As a competitive cyclist, I started paying closer attention to the foods I ate and the macronutrient composition of my meals. My thinking was that I was protein-deficient. No symptoms were pointing to this being an issue, but I was too busy listening to marketers, rather than doing the research myself. Turns out, even after I stopped eating meat or dairy products, I was still getting more than enough protein in my diet. The same could be true for you, too!
Protein is the most popular of the macronutrients. There is a lot of information available about protein, and a lot of it is not good. So we want to use this opportunity to provide quality, accurate information.
PROTEIN AND AMINO ACIDS
“Protein” as we know it is made up of 20 amino acids. In order to be most effective, you need to have all 20 amino acids available for your body to utilize. You may have heard the terms essential and non-essential amino acids. These refer to which amino acids your body can synthesize (non-essential) and which need to be ingested (essential). All amino acids are ‘essential’ but ‘essential’ amino acids refer to the importance of including these in your diet. If you are getting your protein from plant sources, you will need to diversify the plants you eat, to ensure all 9 essential amino acids are included in your diet. Animal proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids in one source.
PLANT- VS ANIMAL-BASED PROTEIN
Because our diets all consist of two sources, plants and animals, we will address both in terms of protein contribution to our diet, and the positives and negatives.
Plant proteins are better for your health because they are found in products that inherently do not contribute to raising your cholesterol, blood pressure, or cancer risk. In order to get all 9 essential amino acids, you need to eat a variety of plants that contain the different amino acids. This is also beneficial because different plants contain varied micronutrients that your body needs on a daily basis.
Animal proteins come from the meat of animals, as well as from milk and its by-products. Whey and Casein are the two most popular sources of processed protein powders. Scientific research consistently points to animal products being a contributor to many diseases from hypertension, to cardiovascular disease.
When possible it is best to eat proteins in their whole food form. Because we lead busy lives, this is not always possible. If you find the need to include protein powders as part of your diet, be sure to look at the ingredients list to ensure there are minimal fillers or foreign substances not contributing to the protein quality or your overall health.
INTAKE QUANTITY PER MEAL
No need to overdo it! Your body can only handle so much protein per sitting. If you are ingesting more than 25 grams of protein per meal, you are actually not optimizing your intake, and throwing off the macronutrient balance in your diet. Because your body can process protein at roughly 10 grams per hour, with digestion potentially taking up to 2 hours per meal, the excess protein is converted into carbs and fat stores. Keep this in mind next time you think your need to add a protein shake to your already protein sufficient breakfast, lunch, or dinner portion!
TOTAL PROTEIN INTAKE PER DAY
Keeping track of your daily protein intake is important. But tracking protein without also paying attention to your total calorie intake can be counterproductive. As a rule of thumb, non-active adults should be eating anywhere from .8-1.2g/kg. Most marketing would have people believe they aren’t getting enough protein in their diets, but the fact is this is likely not true. On the high end, a 190lb male should be eating 104 grams of protein per day. This number can be achieved with very little attention paid to seeking out protein-rich foods.
Depending on the sport, athletes should be ingesting more protein, at a rate of 1.2-2g/kg (endurance sports on the lower end, and strength sports on the higher end). This takes planning, as a typical plant-based, or mostly plant-based diet will not net out with protein numbers this high. Using our previous example, a 190lb male that is lifting weights should be ingesting up to 172g of protein per day. Taking into account what we know about protein ingestion per meal, this quantity would mean focusing on protein-rich snacks in between the 3 general meal times!
For most folks, nutrient timing means nothing, and rightfully so! You eat when you’re hungry, and hopefully meet your daily requirements.
For athletes, nutrient timing is very important. Because we are focusing on protein in this article, we will mostly speak to protein intake after strength training. Within 45 minutes of a strength workout, it is important to replenish lost nutrients, and rebuild muscles that have been broken down while exercising. A good ratio of Protein to carb intake is about 3:1 for muscle building (meaning you will want to take in about 20-25g of protein and only about 7-8g of carbs immediately after a workout). You can resume normal dietary intake about 30 minutes after your protein intake, but is important to give your body the important nutrients right away to maximize the benefit of your workout.
This should give you a good roadmap of why focusing on protein intake alone may not be the best course of action. As always, we recommend a clean plant-based protein source for snacks or meals, like our Read The Ingredients Superloafs!