Its been high protein week, this week on cleanleanbean, so it’s about time I talked about protein in a bit more detail. Also included at the end of this article is a round-up of the high protein recipes I have published this week. And if you haven’t read it already, the week kicked off with a really interesting interview and taste testing with two champion bikini and fitness models. You can read this interview here Fit, Fab and Forty-something: Kids, Jobs and Getting Fit
I eat a lot of protein. I don’t know why but it feels like my body needs it and I often feel like I am craving protein, particularly after a hard race.
To try to understand this better I have looked at what protein is and what it actually does in the body. As an amateur athlete I was also interested to understand if/how it benefits sports performance and which were the best types of protein to consume.
Protein and what it does
It seems protein is rather important as it is present in every cell and tissue in our body. On average protein comprises about 20% of our total body weight.
It helps us to:
- Build new tissue
- Repair old tissue
- Fuel the body to produce energy
- Make certain hormones
- Maintain optimal fluid balance
- Transport nutrients in and out of cells
- Transport Oxygen around the body
- Regulate blood clotting
Protein is formed from amino acids. Some of the amino acids can be made in the body but there are 8 amino acids that we can only get from food and these are known as the Essential Amino Acids (EAA). You may have seen supplements containing Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA). These make up 1/3 of muscle protein and are a vital substitute for 2 other amino acids that get released when we train hard. They can also be used as fuel by muscles.
Who needs protein?
Clearly everyone needs protein, the question is who may need more protein than the average person? Numerous studies have shown that people who exercise regularly need more protein than people who don’t because protein helps us to repair and grow. But there is actually a greater protein requirement in people who are new to exercise and people who are increasing the intensity of their training because the muscles are under more stress at these times. Once you have become used to the increase in exercise your protein requirement reduces.
Endurance athletes require extra protein to fuel muscles when they have depleted their glycogen stores and to help repair and aid recovery of their muscles after training.
Strength and power athletes require extra protein to build muscle and to recover and repair.
People on a fat loss programme may benefit from a higher protein intake as it can help to minimise losing muscle mass as well as fat.
If you are following a low GI diet (to lower the effect food has on your blood sugar) protein helps to slow down carbohydrate digestion, producing a smaller blood sugar rise.
Protein and weight loss
Protein is scientifically proven to make you feel fuller for longer thus eating less overall. It does this by suppressing the receptors in your body that tell the brain it needs food. The brain then signals that you are full. However there is a time delay in this message coming through which is why you should wait 20 minutes after eating before you eat anything else.
Does protein enhance muscle gain?
Only if you are doing heavy strength training! You are not going to get ripped by eating protein alone. You have to be doing the training to go with it but it does enhance muscle growth. To build muscle the body needs to be taking in more protein than it excretes (uses as fuel). Not having enough protein will result in slower gains in strength, muscle size and mass. In some cases it can even lead to muscle loss.
Do I need a protein powder?
It’s always best to get your nutrients from food if you can and a healthy balanced diet should provide all the protein we need. But there are just some days when life gets in the way and we don’t have a healthy balanced diet and protein supplementation can be an easy, convenient way to ensure an adequate intake. Some diets may not offer enough protein such as a vegan or fat loss diet and again supplementation may be useful here. If you are training very hard and have a higher protein requirement then powder can be a convenient, easy snack to eat on the run and it’s better than eating a doughnut!
Typically I use Protein Drinks when:
- I want a light, high protein breakfast e.g. I’ve had a late carby meal the night before and am feeling bloated and sluggish
- I want an easy, convenient, nutritious and filling snack or breakfast
- I want a portable or on the run breakfast
I use a Protein/Carb Recovery Drink after a training session when:
- The session was an hour in duration or more
- I am not going to be able to have a balanced meal in the next 30 minutes
- It’s not convenient for me to eat in the next 30 minutes (e.g I am going out for lunch in an hours time so I don’t want a meal now)
- After hard weights sessions when I want to take in protein in the next 15 minutes
Recovery drinks allow me to refuel the muscles with carbohydrates and rebuild the muscle damage with protein and, as the name suggests, kick-start the bodies recovery process so that I can perform optimally in my next training session. The older I get the more of a priority this becomes because whilst I am fitter and stronger than I have ever been I find that recovery takes longer.
But they are not cheap. If you are on a budget, don’t stress about the powders, get your protein from food. If you have the luxury of spare cash and you think that protein powder will add a bit of variety and convenience then its a “nice to have”. I use them for those reasons.
Which sort of protein powder is best?
My number 1 rule for protein powder is no artificial flavours, sweeteners, colours, flavours or ingredients I can’t pronounce. No point in eating clean if your supplements are full of crap. Sorry to be blunt about it but it makes sense right?
Once you have implemented that rule you have narrowed down the field considerably. There are some natural flavoured protein drinks on the market but it’s just as easy to make your own. See All Natural Protein and Recovery Drinks and Smoothies
So the next question is which source should your protein powder come from? Beef, whey, egg or plant. Some of this will come down to preference but it also depends on your dietary restrictions:
- Vegetarian – Whey, plant or egg
- Vegan – Plant
- Lactose intolerant – Beef, egg or plant
- Anything goes – boils down to preference and a little bit of science
If you can tolerate milk, choose an unflavoured whey protein. It contains all the essential amino acids, gets into your system more quickly than any other protein and is the most effective powder at building muscle
I would recommend choosing a mixed vegan protein powder that is soya free, My Protein sell one. This is because the plant proteins on their own are lacking in certain amino acids but mixed together you cover the full spectrum to make a complete protein. I am not a fan of soya in any food form for several reasons but mainly because it gives me stomach ache and makes me bloat like a balloon. I will be writing more about this soon so make sure you are signed up for email alerts so that you don’t miss any posts.
I am slightly biased here as I use beef protein. It mixes really well into a smooth consistency which I like. It has a 97% protein content compared to egg which is 80% and vegan blend which is 73%. However there is some controversy around beef protein as it tends to be made from the parts of the cow that normally get thrown away – hooves, ligaments etc. and it is reported that it has limited bioavailability (how much the body can absorb). It’s quite new to the market and therefore under researched so it is hard to say whether it is a bad source of protein or not. I am considering trying egg protein for those reasons and hope that it mixes well!
Whey for the reasons stated under Vegetarian
Protein is essential to life and our diets should provide us with enough unless we are training hard, increasing the intensity of our training or on a restricted diet. Protein powders are a convenient and fast way to increase our protein but are often full of unnatural ingredients. Choose your protein powder wisely in conjunction with your dietary requirements.
High Protein Recipes posted this week:
There are a lot of other high protein recipes on this site so I hope you enjoy looking around it!