There's plenty of good and bad information out there regarding protein, which sources are best, how much you need to consume, and so on. In this article, we want to hammer home the importance of protein in terms of your health markers, progress in the gym, and your ability to keep moving and grooving for decades to come ;)
Why is protein king of macros?
You need it to repair, maintain, and increase muscle mass. Muscle is made up of primarily protein. So whether you workout intensely or are just trying to keep on your muscle as you lose weight, you must keep plenty of protein in your diet.
In addition to its muscle building benefits, protein can help you control your caloric intake by making you feel fuller longer. It has been shown to reduce ghrelin (the hunger hormone) as well as boosting certain peptides to make you feel full.
Protein is proven to boost your metabolism --- aka it burns more body fat relative to other macros (carbs and fat). This is because it has a higher thermic effect than carbs and fat. The thermic effect is a result of your body using energy (calories) to break down the protein.
A higher protein diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure AND cholesterol levels.
It helps keep you young! As we age, our bones and muscles tend to degenerate. Protein can help sustain bone density and muscle mass.
What is a complete protein?
A source that contains all of the 9 essential amino acids. Amino acids are needed to repair and build muscle tissue.
Most animal proteins are complete, while many plant based options are not. However, if you eat a combination of foods that collectively have all of the amino acids, then you are still getting the complete proteins needed to do the job.
The shortcoming of some plant based diets (specific to how they are implemented by the individual) is that they miss out on some of those essential amino acids.
Animal proteins such as grass fed beef, chicken, eggs, and dairy make it more convenient/effective because those sources are complete (you should still have veggies on your plate!).
What are the best protein sources?
Let’s qualify “best.”
The protein source is complete
The protein source is highly bioavailable (can be easily digested and utilized)
The protein is LEAN
Here's a little comparison of some different sources of protein that are often touted by different diet camps. What you'll see is that the chicken breast would meet our qualification of "best" being that it provides complete protein, can be utilized very efficiently by the body, and it is lean (almost all of the calories come from protein).
You may have heard that foods like beans or peanut butter are both great sources of protein. While they have protein in them, look at the high amount of carbohydrates and excess calories in the beans along with the high amount of fat (and relatively low protein dose) in the peanut butter!
Now, that's fine if you can allot those extra calories into your diet. However, most people who aren't tracking their food closely aren't realizing they are consuming a ton of extra calories in the process.
4oz of chicken breast = 120 cal >>> 25g protein, 2g fat, 0g carbs
1 cup Black beans = 340 cal >>> 22g protein, 1g fat, 62g carbs
2 tbsp peanut butter = 188 cal >>> 7g protein, 16g fat, 8g carbs
This isn't to say you have to eat meat or animal products. That is a whole different ideological debate for another time. We are simply looking at what is most practical, convenient, and effective in delivering the biggest bang for your buck. Plant based options are out there, it'll just be more difficult to consume complete proteins in the amounts needed to sustain a higher performing body (such as someone who lifts weights often or exercises intensely). That body will demand an increased amount of protein to keep up with muscle repair/growth, among other things ;)
So what is a good protein source? Whether you are talking about whole food or a protein supplement, here's a general idea of how well your body can digest and use different sources. A higher bio availability number means higher absorption. Now, you can see that animal based products tend to be utilized better than the plant based options. Again, we aren't trying to be pro-meat...just reporting the facts as we know them.
Tactics on how to get more protein in your diet!
We always shoot for a nice steady intake of protein throughout the day. Since it can make you feel full, you don't want to skip meals and then have to make up for it all at once (it'll be uncomfortable and unproductive). Here are some quick tips!
Have a protein shake ready. Pick your favorite source from above and fill in the eating gap with a shake. It's not that shakes are superior, they are just convenient! Any good protein shake should provide you with 20-25g of protein per serving.
Plan out your meals accordingly. Again, we don't want to miss a meal and starve your body of some much needed recovery.
Know how much protein you need! We often find our members start off eating way to little protein. For an active person, the general consensus is consuming about .8 - 1.0g of protein per pound of lean body mass. Hint: if you put the serving size of your protein into an app like MyFitnessPal, it'll tell you how much protein in contains.
Hopefully you are little more knowledgeable now about protein and it's importance! Now, go eat.