The Straight Scoop on Using Protein Supplements to Optimize Nutrition
Whether you are a body builder trying to “get ripped”, a housewife trying to lose weight, or just interested in learning more about nutrition, you may have noticed a lot of buzz (and controversy) about protein. It certainly plays a vital role in our health. But when was the last time you stopped to really think about the finer details of protein like how protein is assimilated by the body, sources of high quality protein, and whether you should rely 100% on natural protein sources or try supplements?
Let’s take a step back and get the bigger picture. This article is designed to give you the straight scoop on protein so you can make more informed choices and determine the right mix of proteins for you and your family.
What is protein?
There are numerous definitions of protein. I will keep it simple. Proteins have a central structural, regulatory, and catalytic function in every living cell. In their natural form, they are large molecules which must then be broken down in the digestive system by enzymes known as proteases into smaller “chain like structures” called amino acids. Amino acids are like little machines that then work to repair, replenish and rebuild the cells.
If you are more analytical, you can calculate your ideal protein amounts by counting calories. Experts recommend 15% – 30% of your daily caloric intake come from protein. Body builders and athletes would require higher percentages and a child might be at a lower percentage. 1 gram of protein has 4 calories, so if you are a moderately active woman consuming 1800 calories, you would need 90 grams of protein a day to equal 20% of your calories.
Just to give you perspective, one egg has about 6 grams of protein and one chicken breast has about 30 grams. Supplementing your diet with high quality, plant and animal based protein supplements would be beneficial for optimum nutrition.
There are other ways to tell if you are getting too much protein and the clues lie in your digestive tract. When the body can’t process and assimilate all the protein, it gets putrefied. Putrefaction is the process of bacterial decomposition and is often associated with really foul smells. That is why high protein diets often produce bad breath, smelly gaseous states and constipation. If you are having these symptoms, try changing your sources of protein and adjusting the amounts you are consuming.
Protein occurs naturally in meats, nuts and legumes. It isn’t necessarily that one form of protein is better than another form, but one must consider what comes along with those naturally occurring proteins. Fatty marbled red meats obviously cause a lot more harm from saturated fat than the proteins that come from plants. This is an important consideration for everyone. Your goal should be to come up with a list of naturally occurring proteins that provide the best balance of nutrition possible.
Proteins in supplement form:
When you cannot meet your protein goals through natural sources, consider supplements. There are three supplement forms of protein that I like—whey, soy, and hemp. Manufacturing processes are varied, some better than others, so it is definitely a situation of “consumer beware”. Research carefully and choose brands that meet your priorities.
Whey protein powder will vary dramatically in pricing and quality, but is generally the least expensive on a price per ounce basis and there are a variety of flavors. Soy proteins are wonderful alternatives to whey protein however studies in the last decade present conflicting data on the impact of soy on cholesterol, estrogen, and certain types of cancers like breast cancer. Hemp protein is a fantastic plant based alternative with the primary disadvantage being its “earthy” taste.
Types of Protein:
Another important thing to understand is the difference between a complete protein and an incomplete protein. Animal proteins are complete proteins. That just means that the protein includes all the amino acids required to build new proteins. Some plant based proteins are NOT complete proteins, so you may want to check with the manufacturer to see what their studies indicate.
If you have compared labels on protein supplements, you may have noticed that on the back of each label there is an Amino Acid Profile. This profile lists the amounts of the 21 known amino acids and tells you the amounts in a typical serving. Explaining the ideal proportions goes beyond the intent of this article, but suffice it to say that vegetarians should make sure they are choosing a protein supplement that has a complete amino acid balance.
Here is a list of the amino acids. Those highlighted in bold are the essential amino acids which cannot be manufactured by the human body. At the bare minimum, make sure to check the amounts of these amino acids on the label of your favorite protein supplement.