A vital component to every cell in our body, proteins are large molecules made up of specific chains of amino acids. Because of their important role, you’re sure to find an overwhelming selection of protein products at almost any health food store. They come from a variety of sources, such as whey, soy, pea, rice, egg and other vegan sources – but what works for one person might not work for you. Maybe you want to build muscle and need protein throughout the day. Or maybe you’re a runner and need a protein powder with more carbohydrates to help fuel your run. Whatever your goal, choosing the right protein to fit your body’s needs is important.
Protein’s Role In The Body
- Repairs blood cells
- Transports nutrients in and out of cells
- Constitutes hemoglobin (oxygen carrier)
- Used to create hair and nails
- Makes enzymes, hormones, antibodies and other chemicals
- Is the building block of bone, muscle, cartilage, skin and blood
Benefits Of Protein
- Aids in building muscle and recovering from injuries
- Repairs and maintains body tissues
- Can be used by the body for energy
- Provides nourishment after workouts
- Dulls hunger cravings, which can help prevent diabetes and obesity
Sources Of Protein
- Animal-based: meat, fish, eggs, poultry and dairy
- Plant-based: beans, legumes, seeds, nuts and grains
Consider The Source: How To Read The Label
- Whey Protein – Whey is the protein contained in the watery portion of milk that separates from the curds when making cheese. Whey is considered a complete protein because it contains all 9 essential amino acids. It also contains a wide array of vitamins and minerals. Whey protein is low in lactose but does come from dairy, so it’s not for those avoiding dairy.
- Rice Protein – Brown rice protein contains all 9 essential amino acids and has been clinically shown to build muscle and aid in muscle recovery. Brown rice protein can be beneficial for those on a restricted diet or those who are vegetarians. However, it may not not meet required servings of lysine, an essential amino acid. When considering rice protein, it’s important to look for a quality product free of heavy metals and other toxins.
- Soy Protein – A type of protein isolated from the soybean. It’s roughly 90-95% protein, contains amino acids needed for growth, and is nearly carbohydrate and fat free. It’s important to note that most soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified (GM). If avoiding GMOs is important to you, look for a certified organic or Non-GMO soy protein.
- Peas – An excellent source of protein for those on restricted allergy diets, or are vegan/vegetarian. It’s naturally fat and cholesterol free and is a fantastic source of energy before a workout. It can even help improve post-workout muscle recovery. Peas also supply high levels of branched chain amino acids, which are needed for protein synthesis and help reduce the rate of protein degradation. Its amino acid profile is similar to that of whey.
- Egg Protein – If you’re looking to stimulate muscle growth while increasing protein synthesis, egg is a great choice. It contains very high amounts of the amino acid called leucine, which is responsible for stimulating the synthesis of muscle proteins.
- Vegan Protein Blends – These formulas are often hypoallergenic formulas. They typically contain a blend of specific foods: peas, quinoa, artichokes, hemp, amaranth and rice. Because of this, they contain an excellent variety of amino acids.
What To Look For (Hint: Amino Acids)
Amino acids are building blocks for proteins. There are 20 different amino acids in protein that we consume daily. Nine of these are “essential,” meaning the body cannot produce them by itself, and we must get them from the foods we eat.
Because individual amino acids have different roles in our bodies, be sure to look at the amino acid profile of your protein powder before purchasing. Pay special attention to the nutritional content of essential amino acids (EAA) and branch chain amino acids (BCAA). The benefits of BCAAs are:
- Leucine – aids in the growth and repair of muscle as well as helps regulate energy levels.
- Isoleucine – Prevention of muscle breakdown during exercise as well as aid in boosting endurance.
- Valine – Supports muscle coordination and prevents break down of muscles.
Ideal Potency Considerations
In general, it’s recommended that 10–35% of your daily calories come from protein.
Individuals with special protein requirements include: pregnant and breast feeding women, athletes (especially endurance athletes), and vegetarian/vegan dieters.
Other Helpful Info
- Individuals who don’t eat animal products should eat a variety of plant foods together to get a proper balance of daily protein and essential amino acids.
- If you’re consuming certain protein sources and experience side effects including gas, bloating, diarrhea and general GI distress, consider trying a different source.
- Avoid protein powders that contain large amounts of fillers.
- Don’t compromise on taste – if you’re not satisfied with the taste of the product, you’re less likely to follow through with using it. Find something you enjoy.