Protein: The essential facts
We get a lot of questions on protein, and we come across a lot of misinformation.
|This article will help you understand some key facts about protein, decide if you need to supplement your protein intake, and know how to get the best value in your protein supplement purchase.|
Here, we're going to answer some basic questions--ones our visitors ask time and again:
What is protein?
Most people assume "protein" is a nutrient. This isn't true. Protein is macronutrient category--think of it as a family of nutrients. Most of these nutrients are amino acids--cell building blocks. Each protein source (beef, chicken, whey, soy, etc.) has its own amino acid profile--that is, the composition of each is very different from the composition of the others.
Protein is an essential part of your diet, just as the two other macronutrients (fat and carbohydrate) are essential.
Which protein source is best?
Every "expert" and personal trainer seems to have a different answer. The truth is that there is no "best" source of protein. The human body needs to take from a variety of sources. So, whether you get all of your protein from beans and rice or from beef, reliance on a single source will leave you deficient in some of the amino acids you need. Even "complete sources," such as beans and rice, that give you all of the amino acids won't deliver enough of some of the amino acids you need and will deliver too much of others.
The best strategy is to eat a variety of foods. Keep this in mind, when we later talk about protein supplements.
Common whole-food sources of protein include fish, beef, poultry, eggs, milk, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, beans, and rice. These are all quality sources.
Common derived sources of protein include whey powders, soy powders, and cottage cheese. These are all quality sources.
What are some bad sources of protein?
Some protein sources that people should avoid are:
How much protein do I need?
You need a minimal amount of protein to maintain the health of your internal organs, maintain bone and muscle tissue, and maintain brain mass. Given this last requirement, you can probably agree many people are not getting enough protein. Be that as it may, let's not try to figure out what the minimum is. Let's look at what you need.
Again, we find lots of misinformation. There is no single best amount that fits all people. However, here are some general guidelines:
When should I supplement?
From the above list, you can pretty easily figure this out. Reasons for supplementation go beyond simple quantity--with the right supplements, you also get quality and variety.
How do I know a supplement is worth its price?
Unfortunately, most protein supplements are not a bargain. That's because the market is flooded with "cheap" protein supplements. That 5-lb tub you get for $29.95 is not as economical as it would appear. This becomes obvious as you start reading the labels. We carry only the good stuff. We don't carry the cheap stuff, which, as it turns out, is very expensive.
Let's say you buy VitaPro, a quality MRP that provides an outstanding protein profile. You will probably spend somewhere in the mid $60 range for roughly three pounds of the stuff. That seems a bit high, at first, doesn't it? But, to get the same protein absorption into the muscles from the $29.95 tub of MakeMeFat or whatever the brand is, you'd need to buy about 8 tubs. Plus find a way to burn off all the excess calories without losing muscle mass. So, do the math. Which costs less: $65 or $240?
VitaPro isn't the only quality protein source out there in supplement form, but it's a good example to look at when deciding value because its value factor is very high.
In addition to the protein profile (which is easy to compare among supplements), you must also consider the quality of the ingredients, the processing involved (some of the processing techniques used in the cheaper sources all but obliterate the protein), and the philosophy of the company making it. All of these tell you whether the supplement is worth buying or not.
A final point. Ignore the "grams of protein per serving" shown on the packaging. This claim doesn't tell you that a serving is four giant scoops or that the quality of the protein is so low you can really use only 2 of those 48 grams or whatever the claim is.
And remember, you are supplementing your protein--not living off the supplement. You don't need to buy a lot of this stuff. A monthly investment in, say, VitaPro, is pretty cheap on a daily basis.
Where can I find quality protein supplements?
We have them here.
When should I eat protein?
The body is not an endless pit into which you can dump nutrients, nor is it meant to be a vast storeroom. The key is to eat several small meals a day. You should have a serving of protein with each meal.
Some people claim that you shouldn't mix protein with carbohydrates. This utter hogwash is disproven by decades of research and reams of data. In fact, carbohydrates help with cell protein uptake.
Some people claim that you shouldn't mix protein with fat. This utter hogwash is disproven by simple common sense. All meat-eating animals get fat with their protein. There are no reported cases of predators having protein absorption problems due to this.
Always eat some protein within an hour of intense physical activity. If you get "the munchies," a small protein shake or a handful of nuts will make that hungry feeling go away--don't overdo it.
So, enjoy your protein. Get it from a variety of quality sources, and you will go a long way to having a strong, healthy, and lean body.
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