Most of us have been wandering around on this earth for a little while now and have figured out, or have someone close to them that luckily figured it out in time on your behalf that our bodies require energy to survive and that it comes in the form of macronutrients - protein, carbohydrate and fat, alcohol can also be a source of energy but it (despite what some might think) isn't necessary for survival so isn't considered a macronutrient. When people start talking fitness and diet the macronutrient that often pops up first in peoples head is protein, but what is it? why do we need it? how much do we need? To help you get your head around the ins and outs of protein and give some insight as to how you might incorporate protein consumption into the Eat Good, Sleep Good, Train Good Challenge below is the CFA Semi Concise Guide to all Things Protein.
What is it?
The nerd version of what protein is - its a molecule in food that is made up of amino acids, now there are 20 different amino acids that can be combined in different ways to make different proteins. Out of these 20 amino acids, 9 of them are referred to as Essential Amino Acids (the other 11 that wizard of a machine that your body is can synthesize itself) - so these 9 your body needs to get through food consumption. If you're interested the 9 essential ones are Tryptophan, Threonine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Valine and Histidine. Now what does this mean? It means that not all protein sources are created equal - this is a super important point and one we’ll cover a bit more later on, just because that packet of beans says it contains 28g of protein it doesn't necessarily mean its as complete as the protein in an egg white omelette
What have you done for me lately?
Protein is a pretty handy thing to have around and its definately a friend with benefits including -
repair of body - this is probably the biggest one, your body uses protein to repair itself at a cellular level - super important if you want to enjoy any form of good health and pretty essential if you want to build any sort of useful muscle as well
hormonal response - one of the things protein does is help regulate various hormone levels ie you re less likely to binge on carbs when you have adequate protein and it also helps regulate fat storage
thermic effect - its reasonably hard work for your body to digest protein, this process requires energy, eating protein kinda means you are working out all day (even when your not - bonus!)
saiety - it makes you feel full, this is a good thing, if you feel full you’re less likely to overeat. Its not that easy to overeat protein - tho it can be done and normally results in a case of the “meat sweats”, but generally you have to chew protein sources and your body will let you know when you’ve had enough
immune system - it helps keep the immune system functioning, when this guys working properly you get less sick, less often. Protein essentially makes you like Wolverine and able to heal yourself (and who doesn't want to be Wolverine?)
Where does it come from?
Protein generally arrives in your body in the form of food, as I alluded to early not all forms of protein are created equal - Im going to do my best not to pick on vegetarians / vegans here but unfortunately on some of this stuff science is sitting a little bit in the corner of eating things that were previously wandering around. Below is a quick list of food based protein sources (its not exhaustive by any stretch but its some of the better and more common ones)
Eggs (white, yolks, whole
Milk / Dairy
WPI / Protein Powder
Ive put WPI on the list but it at the bottom for a reason, there is going to be another article talking about “food quality” which will cover this in more depth but supplements should always be considered just that, it is preferable to get nutrients from actual food (apart from the simple fact that we are meant to actually eat and not just drink all our nutrients). Most of the sources listed above are considered fairly complete sources of protein and have a reasonable % of protein per 100g, leaner and higher quality sources are generally considered best ie fish, egg whites, grass fed beef (way better than grain fed), chicken.
There is a lot of information about vegetarian diets and getting all protein from vegetable sources - most of these websites are obviously very pro-vegetarian the science/logic of them can be highly skewed, not to say that there aren't options for getting adequate quality protein from a vegetarian diet - its just a lot easier on a diet that includes meat and fish (also the majority of people participating in the Challenge eat meat, I will be discussing non-meat options with the vegans doing the Challenge over a cup of chai)
How much do I need?
There are lots of different formulas for calculating just how much protein you need in a day, what needs to be considered are there are a lot of different factors for determining just how much protein an individual needs - age, gender, stress, activity levels, goals, where the protein is coming from etc. A really basic calculation is 1.5-2g protein per kg of bodyweight - remember this is approximate
So for an 80kg male that would be 120-160g per day // a 60kg female 90-120g per day (remembering this would change based on activity levels etc)
How does this look in actual food terms - a protein shake would have around 30g protein, a 100g tin of tuna would have around 28g of protein and a 200g chicken breast around 50g of protein, so you can see its pretty easy to get up around the 100g of protein mark without too much effort during the day as long as you take it in throughout the day.
Ways to incorporate it into the Challenge
So since everyone has been keeping a food diary, you can nerd out if you like and calculate just how much protein your having each day and see if you are vastly lacking (or consuming the equivalent of half a cow a day) Or a simpler way to use protein as part of your food goals is to look at your day and seeing if you're consuming it throughout the day, ie having some sort of protein source with the majority of your meals and giving your body a constant source of it or if it tends to just appear in the evening meal.
Other things to consider would be whether you're getting it from a variety of sources - as they say variety is the spice of life and often when people look at tidying up their eating one of the traps that they fall into is becoming very monotonous with their food and eating the same thing for the same meal every day - try and mix up the meats and protein sources throughout the week.
If your diet is a bit low on protein you might find that by upping the ante a bit that a) you feel less sore after workouts as your body has something to fix itself with b) you end up actually consuming less total food throughout the week as your body is feeling fuller for longer