Aug 18 2012
Protein is a calorie scorcher and a muscle toning immunity booster. High quality protein is absolutely necessary for a healthy, strong body and new research is showing you will benefit from more protein than what is typically recommended.
You need to know how much to eat, and when, to get the most out of your protein. Most people eat too little or low quality protein without realizing. New research shows that most adults benefit from protein intakes above the minimum RDA in the United States. So what does all of this mean for you?
Today is day 18 in my 3 Weeks to Awesome program and I am going to tell you all about it. There’s a lot to learn, so today we’re exercising your brain, but giving your body an active rest day. Do something active and fun, but allow your body to rest slightly. Your brain is going to be working overtime.
Keep in mind, all nutrients are important and having a balanced nutrition plan is imperative, but there are a few key point I want to address when it comes specifically to proteins and branched chain amino acids.
Remember, receiving nutrients from whole foods is always received better by your body than supplementation. I don’t mean buying your food from Whole Foods. I mean eat real, wholesome food. I personally do not recommend supplementation in the pill or powder form when it comes to protein unless you are trying to gain weight or if you’re really, really in an emergency.
When in doubt, you should most definitely discuss your specific nutritional needs with your doctor, a registered dietitian, or a certified sports nutritionist.
What is Protein?
Proteins are made up of 20 different amino acids. Think of protein as the english language, while amino acids are like the letters of the alphabet. Essential amino acids are like vowels. Just like in Wheel of Fortune, everyone knows they’re the best ones to pick first. There are 9 essential amino acids, or “vowels.” Our bodies can’t make them so we have to get them from our diet.
Different combinations of “letters” create different “words.” Combinations of different “words” create sentences. The sentences build and suddenly you have a story. That’s basically how protein is configured.
Different combinations of amino acids tell different stories. Some help control hunger, build muscle, repair injuries, rejuvenate skin and so on.
Complete vs Incomplete
Foods fall into 2 categories:
Complete proteins contain all nine of the essential amino acids and include animal products like meat, fish, poultry and eggs. Soybeans and quinoa also are complete proteins, but because of their amino acid profile, they are not considered high quality protein like animal products are.
Imagine that amino acids are still like the letters of the alphabet and we’re playing scrabble. Soybeans and quinoa would get you some points, but they would be words like “rat” or “the.” Lean fish, red meat, poultry or eggs would be words like “qua” or “zax.” They score you the big points.
Worried about fat? Eat lean cuts of meat, poultry and fish. Worried about carcinogens? Buy organic, grass fed, free range animal products. Vegan or vegetarian? More power to you. Just make sure you understand how that is going to affect your overall progress towards your fitness goal. Natalie Jill writes a good article on it: Vegan, Vegetarian, and YOU.
Incomplete proteins, as the name suggests, just aren’t complete. Nuts, seeds, legumes, fruit, veggies and grains are all missing or low in essential amino acids. You can mix and match foods to get a complete protein, but you are most likely going to have a huge amount of carbs to go along with it. Incomplete protein foods are always going to be higher in carbs and lower in protein than complete protein foods.
Even complete protein sources that are considered lower quality, like quinoa and soybeans, are going to be higher in carbohydrates than protein. Keep that in mind and read labels when you’re not sure. Remember to look at the grams of protein, carbs and fats. Also look at the grams of sugar. Just like I mentioned in the video from yesterday, keep it simple and ignore everything else.
In a perfect world, you would have a high quality, complete protein source at every meal to ensure all nine essential amino acids are there when you need them. Why? The body has no ability to store a daily supply. New research is saying adults need protein at every meal, with at least 2 meals including a full 30 g of protein in one sitting.
Breakfast is a super important meal for dietary protein because the body is in a catabolic state after an overnight fast. A meal with at least 30 g of protein is required to initiate repletion of body proteins. Protein at breakfast is also critical for regulation of appetite and daily food intake. Rethink that oatmeal with fruit in the morning. You need at least 30 grams of protein. Oatmeal and fruit isn’t cutting it.
You can use Nutritiondata.com to check out the amino acid profile of the foods you’re eating. Find out which are complete and which aren’t. It is the best tool on the internet for tracking your nutrients and it’s completely free. Not sure what you’re eating? With free tools out there like this one, you really have no excuses. Type in your food and check it out. No more saying you just didn’t know. The knowledge is out there. Now go get it!
What Does New Research Say About Protein?
If you really want to geek out like me, feel free to read the full research article, references and commentary: Dietary Guidelines should reflect new understandings about adult protein needs. But I’m here to sum it up for you.
• Protein is a critical part of the adult diet
All macronutrients are important, but protein should be the most important part of a complete diet for adults. Even though physical growth only occurs in children and adolescents, the need to repair the body continues throughout life. Protein is needed to maintain the health of muscle and bone. It is an essential part of the aging process and critical to maintain mobility, health and the active tissues of our body. Protein needs become more important during periods of reduced food intake such as weight loss or during periods of recovery after illness or during aging.
Did you hear me? It becomes more important during aging. That applies to all of us!
• Protein needs are proportional to body weight; NOT total calories
Protein needs for adults relate to body weight. Dietary protein need is often recommended as 10 to 35% of total calories, but this is based on old research and outdated information. Protein needs are constant across all energy intakes. What does that mean?
Let me give you a real life example. For my particular body type and activity level, I personally know that I perform best and heal best at above 200 grams of protein. When I am in my off season, I increase my calories to 2200 calories each day and my protein is above 200 grams. When I reduce my calories during my competition prep diet, I drop my total calories down to about 1800 each day, but my protein stays almost exactly the same at above 200 grams each day.
