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Good things to know about proteins

How much protein do I need?

Depends largely on activity level, age, type of activity (strength or endurance), good guidance is 25-35 g per meal for 3 meals. Generally: minimum 1g of protein/kg lean body mass, with the upper limit of 2g/kg lean body mass if your goal is muscle gain. Optimal seems to sit around 1,6g/kg for people aiming to lose weight. Active people generally need more but not excessive amounts more - between 1,8-2g/kg is sufficient. If you’re an endurance athlete, it’s actually likely you will need more protein than a strength athlete; the former require more due to being in a frequent state of catabolism, the latter becoming much more efficient at uptake and utilization of the dietary protein provided therefore needing less. Many people also think as they age they need less protein; the opposite however is true: older people need to ensure they maintain protein intake or slightly increase it, as it gets harder to maintain muscle mass, which is critical to prevent sarcopenia (muscle wasting). 

I’m not looking to build massive amounts of muscle, so why is protein something I should care about?

Protein is what hormones (chemical messengers in the body) are made of. Proper hormone function is critical for almost all the processes in the body, especially ones regulating metabolism. DNA, joints, ligaments, tendons (connective tissue), hair, nails… all made of protein. So it’s not just for building big biceps that you need protein! Not to mention, protein is the most satiating macronutrient, so especially if you’re trying to lose weight, including adequate amounts of protein in your diet make the hunger hormone response much less painful and intense than without.

Do I need to have animal protein?

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Animal protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that are the building blocks for all of the different proteins in the body, 9 of which your body can’t make other amino acids and therefore need to be consumed from food. You can combine plant sources to get a complete amino acid profile, and there are a couple (such as pea protein) complete plant protein sources. Overall, it’s entirely possible to go without animal protein; animal sources are just easier and you need to eat much, much less to gain the same protein counts (without the carbs that often come with plan protein sources). 

Is there a best time of day to take protein?

The body can only absorb so much protein at one sitting (the rest is turned into glucose to be used for energy or peed out (so some people downing the expensive protein shakes too frequently just end up with very expensive pee). Especially if you are looking to build muscle, but even if you are not, around the previously recommended split of consumption (which corresponds to between 0,4g/kg/serving to 0,55g/kg/serving) will allow maximum utilization of the protein you consume (more than this can also lead to digestive issues and can be difficult for the kidneys to process).

What forms of protein are the best?

Bioavailability is a large factor here in addition to the previously mentioned amino acid ratios. The ‘best’ type of protein depends on your goals and needs and how easily it is digested, and from this how much is absorbed (bioavailability). Less bioavailability means a lower percentage of the protein you consume will actually be in the end available for your body to use to repair structure and tissue and build muscles, hormones, etc. In general, animal proteins are more bioavailable (more more digestible and absorbable) than plant sources. For vegetarians that eat eggs, eggs are a great source of available and digestible proteins. Protein powders are very quickly absorbed so are good generally for building muscle, and especially helpful for vegans or vegetarians needing to meet protein requirements. What the best protein source for you ultimately is what fits your ethical/environmental/cost/goal factors and what your body agrees with (whey can be especially triggering for some people with digestive issues or a mild reaction to dairy), but always try to buy the highest quality of whatever protein you choose - organic, grass fed, no mystery of artificial additives and as minimally processed as possible.

Is dairy a good protein source?

Around 2/3 of people have developed the ability to digest dairy, meaning they can make the lactase enzyme that digests the lactose protein in milk. If your heritage is somewhere that has historically included dairy (think: northern europeans), it’s likely you fall into this category. Dairy can be inflammatory, however, even is you are able to digest it, largely due to the protein casein in milk, and if the diary is non organic, the inflammatory effect can be much higher in the body. Generally fermented dairy (yogurt, kefir, cheeses) are better tolerated and create less inflammation in the body because of the beneficial effects of the bacteria. Another way to minimise inflammation from dairy is consume A2 cows’ milk, or sheep/goat milk/yogurt/cheese, which is has a variation of the casein protein that is much less inflammatory (called A2; most cows today are bred to be producing A1 casein, which is also more allergenic). So if you like dairy and it likes you, it’s a good source of protein, and try to consume mostly organic, fermented, A2 casein sources

Where do I get my protein if I’m a vegetarian or vegan?

Already mentioned above briefly, but it is entirely possible to get your protein needs form plant based sources, whether you are vegetarian or vegan: it just means putting more effort into making sure that you’re combining the correct incomplete plant based sources to form complete proteins, being mindful that you’re consuming enough protein, and supplementing where needed with high quality protein powders (this is essential or vegans; vegetarians don’t necessarily need to, depending on their lifestyles and what animal products they choose to consume).