In this post, we shall talk all about protein. What does protein do? How much protein do you need? Are protein powders safe? How can you get enough protein from food, especially if you are a vegetarian?
What is protein? 🍼
Protein is a macronutrient which makes up one of the basic building blocks of the body. Proteins are linked chains of amino acids.
You must have heard of Branch Chained Amino Acids or BCAAs which are very popular nutritional supplements.
If you are taking these already, I have one crucial piece of advice that will maximise their effectiveness for you. That will be to take your tub of BCAAs and toss it into the trash can.
BCAAs unlike protein consist of only 3 essential amino acids. Research however shows that the body can utilise amino acids only when all 9 of the essential amino acids are consumed together.
Consuming these amino acids in isolation lead to no benefits.
Taking BCAAs may actually hinder muscle protein synthesis and decrease absorption of amino acids from other food sources.
So, save your money and your muscles, and buy some complete source of amino acid instead, like a whey protein supplement.
How much protein do you actually need? 🤔
Coming back to protein, how much do you actually need? Is there something like too much protein?
If you are someone who is not physically active, the minimum amount that is needed by your body is 0.8 grams per kilogram of your bodyweight. So if you are 70 kilograms in weight, you would need to consume at least 56 grams of protein per day.
This is the absolute bare minimum.
However, if you are physically active: you lift weights at the gym, you run regularly or you play sports; and you should definitely be doing one of these things to keep your fitness levels up.
So if you are physically an active person, you should aim to consume 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. That means that if your bodyweight is 70 kilograms and you regularly lift weights, you should aim to eat 126 grams worth of protein per day.
Can excessive protein consumption damage your kidneys? ☠️
When it comes to consumption of protein, there seems to be a strangely popular myth regarding excessive protein consumption being a cause of kidney stones.
There is also another myth that protein consumption in excess leads to osteoporosis or the loss of calcium from your bones.
Both of these myths are just that. They are myths.
There is no scientific evidence whatsoever to prove these claims. High protein consumption can cause kidney problems only if you already have other chronic health issues like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Regarding bone health, a study in 2017 actually showed that higher protein intake improved bone health.
Having said this, there is no reason to consume beyond 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. There are no additional benefits of consuming protein beyond this quantity.
But also, there is no harm either.
How can vegetarians and vegans optimise their protein intake? 🥦
One extremely common query that I have come across from people I know is regarding a vegetarian diet and protein intake. If you are vegetarian, it can be very difficult to get enough protein if you don’t prioritise it.
And if you are vegan and don’t consume any dairy products either, it can be even more challenging. But just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it is impossible.
You just have to do some extra homework regarding what you put into your mouth. When compared to animal sources of protein like meat and eggs, plants are actually a pretty terrible source of protein.
The problem with plant sources is that they are incomplete sources of protein.
Just like BCAAs we spoke of earlier, plant proteins don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids. So your body can’t absorb all that protein efficiently. But animal products like dairy, meat, fish and eggs are complete sources. They have all the 9 essential amino acids together.
The body can absorb them much better.
What is then, your solution here? The solution would be to consume a wide varitety of protein rich vegetarian foods so that your body can get all the essential amino acids together in a meal.
So don’t just sit with a bean salad if you are vegan. Add some rice or maybe a slice of wholewheat bread to go with it.
Consume nuts and seeds with your meals. Prioritise foods like soy and tofu which have better amino acid content than other vegetarian foods.
Do not make your diet one dimensional. As vegetarians and vegans, if you don’t focus on consuming variety of foods with every single meal, chances are that your body won’t be able to absorb all the protein that you are eating.
And protein should not be the only concern if you are a vegetarian. Vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies suffered by vegetarian people. So if you don’t eat animal products, be sure to get your B12 levels checked by a doctor. You may be deficient.
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What are protein supplements? Are protein powders safe? 😖
Irrespective of your stance on meat consumption, there is one extremely efficient way of getting the required amount of protein in your diet. It is through protein supplementation.
Protein powders are the cheapest way to hit your protein goals if it’s just too difficult for you to get it from your meals. There are tons of different protein powders made from a variety of sources available these days: you have the good old whey protein, casein protein, you have pea protein, and even soy protein powders.
But you have to be wise here.
Like we talked of earlier, plant sources of protein are incomplete. Hence if possible, always pick whey protein which is made from milk, over pea protein or soy protein.
But are protein powders safe? Yes, absolutely. Whey protein is infact nothing but a by-product of cheese making. It is not a chemical synthesised in a lab.
So, if you are okay with drinking milk, and eating cheese, it is perfectly fine for you to consume whey protein. It is just a milk product.
Whey protein is also the most easily absorbed source of protein. It has been proven to be superior even to meat and eggs.
So if you are okay with dairy consumption and don’t have medical issues like lactose intolerance, whey protein is perfectly safe to consume.
