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All about protein - what you need to know

nutrition Jan 15, 2023

Why all protein is not created equal

What are amino acids?

You may have heard that amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. If you haven’t, proteins are essential for virtually all cellular functions, including energy production, growth, and repair. In addition, they make up enzymes, hormones, structural components of cells such as cell membranes and muscle fibers, and even immune system components. Because aminos are so crucial to the body's ability to function correctly, they must be obtained in sufficient quantities from the diet or through dietary supplements. 

Amino acids can also be used therapeutically to treat certain medical conditions. For example, leucine can stimulate muscle protein synthesis to build lean muscle mass, while tryptophan has been found to help relieve anxiety and improve sleep quality.

How protein sources devoid of essential amino acids inhibit muscle growth

It is important to remember that protein sources devoid of essential amino acids can inhibit muscle growth. Furthermore, if protein sources are lacking in even one essential amino acid, this will prevent the protein from being used optimally in the body. It is important to ensure that all protein sources consumed contain complete profiles of essential amino acids. 

Supplementation with a high-quality protein powder or meal replacement shake can ensure adequate amounts of these vital nutrients. In addition, eating plenty of nutrient-rich whole foods and balancing macronutrient intake appropriately can also help support healthy muscle development.

Quality is key

When looking for protein sources, remember quality is key. Eating protein-rich foods that contain complete profiles of essential amino acids will ensure that protein synthesis and muscle growth are maximized. To stay on track with your muscle-building goals, it's important to incorporate protein sources rich in all nine essential amino acids into your diet. 

Common sources of essential amino acids 

Common sources of essential amino acids include animal proteins, such as meat, poultry, and fish; dairy products, like milk and cheese; eggs; legumes, like beans and lentils; nuts; and some grains. Vegans or vegetarians may need to eat a variety of these foods in order to get the correct balance of aminos. Eating a diet rich in these foods will help to ensure that your body gets the essential amino acids it needs. 

Animal proteins are high in all the essential amino acids and generally considered the highest quality source for these nutrients. Plant proteins usually contain fewer essential aminos than animal sources but can help make up for any deficiencies when combined. Supplements like whey protein powder or other types of powdered proteins may provide a convenient way to get your daily dose of essential aminos if finding adequate animal or plant sources is difficult.

For vegans, finding a vegan protein powder that provides all of the necessary vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body needs for optimal growth and performance can be helpful. Many vegan protein powders also offer additional ingredients like probiotics or superfoods, which can also benefit overall health. Read labels when choosing vegan proteins and look for vegan protein sources with the highest quality ingredients so you get the most out of your vegan diet.

"Complete" vs "incomplete" sources of protein 

When finding sources of protein, "complete" and "incomplete" proteins are terms you may hear. But what do they mean? "Complete" proteins have all 9 essential amino acids in their makeup. "Incomplete" proteins lack one or more of these essential amino acids and thus, don't provide the same full range of nutrition as complete proteins do.

Pay attention to which source of protein you're consuming to ensure you get enough nutrients and minerals in your diet. For example, animal sources like beef or poultry tend to be complete protein sources since they contain all nine essential amino acids. On the other hand, plant-based sources such as beans, nuts and grains tend to be incomplete protein sources, as they need more than one or more essential amino acids.

Vegan and vegetarian diets do not typically provide enough protein and amino acids to support any significant growth or performance. This can challenge vegans and vegetarians looking to increase muscle mass or strength, build endurance, maintain a healthy weight, or participate in competitive sports. 

Protein in plant-based sources 

That being said, vegans and vegetarians can find protein in a variety of plant-based sources. Plant proteins such as seeds, nuts, legumes and grains are some of the most common protein sources for vegans and vegetarians. Legumes such as beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, and soy products contain protein that is similar to animal-based protein. Nuts like almonds and walnuts also provide protein and healthy fats. Seeds like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds provide protein and minerals like iron and zinc. Grains like quinoa are high in protein content. Other vegan protein sources include tempeh, seitan, nutritional yeast flakes, whole grain bread/pasta/cereals, and protein-rich vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. 

Vegan protein powders and supplements 

Maintaining a vegan, vegetarian or plant-based diet can be complicated and time-consuming. However, if you need to, you can supplement your diet and get the adequate amounts of protein and amino acids required by looking into plant-based protein supplements such as vegan protein powders. These vegan proteins come from peas, brown rice, hempseed, soybeans, quinoa, chia seeds, and more. Additionally, vegan protein products often contain added vitamins and minerals that help with better absorption of nutrients by the body. 

Combining incomplete proteins

Combining incomplete proteins is a popular nutrition strategy used by vegans and vegetarians involving combining two different types of incomplete proteins so that all nine essential amino acids are present and accounted for. Examples include rice and beans, peanut butter and bread, or hummus with pita bread. In addition, a combination of beans and rice can provide all the essential amino acids our bodies need. 

If you need help with your nutritional strategy, book a free consultation with me today

Note: This content is for educational purposes and should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any dietary changes.

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