So, You Think You Know Protein?

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Next time you go to the gym, just look around you. Observe the people dutifully sipping from plastic bottles. If they’re not chugging some form of liquid protein from those bottles, there’s a good chance that they’ll be taking it the instant they get home. Even those of us who generally eschew supplements, never miss an opportunity to gulp down their vaunted protein shake.

In the wake of high-protein diets like the Atkins diet and the Dukan diet, and their undeniable high profile success stories, protein has gained a reputation as the singularly unmissable nutrient. While protein is an undeniably important part of a balanced diet, many people have a surprisingly sparse idea about why they need protein. It doesn’t help that the nutrition industry is smart enough to play on most people’s unknowing reliance on protein, using it to make all sorts of lofty claims about their products that end up being ultimately bogus.

Whatever your exercise routine or fitness goals, it’s important to realize why protein is important and which of the many supplements on the market are the right ones for you.

The importance of protein

Protein is a macronutrient. This means that your body needs to consume it in relatively high quantities to become healthy. However, unlike other macronutrients like carbohydrates and fats, your body does not store it. Hence, why it needs to be consumed regularly.

Protein is an essential building block for your body. It’s present in all of your cells, and your hair and nails are made almost entirely out of protein (keratin). Your body uses it to create, repair and maintain bones, cartilage, skin, blood, hormones, enzymes and (of course) muscle tissue. Your body uses protein to repair muscle tissue that it damaged by exercise, causing it to grow back leaner and stronger. From your point of view, this means that it allows you to recover faster post-workout and increase your strength, stamina and cardiovascular fitness. If you’re injured in training, then protein becomes even more important as it’s an essential factor in effective healing. Since our bodies are naturally predisposed to absorb protein, it also helps to curb hunger, making you feel fuller and eliminating cravings.

Since protein is present in animal cells, it makes sense that it is mostly found in meat and dairy products as well as fish and eggs. It’s also abundant in numerous plant-based sources such as nuts, hemp, beans, legumes and soy.

Not all proteins are created equal

Hopefully, by now you’re sold on the virtues of a protein rich diet. Unfortunately, however, not all consumer protein products are created equally with wild variation in not only protein content but associated vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. A great many protein powders available commercially, not only have a fairly low percentage of protein but are stuffed with ‘filler materials of little-to-no nutritional value.

After exercise, your body doesn’t just need protein, it also needs the amino acids that will help your body to assimilate it, so it’s amino acid profile is also very important. Branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) are nitrogen carriers that are vitally important in the creation and maintenance of lean muscle tissue.

Once again, it’s vitally important to choose a powder that’s aligned with your goals. If you’re looking to trim down, then beware supplements aimed at bodybuilders which may be loaded with carbs. Of course, another important factor to consider is taste. You could have the most nutrient rich powder on the market but there’s very little point drinking it if the taste of it makes you want to gag. For years your options were pretty limited to either strawberry, chocolate or vanilla, but recently there’s been an explosion in not just the nutrient composition of different powders but the range of flavors on the market too.

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Collagen, You need it more than you think!

Many of us associate collagen with cosmetics and beauty products but it’s a more important nutrient than many give it credit for. Collagen is a structural protein found everywhere in the human body. It can be found in the skin, bones, ligaments, joints, and blood vessels.

As we age, the collagen in our bodies deteriorates, diminishing incrementally over the years. It’s what causes our skin to wrinkle, our bones to become brittle and our joints to become stiff.  A collagen enriched powder can help to ameliorate the damage caused by the inevitable loss of collagen with age. If you feel that your age is beginning to impede your exercise prowess it’s worth finding the best collagen protein powder to help you achieve your goals and maintain the strength and elasticity of your muscles and joints.

Vegans, the possibilities are endless!

A common criticism of plant based diets is that they lack sufficient protein to maintain a fit, healthy, muscular body. However, there’s a growing culture of vegan body builders who are clearly debunking that claim by building impressive mass and definition without the need for any animal products whatsoever. If you’ve just started on a plant-based diet you may feel like there’s no way without whey, but as demand increases a much greater variety of plant based protein supplements have joined the market. Hemp, rice, pea and of course soy proteins are increasingly easy to find and often cheaper than their dairy-based counterparts. Different plant based proteins are better suited to different body types and fitness goals (soy, for example, has been linked to estrogen production in the body) so it’s important to find the right type of vegan protein for you.

Beware hidden baddies

Your protein powder might be 90% protein, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to worry about what’s in the other 10%. There are, unfortunately some nasty baddies hidden in some formulas which can inhibit your performance and compromise your goals. The following should be avoided where possible:

  • Sugar: Many protein powders are loaded with refined sugars. That’s a no-no if you don’t want to gain weight.
  • Gluten: A cheap protein from weight that is hard for some to digest.
  • Artificial sweeteners: While sugars should be avoided, artificial sweeteners won’t do you any favors either. Avoid them as they are directly linked to kidney problems and bladder cancer.

Wendy

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