In general, dietary protein should be established first in any diet in proportion to body weight (that means grams not percentages) and then carbohydrates and fats added based on total calories (that means percentages, not grams).
You following? The grams of protein should remain the same. Drop your carbs and fat when you diet. Increase them when you’re not dieting, but keep the protein the same during both scenarios.
• Optimal adult protein use is a function of intake at individual meals
Protein is an important part of good nutrition at every meal. You can take vitamins and minerals once per day because the body can store them for use later. The body has no ability to store a daily supply of protein. To maintain healthy muscles and bones for adults, eat a fair amount of high quality protein at every single meal. In addition to that, at least 30 g of protein should be consumed in one sitting at more than one meal.
• Most adults benefit from protein intakes above the minimum RDA
As you age you have an increased risk of obesity, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, heart disease, and sarcopenia. New questions have been raised about dietary ratios of carbohydrates, fats, and protein for life-long health since these health problems have risen over the recent years. The RDA represents the minimum daily intake for active healthy adults, but for most adults, replacing some dietary carbohydrates with protein will help to maintain body composition, mobility, improve blood lipids and help to control food intake.
So if this is the current research, why don’t people know about it? I can’t answer this one. We all know when the next iPhone is coming out. We all know when the next season of our favorite sport is about to begin. We all know when the next big blockbuster movie is coming out. I can’t tell you why people don’t pay attention to new research developments. I do. Most people don’t. I guess I’m not most people.
America is a bit slow to adopt big policy changes so I don’t expect the RDA for protein to change in the near future, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen to bogus advice. The research is there. You can access it. My hope is that I will inspire you to seek out the most current research before listening to any nutritional advice (even from a professional) and that you will be on the lookout for new developments, but if not, just come to me. Rest assured I will do my best to give you the latest nutritional break throughs.
What About Protein Shakes?
There are a couple of problems with protein shakes. First of all, keep in mind that when you are trying to lean down, it is best if you make sure that all of your protein comes from whole food sources, meaning you should not use a protein powder during that phase of your life unless you are a vegan or vegetarian.
Why? It’s just too easy. Your body doesn’t have to work for it. It’s already broken down into powder form. There’s very little work needed to digest it. When you want to lean down you want your body to work.
Whey protein is the most popular type of protein and typically tastes the sweetest and smoothest, but it isn’t suitable for vegans, some vegetarians or most people that have digestive problems. Here’s a cool infographic on how whey protein is derived:
This is the protein powder I personally recommend: Protein. It’s not whey, so it’s great for vegans, vegetarians as well as regular omnivores looking to supplement their diet with easily digestible protein. Gluten free, lactose free and I personally love the taste, but that’s just me and I don’t like sweets all that much.
You will have to decide for yourself what protein powder is the best for you if you are trying to supplement your diet. No matter what type of protein powder you choose, make sure the packaging includes an amino acid profile.
What About Protein Bars?
I don’t personally recommend protein bars unless you are trying to gain weight. Why? Let me explain. I want you to only understand the facts. I don’t want to tell you that it’s wrong to eat a Cliff Bar, Lara Bar, protein bar, granola bar or any other nutrition bar. I simply want you to understand what it is that you are actually eating.
The fact is there is more sugar in “health” bars like, Cliff Bars, than there is in several typical candy bars. Luna Bars too. Lara Bars. Promax Bars. They may be wrapped in a different package. They may say, “All Natural Ingredients,” or “Energy Bar,” or “Sustained Energy,” or “Long Lasting Power,” or “Protein Power,” or “Low Glycemic,” or even “Organic.”
I want you to look beyond the marketing. I want you to look beyond the gimmicks.
I want you to look only at the grams of sugar. I want you to understand that sugar is still sugar, even when it comes from a “healthy” source, even when it comes in a “healthy” package.
Eating 4 ounces of fish or boneless, skinless chicken breast is going to give you the protein you need without giving you any sugar or any other carbs. You can choose to get your carbs from other healthy sources instead, like sweet potatoes. For more information about how protein bars compare to candy bars, check out this post: Gluten – The Ticking Time Bomb and scroll down to the heading “A Spoonful of Sugar.”
A Spoonful of Sugar.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
There are 3 super stars when it comes to amino acids. They are known as a special group of amino acids called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are needed to help maintain and repair muscle tissue. Leucine is an essential amino acid. The other two BCAAs are isoleucine and valine.
Leucine is special because research shows it helps prevent muscle proteins from breaking down during exercise. Some studies have shown that BCAAs have the special ability to boost protein synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown. This means none of the other proteins, or amino acids, have as strong of an effect as BCAAs.
Foods highest in Leucine and Isoleucine and Valine
These are the foods highest in leucine, while also still being high in the other BCAAs (Isoleucine and Valine). The foods are listed from highest to still very high and are based on levels per each 200 calorie serving.
- Egg Whites
- Cottage Cheese, 1 percent
- Orange Roughy
- Sea Bass
- Beef (trimmed)
- Cottage Cheese, 2 percent
- Cheese, lowfat Cheddar or Colby
Want some more cool info? A mixture of amino acids, salts, glucose, B vitamins, and vitamin C increase production of collagen, a unique protein which helps to strengthen damaged areas, according to more research. Forget the collagen injections. Age gracefully by eating well.
If you try to eat the lean proteins listed above, combined with lots of colorful veggies, you are going to be in a better position than if you ate a protein shake, peanut butter and apple, quinoa and kale, or other typical “health” food that many people eat while trying to be “healthy.”
Eat for your goal. Not because of what your friend read in a magazine. Get accurate information and eat according to what your specific goal is.
There is no mysterious, magical diet. If you want to lose bodyfat you need to eat a fair amount of lean protein and A LOT of green veggies at every meal. Period.
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