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Protein 101: How Much & What Kind Should You Consume

Protein consumption goes hand in hand with fitness; It’s rare to talk about one without discussing the other. In this blog post we take a deep dive into the complexities surrounding protein intake. Read on to learn about how much and what kind of protein you should consume.

How Much Protein

The most important aspect of protein intake, and often the most confusing, is total protein consumption. Getting enough protein each day is essential to repair muscle damage, stimulate muscle protein synthesis, and prevent muscle degradation.

How much protein should you consume each day? It depends on your age and physical activity level.

As we noted in our previous blog post, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for a healthy adult is 0.8 grams/kilogram of body weight. The RDA is established as the minimum amount of a nutrient that one needs to satisfy basic nutritional requirements.

For individuals who are not especially active and just want a healthy dose of protein to stave off illness and injury, this is considered adequate. For active individuals seeking to build muscle, increasing your protein consumption beyond the RDA will be beneficial.

To increase muscle mass, prevent lean mass loss, and promote fat loss individuals that regularly exercise should consider protein intake in the range of 1.3 to 1.8 grams/kilogram of body weight. However, as with most health recommendations, protein intake requirements are specific to the individual.

Protein Timing

Is there an optimal time of day at which we should be consuming our protein? The data suggests yes! Eating a high-protein breakfast, as opposed to a high-protein dinner, may be best for increasing and sustaining muscle mass.

This observation may be attributed to our circadian rhythm, which is the 24-hour sleep/wake cycle that governs various aspects of human physiology, including nutrient digestion and absorption.

Should we be consuming protein during/immediately after resistance training? The data is mixed and depends on a variety of factors- most importantly the time and composition of your pre-exercise meal.

Gym-goers often refer to an anabolic “window of opportunity” where a limited time period exists post-exercise to maximize muscle growth and strength improvements.

Generalization of this recommendation across all training programs and age groups is largely unsupported and warrants personalization. The objective of this theory is twofold: rapidly reverse muscle catabolism and promote muscle recovery. Consuming a pre-exercise meal, at least 1-2 hours prior to training, can help you to maintain an anabolic state both during and after exercise.

Protein Food Sources

Amino acids from our diet are required to build proteins within our bodies. Animal sources of dietary protein, such as beef, fish, dairy, poultry, and eggs are considered complete proteins because they contain adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids. These foods are also classified as reference proteins because they contain highly-digestible, high-quality protein.

Plant-based sources of protein (legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and vegetables) often lack one or more of the essential amino acids, so they are considered incomplete proteins. But there are several complete plant food options including soy, quinoa, chia seeds, hemp, buckwheat, and amaranth. Vegetarians and vegans can ensure that they get adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids in their diet by consuming a variety of plant foods each day.

Supplemental Protein Sources

Whey protein is generally considered to be the gold standard supplement for muscle growth because it is a complete protein, contains a high amount of the branched-chain amnio acid leucine (a nutrient signal that stimulates muscle protein synthesis), and is quickly absorbed.

Which type of whey protein is best? The answer will depend on the individual.

Whey protein concentrates tend to be the least tolerated whey supplement by those who are lactose intolerant or have a sensitivity to lactoalbumins, since these products contain both lactose and lactoalbumins.

Whey protein isolates have been filtered to have most of the lactose removed and some have no lactose at all. This option is better suited to those who have a mild lactose intolerance. However, if you have a severe lactose intolerance the next option might be best for you.

Hydrolyzed whey, also called whey hydrolysate, is whey that has been pre-digested. It contains virtually no lactose, and the hydrolyzation process degrades lactoalbumins so that almost anyone can tolerate it. Hydrolyzed whey is one of the most hypoallergenic protein supplements available on the market.

If you’re vegetarian/vegan or just simply don’t feel good consuming any whey protein, then opt for a plant-based protein that contains at least 20g of protein per serving. Soy, hemp, chia seed, and quinoa are complete plant protein supplements, if not using any of these, choose a product that contains more than one type of plant protein (ex. pea and brown rice).

Supplemental protein products are convenient and can help us to meet our daily total protein goals, but they should not replace high-quality whole foods in your diet.

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