What’s The Deal With Protein?

Sometimes I feel like a protein connoisseur or something, the way I can go on and on about it. But it’s because I have not only seen the ways it has worked for myself, but in people around me who have picked up on it. There is also a science-based fitness revolution that’s been taking place ,where alot more evidence based recommendations are made and getting promoted in the media – protein is being encouraged more.

“Protein = muscle building.”

That’s how most of us understand it, and it is very true. Made from 20 amino acids, without getting too sciency here, 9 of those are essential amino acids. And of those 9, there are 3 responsible for muscle protein synthesis. Leucine, isoleucine and valine. These are the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are important (Seen BCAAs advertised in supplement shops? Yeah those), with leucine being the primary of the 3 BCAAs.

Yeah , okay, so what does this mean for me?

Simply put, eat enough of protein rich sources of food in a day. There’s animal and plant sources ,so no matter what diet you follow ie omnivore, vegan, keto etc,there’s a lot of options.

  • Poultry (lean cuts – chicken breast, turkey breast etc)
  • Seafood (shrimp, hake, tuna, tilapia etc)
  • Egg whites
  • Tofu
  • Game meat
  • Protein powders (whey, casein, rice protein, pea protein etc)
  • Beef*
  • Dairy*
  • Nuts and seeds*
  • Nut butters (almond butter, peanut butter etc)*
  • Whole grains – brown rice, barley, wholewheat**
  • Beans, lentils, peas, other legumes**
  • Quinoa**

The REAL deal with protein foods they don’t talk about :

Some foods listed above are almost entirely protein sources, such as the first six listed above. The rest of the foods on the list are foods that contain protein AND either carbohydrates and fat(macronutrients). Meaning eating a lot of these food will contribute to your intake of either carbohydrates or fat.

For example – the foods with a * contain fat as well, and the foods with a ** are carbohydrates that contain SOME protein, and are not protein foods on their own.

Macronutrients? What does that have to do with me liking peanut butter as my protein source?

Total calories are made up of 3 macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats and protein (well there’s a 4th – alcohol, but it has zero nutritional value and for simplicity let’s take it out of the equation).

Example of how macronutrients make up our total calores

So say you want to eat more fat and have the same calories – one of the other two would have to reduce, otherwise you will end up having excess calories – weight gain.

This means when you take in peanut butter for its protein, you are consuming not only some protein, but additional fat – peanut butter on average contains 20% protein, but 50% fat. So when you take a tablespoon of peanut butter (~20g) you take in 6g of protein but 10g of fat as well.

Just as with nut butters, quinoa is often touted as a “great protein source”. In reality, quinoa is only 20% protein and 70% carbohydrate. So a 100g portion of quinoa will give you ~5g of protein, yet also 20g of carbohydrates.

Of course carbohydrates and fats are important, but when trying to increase protein intake, its more favoured to use mostly lean protein sources rather than these other foods that are often a combination of other macronutrients.

This is because to reach your recommended intake of protein WITHOUT exceeding other macronutrients, it’s easier to consume these protein sources. To use nuts, bacon and full fat dairy for your primary protein sources will almost definitely cause you to exceed your recommended daily fat intake. So focus on mostly lean protein, in the context of your calorie needs as well as accounting for the other macronutrients.

So does that mean protein shakes and BCAA supplements are the key?

No, they are not. The only “magical” thing they do is help you reach your protein target.If you can eat enough protein containing foods, you don’t need them! Also, BCAAs contain a very very small amount of protein,not enough to stimulate MPS (muscle protein systhesis), are expensive, and cannot replace consumption of whole protein sources – BCAAs are basically a waste of money with little value; however whey and casein protein provide good value.

So how much do I need if i do resistance training regularly?

1.2-1.7g/kg of protein per day is the newer recommended amount.

(Small caveat – if you have known kidney disease or are at risk, stick to the recommended amount medically advised as excess protein impairs renal function. If you are healthy though, it is absolutely okay to ingest higher amounts of protein.)

This number is lower than most bodybuilders recommend or “the fitness industry”so to speak. The average healthy person can tolerate the commonly recommended 2.2g/kg/day or 1g/lb/day average. It’s really a range, and with this, more is not necessarily better. There’s the issue of if you have a given amount of calories a day, more protein means less room for carbohydrates and fats. So a range of 1.4 – 1.8g/kg/day will cover your bases. I opt for the least amount of protein that will actively help to retain and build muscle, just because it allows for more carbohydrates and some more fat.

As a base, stay on the higher end when losing weight to help retain muscle mass, and you can stick to the middle -lower end on maintenance and while gaining weight/bulking.

For example, I weigh 57kg, currently maintaining, and I aim for around 1.5g/kg/day

57 x 1.5 = 85.5

Therefore I usually aim for around 80-90g of protein per day.

Some days I go over, some days its a bit of work to reach the minimum, but consistency in hitting those values has had the second most important impact I have seen in terms of my body composition – with the first being resistance training – and that’s another story….

And that’s the gist of protein.

That’s all for now folks! Stay tuned, subscribe for new posts 🙂


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