But if you are vegan and can’t consume dairy, you would have to pick a plant-based protein powder. Even though it wouldn’t be the best quality of protein, if you are consuming enough variety of protein foods in your regular meals, that will easily make up for it.
When you purchase a protein powder, make sure to purchase it from a well-known brand and from a trustworthy seller. The supplement industry in a country like India is not tightly regulated, so any supplement be it your ayurvedic ones, your multivitamins, or even your whey protein don’t undergo strict quality checks.
Good brands usually provide a lab report of their product to verify the claims on their label. If you are still skeptical, you can always get the product tested in a food lab yourself.
Once you find a good reliable brand, stick with it.
Can you build a great physique without consuming protein supplements? 🧐
But can you build a great body without protein supplements? Yes of course. Why not? The whole point of supplements is to help you fill the gaps in your regular diet.
If you are already getting the recommended 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, you don’t need any supplementation at all. If you are a firm believer of not consuming any supplements for whatever personal reason, and you still want to achieve all your physique goals, then one thing you definitely must do is get your diet on track.
We covered a little bit of that aspect in our very first episode so if you haven’t listened to that already, check it out after this one.
If your diet is on point and you prioritise the consumption of protein rich foods with every meal of the day, you will never need to spend any money on protein powders…ever.
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What is the most optimal time to consume your protein shake? 🍹
You may be thinking: “Okay all this protein powder talk is good. But when am I supposed to be drinking this protein shake? Should I drink it before my workout or after my workout? I saw one influencer say that I should drink it right before bed so that my body repairs my muscles all night long. So what should I do?”.
Let me simplify this for you.
Your first priority is to get enough protein in total over the entire day, no matter what.
If you consume this amount in 2 meals or 4 meals or 6 meals is actually not that important. You may have come across another myth somewhere that your body cannot absorb more that 40 or 50 or 60 or whatever arbitrary grams of protein in one sitting. This is false.
There is no evidence that has established any upper limit on protein consumption for one meal.
So technically, even if you ate one entire chicken and drank 3 protein shakes for lunch, your body would have no trouble absorbing all of that protein. But…protein does one special thing unlike any other nutrient.
If you are someone who lifts weights, just consuming protein has been shown to trigger muscle protein synthesis in your body.
So every time you eat a protein rich meal, you would enhance your body’s muscle building process. Hence it makes sense to space out your protein intake evenly throughout the day and not eat all of it in just one sitting. That way you can boost the muscle building process multiple times throughout the day.
So, it doesn’t really matter if you drink your protein shake in the morning or evening or at midnight. It doesn’t matter if you drink it before you workout or after you workout or in the middle of your squat session.
Do whatever floats your boat.
These minor details may improve some small things here and there but they don’t impact your results in any significant manner.
What matters is that you always hit your total protein goals for the day according to your bodyweight and try to distribute the consumption evenly throughout the day.
That is it. Keep it simple.
So to sum things up 💯
Protein is one of the most crucial nutrient that makes up the basic building blocks of your body. You must prioritise it in your diet especially if you are a vegetarian.
For a regular inactive person which I’m sure you are not, the daily recommendation for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, at the bare minimum.
If you are an active individual, you should optimally consume 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. Can you consume more? Sure. Is it beneficial to consume more? Unlikely. Is it harmful to consume more? Definitely not, unless you have high blood pressure or are diabetic; then it might put excessive stress on your kidneys.
Vegetarians and vegans must try to get their protein from a variety of different sources. Variety is absolutely important because vegetarian sources of protein are incomplete sources. They don’t have all the 9 essential amino acids. So they are not absorbed by the body efficiently.
So you might have 3 amino acids in say lentils, 2 in rice and 4 in soyabeans. If you ate all of them together, you would get all the 9 amino acids which will make protein absorbtion easy for your body. Eating only one of them alone in a single meal would make the process inefficient.
The most effective way to consume protein is through whey protein supplementation. Protein powders are one of the cheapest, safest and most well researched nutritional supplements in the industry. So you can consume them blindly without any fear.
But buy them from a reputed brand and look for a lab report that verifies the content on the label. And if you don’t want to consume any supplements, that is absolutely not a problem.
But you have to ensure that your diet is on point and that you are meeting your daily protein goals.
Lastly, the time of the day when you consume your protein shake has no significant impact on your results. Only 2 things matter:
- You must fulfil your daily protein requirement by the end of every single day
- You should try and space out your protein intake evenly throughout the day
Oh and yes another little fact I just about forgot to mention. Protein rich foods also create a feeling of satiety or fullness. So if you are trying to lose weight or cut back on snacking, you should definitely prioritise eating more protein.
It will keep you feeling full for longer and you won’t constantly be hungry.
How do you make sure that you are consuming enough protein everyday? Let me know.