“WHICH CAME FIRST, THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?”
Science says the chicken, because the protein that makes eggshells can only be produced by hens. In fact, proteins lay the groundwork for your entire body. After water, protein is the most abundant substance in the body.
Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 22 of them. Your body is capable of making 13, the ones known as “non-essential” amino acids. The other nine are called “essential” amino acids because they can only be obtained from food. When you eat protein, the amino acids are broken down and rearranged to build and maintain your muscles, bones, blood, and organs.
Protein is also a key part of any fitness plan. Whether you are looking to buff up or run that extra mile, additional protein is needed to repair the damage caused by exercise.
Next, diversify your protein sources to ensure you get all 22 amino acids, and all the vitamins and minerals from different whole foods. For example, mackerel and salmon have omega-3 fatty acids that will lubricate the joints, while full-fat yogurt and cheddar cheese have probiotics to keep your intestinal tract healthy and quell those sugar cravings.
Remember, the higher your physical activity level, the faster you break down protein.
“But won’t protein damage my kidneys?” This is only the case if you already have kidney or liver disease. While many are afraid of getting too much protein, the truth is that protein malnutrition is more common among North American female athletes. If you exercise a lot, your protein demands are probably higher because of your higher levels of physical activity. While you likely eat enough calories, you need to make sure you get enough protein from quality sources.
Symptoms of protein malnutrition include a weakened immune system, yellow skin tone, lethargy, loss of muscle mass, and hair loss.
Dieters are also at risk because the foods recommended tend to be “low-fat” or vegetarian, both of which can be protein-poor. Vegetarian athletes can still meet their protein requirements with a little bit of know-how and attention to detail.
Protein quality is determined by amino acid profile, not the overall amount of protein stated on the label. Specifically, researchers found that the activation of muscle-building signals was the same between different types of protein once the threshold of 2g of the amino acid “leucine” was reached.
For instance, why is whey protein considered better than rice protein? Because it takes 20g of whey protein to reach the 2g threshold of leucine, compared to 48g of rice protein to reach the 2g threshold. Opting for a vegetarian protein source simply means you need to eat more. How much more? An average serving of meat protein is the palm of your hand; the equivalent protein serving from a vegetable is 4 1⁄2 cups of cooked spinach!
Proteins come in two types: complete and incomplete. Complete proteins have all 22 amino acids. These include meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs. Incomplete proteins have a handful of these amino acids. This means you have to eat a wide variety to make sure your getting all 22. Examples include nuts, grains, fruits, and vegetables.
If you are going the vegetarian route, don’t worry about perfect food combinations at every meal to get all 22 amino acids. As long as you are getting a constant and varied supply of amino acids throughout the day that meet your needs, you will be on track.
The next choice is when to eat protein. Research shows that muscle protein activation peaks within one to two hours after strength training.
Finally, let’s take the stress out of protein even more: you don’t need it every two to three hours. You can eat eight meals, or you can eat two. As intense strength training increases your metabolism for 24 hours after your last lift, it also stimulates muscle growth. This means that the protein you consume all day helps you reach your fitness goals!
More Insights: Check out this article that is a guide to understanding healthy fats in your diet.
Author: Jennifer Graham is an OptiMYz writer. She enjoys exploring the relationship between people and food ways.