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Protein FAQ

Protein: The essential facts

We get a lot of questions on protein, and we come across a lot of misinformation. 

Pack on muscle with delicious Nitro XP Protein Blend, 2lbs, Vanilla, protein powders

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?
  • Which protein source is best?
  • What are some bad sources of protein?
  • How much protein do I need?
  • When should I supplement?
  • How do I know a supplement is worth its price?
  • Where can I find quality protein supplements?
  • When should I eat protein?

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:

  • Tofu. This is actually low in protein, and what is there is not readily bio-available. Essentially, this is over-processed soy. There is a reason it is slimy and has a repugnant taste.
  • Roadkill. Slightly better for you than tofu, and almost as disgusting.
  • Egg whites. Eat the whole egg. Discarding the yolk defies logic. Ignore people who advise this as a cholesterol control measure--they ignore the fact that ingesting cholesterol doesn't raise your cholesterol and the lecithin in the yolk actually lowers your cholesterol.
  • Cheese. It's loaded with saturated fat. If you just can't give up cheese, make arrangements to watch an open heart surgery bypass operation. As you see that tube of hardened rancid fat extracted from what was once a functioning coronary artery, you will probably change your mind about cheese. If not, just keep eating it until you have your own heart attack.
  • Imitation crab meat. Talk about your low quality protein source! Basically, this is ground fish parts and other junk that has been highly processed to the point where there is very little left your body can use.
  • Lunch  meat. Loaded with nitrates, saturated fat, sugar, and other "wreck my health" substances, lunch meats rate a big fat zero on the desirability chart. Don't eat them. If you can't get sliced meat instead, eat a protein bar (note, we did not say "junk food bar disguised as a protein bar) or a meal replacement shake.
  • Low-fat peanut butter. Natural peanut butter is a great food. It's calorie-dense, so don't gorge on it. But, it is high in proteins and quality fats. Add a carbohydrate source (an apple, preferably, rather than sugar-laden bread), and you have a complete meal. So, peanut butter on apple slices is great. But, low-fat peanut butter is simply peanut butter with sugar added and the quality oil reduced. The process of making this "deprovement" also damages the protein.
  • Whey. Some caution, here. Whey is an excellent protein source with a great amino acid profile. The problem, however, is whey gets into your bloodstream very quickly. There's an insulin response, and most of the ingested whey turns to fat--your body simply can't use it. However, if you eat whey with other proteins and/or confine your whey intake to post-workout only, your body can use the whey with no ill-effects. The entity who invented milk had this in mind, which is why milk has a complex of proteins rather than just whey.

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:

  • Sedentary person (the typical person in today's society). About 1/2 gram per pound of bodyweight, from all sources. This means very tiny meals, and no big steaks! To get a decent profile, you will need to limit your "whole food" protein sources and supplement with a source like a meal replacement powder . Keep in mind that the sedentary lifestyle is artificial--thus, you cannot meet your protein requirements with a purely "natural" diet of all whole foods.
  • Somewhat active person (someone who "works out," goes for the occasional walk, etc.). About 3/4 gram per pound of body weight. This still means small meals and small protein portions. Supplementation centered on peak activity times is a good idea. Don't use whey sources.
  • Highly active person (someone who actually trains with weights, plays sports, and/or is serious about the martial arts, climbing, or some other strenuous activity; also, people whose jobs require strenuous activity--dock workers, farmers, etc.) About 1 gram per pound of body weight.
  • Long-distance runner. The question of protein is almost moot. Your body is so loaded with cortisol that you need massive protein just to stay in a state of physical decline.
  • Hardcore athlete (you know who you are). A gram and a half may not be enough. Listen to your body--if you feel fatigued, you may need to up your protein intake.


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.



Article Authorship

The articles on this site are authoritative, because:

  • Every contributor is an expert in his or her field.
  • The articles comply with the accepted principles of the bodybuilder literature.
  • The articles comply with the teachings of such luminaries as 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney.

 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

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