIN – both are slow absorbing by the body.
Egg White – is the lowest in fat option therefore also the lowest in fats and proteins per single serving.
Whole Egg – is the most nutrient dense option because the Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals are located in the yolk
Is often not the most effective alternative plant-based protein because it is also high in allergens. Soy also blocks the absorption of many important minerals unless the phytates have been removed and soy contains high levels of phytoestrogens, although beneficial in moderate amounts can be counter-productive in larger amounts.
There is limited research on the research claiming that soy protein use in limited quantity may improve immune function, bone health, and prevent cardiovascular disease. The most important factor in determining soy-protein use is to find one that has not been genetically modified (NON-GMO).
HEMP SEED PROTEIN
Hemp seed a unique plant-based protein source in that it is easily digested, absorbed and utilized similar to it’s animal-based counterpart whey protein. It’s hypoallergenic properties make it useful for almost any dietary preferences and has been shown to be a vital super food in maintaining a healthy immune system. Hemp seed is also very high in fiber, which is and added benefit not present in animal-protein sources.
The unfortunate concern with hemp seed protein is often the cost per serving to reach the equivalent desired protein intake for most individuals. For supplementation it is often blended with other plant-based sources.
Standard table rice is very low in protein so to make concentrated rice protein whole brown rice is ground into a flour and mixed with water. Natural enzymes are then added to break down and separate the carbohydrates and fiber from the proteins. This is another situation if enzyme activity is exposed to high heat it will denaturize the amino acids so it’s important that you find a rice protein created under controlled temperature conditions.
If created properly the concentrated rice protein end product is 80-90% pure, hypoallergenic, and easily digested. The only downside to rice protein is it’s lack of the important amino acid lysine. It’s highly suggested that if you choose to use a rice protein you also supplement with lysine as well to increase its BV.
Even though many don’t think of peas providing protein, in fact pea protein has a very mild, yet sweet taste. Pea protein is derived from yellow pea and the process used for concentrating is a water-based process making the end result one of the most “naturally” created protein sources.
If used alone pea protein is very low in the amino acid cysteine and methionine (highly available in rice protein) but very high in lysine. Therefore, when used in combination with a rice protein the two plant-based proteins rival the BV of both the dairy sources and egg protein – minus the allergens. Often manufactures combine the two proteins to help eliminate the “chalky” texture of the rice protein.
The ABOUT TIME VE Formula takes advantage of the benefits of combining rice and pea protein. See the label below:
Regardless of the protein sources you choose to incorporate in your diet, it is absolutely pertinent to your health to make this macronutrient a focus of your dietary planning. Hopefully after reading through this article you are also considering other options available. Even non-vegetarians can benefit from utilizing plant-based protein sources more frequently in their diet. Many of us; when it comes to our diet, can be creatures of habit and more research is surfacing on the result of food sensitivities and intolerances due to over consumption, so vary your sources and determine what options work best for your health and fitness-related goals.
For more in-depth reading see:
Plant Based Sources of Protein and Amino Acids in Relation to Human Health