Updated: Jan 4
When it comes to exercise and nutrition, we all know that our protein intake is what makes or breaks our progress. But how much protein do we really need, when, and what is the best protein source for optimal results?
It is true, protein is really an important part of the muscle building process. Every cell in our body contains thousands of different proteins, and each of them is built from the food we eat. For this reason, it is crucial that we consume enough of it to function effectively and remain healthy.
Even though there are a lot of factors when it comes to deciding between plant and animal proteins, I’m going to break everything down for you today, and give you an unbiased and thorough inside into the age old debate of protein.
What is Protein Exactly?
As mentioned, protein is the main building material of our body. It is needed to not only build new muscle fibers, but to also repair damaged tissues, normal organ functioning, ligament and tendon health, and much more.
In the process of digestion, protein breaks down into simple elements called amino acids. There are many amino acids present in nature, and from protein we can get 20 amino acids: 8 essential and 12 non-essential.
1. Essential Amino Acids are not produced by our body. We can only get them from food. From these amino acids, the vital ones in terms of building and preserving muscle tissue are leucine, isoleucine, and valine or BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acids).
2. Non-essential Amino Acids are the ones that can be produced by our body. However, these can also be consumed through food, and it’s interesting to know that our body can use an excess of one amino acid, and make another one, which our body is deficient in.
1. Animal Protein is found in meat, fish and seafood, dairy products and eggs.
2. Plant protein is found in legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables, as well as in nuts and seeds.
We also classify protein according to the content of essential amino acids (the ones our body can’t produce). There are complete proteins which contain the entire specter of essential amino acids. And then we have incomplete proteins that only contain a part of the essential acids. Generally, animal protein has a better and richer amino acid profile and is better absorbed by our body. This means that it may be a better and easier option for building muscle.
But, still a vegetable protein contains lots of amino acids macro and micro-nutrients essential for overall health. Therefore, when making up your diet, it should be taken into account that approximately 70-80% of protein should come from animal proteins, and 20-30% from proteins of plant origin.
Different types of protein have different absorption rates. Depending on the speed of digestion, we divide them into fast, medium, and slow. Fast animal proteins include fish, seafood, and eggs. These proteins are broken down into amino acids after only 30-60 minutes after eating.
Proteins with a medium rate of digestion rate include milk and poultry (chicken and turkey). Such proteins are broken down into amino acids after about 2 hours.
The slow ones include beef, pork, and other dairy. Slow proteins are able to supply the body with amino acids for a long period of time (up to 6 hours).
Based on this, we choose which proteins fit best in each part of our day. In the morning, and hour before and immediately after your workout, fast proteins are best. During the day, proteins with a medium absorption rate are optimal, and for the evening go for slow proteins. Now, this doesn’t mean you should eat a piece of fatty pork for supper all the time, it’s also important to look at the calorie content of protein foods when making up your diet. That’s why low-fat cottage cheese would be a much better option for the last meal of the day, it contains fewer calories and also digests slowly.
How Much Protein is Necessary?
To build new muscle fibers, you need to eat more protein. Therefore, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts eat about 1.5-2.5 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight per day. Moreover, you should focus on animal protein more, but still taking some quality plant protein on the side.
How Much Protein Can We Absorb in One Meal?
Rumor around town is that our body can only absorb around 30 grams of protein in one meal. You’ve probably heard this a million times by now, but does it hold any truth?
This false opinion is based on some old studies which showcased that protein intake in excess of 30 grams did not affect muscle recovery in any way. However, these studies were only conducted over a period of 2-4 hours after training. The remaining time was not taken in account.
In fact, the studies were also only done on people weighing 70 kilograms, and they certainly don’t require more than 30 grams of protein in one meal. So, it’s obvious that a person weighing 100 kilograms will not get the necessary recovery with only 30 grams of protein.
Therefore, it is not needed to consume portions of only 30 grams of protein per meal. The main thing to focus on is that you consume enough protein during the day, and everything else will fall into place.
1. Stick to a daily protein intake of 1.5-2.5 grams per kilograms of body weight.
2. Consider absorption time. Eat fast proteins in the morning, and hour before and immediately after training. Eat proteins with a medium rate of absorption during the day, and slow protein in the evening.
3. Don’t limit yourself to only 30 grams of protein per meal.
4. Eat protein with carbs and fats. As you know, you need all three macronutrients to build muscle. Protein by itself won’t cut it.
Plant Protein Sources: