Protein, amino acids, shakes and BCAAs can be confusing. How much do you need, what should you eat, and when is the right time for which supplement? Here are the answers to ALL your questions!
What is protein?
Proteins are made out of smaller molecules called amino acids, which are linked together like beads on a string. Some of these amino acids can be produced by the body, while we must get others from food. The ones we cannot produce and must get from our foods are called the “essential” amino acids.
Why do we need protein?
Proteins are the main building blocks of the body. They’re used to make muscles, bones, organs, hair, nails and skin. Proteins are also used to make enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and various tiny molecules that serve important functions. Without protein, we wouldn´t be able to survive.
What kinds of proteins do we need?
The best sources from food are beef, chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, quinoa, soy and legumes like black beans and lentils. Animal based proteins, of course, are much more similar to our proteins, thus are used more readily and rapidly than plant proteins. Nevertheless, plant based diets also provide adequate protein.
Why is protein important for building muscles?
Muscles are largely made of protein. As with most tissues in the body, muscles are dynamic and are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. To gain muscles, the body needs to get more muscle protein than it is breaking down. In other words, there needs to be a positive protein balance. For this reason, people who want more muscles will need to lift heavier weights and eat a greater amount of protein.
Also, people who want to keep muscles that they’ve already built may need to increase their protein intake when losing body fat, because a high protein intake can help prevent the muscle loss that usually occurs when dieting.
How much protein do I need?
That depends on your weight, height and your activity level. If you are working out regularly, the common recommendation for gaining muscle is 0,7-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, or 1,5-2 grams of protein per kg.
Numerous studies have tried to determine the optimal amount of protein for muscle gain and many of them have reached different conclusions.
Some studies show that over 0.8 grams per pound has no benefit, while others show that intakes slightly higher than 1 gram of protein per pound is the best.
If you’re carrying a lot of body fat, then it is a good idea to use either your lean mass or your goal weight, instead of total body weight, because it’s mostly your lean mass that determines the amount of protein you need.
What about the average person?
If you don’t lift weights or do any exercise, then aiming for 0.36 to 0.6 grams per pound (or 0.8 to 1.3 gram per kg) is a reasonable estimate. This amounts to 46-75 grams per day for the average female.
What are protein powders?
Protein powders are dietary supplements that contain a high percentage of protein.
This protein is derived from a variety of different food sources, including:
Which protein powder is the best for me?
- Whey protein is one of the most commonly used proteins. It contains all of the essential amino acids and is easily digested (if you are not lactose- or casein intolerant). It helps boost energy and can reduce stress levels. The best time to use whey is after a workout.
- Soy protein (if not genetically modified) helps reduce high cholesterol and can ease symptoms of menopause for some women. It can also help with osteoporosis by helping build bone mass.
- Casein (milk protein) supports immune function and enhances muscle growth.
- Rice protein, which is 100 percent plant-based, is a good choice for vegetarians, vegans and people who don’t consume dairy products. It’s also gluten-free.
- Pea protein is highly digestible, hypo-allergenic and economical.
- Hemp protein is also 100 percent plant-based. It’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
When is the best time to drink a protein shake?
Before or after your workout – both have advantages.
Post-Workout: Drinking your protein shake immediately after a workout is always a good idea. Your body has done work and wants to recover, so you have to refill the stores. Taking protein at that time will give your body the fuel it needs to heal and grow. Moreover, the Protein uptake is faster immediately after a workout (within 30 minutes). About 20-30 grams of protein are perfect to for recovery and muscle growth.
Pre-Workout: Muscle glycogen (which comes from carbohydrates) is our primary source of energy fueling workouts. If glycogen levels are low, like from going too long without eating, your body will begin to break protein down from your muscles during exercise to provide some energy. Loading up on protein and carbs before a workout helps keep you energized and will protect your muscles from being used for energy supply.
How much protein is in my food?
Just a few examples:
- A 4-ounce chicken breast has about 35 grams of protein
- 3-ounce grilled salmon filet has about 21 grams
- A typical 8-ounce piece of steak could have over 50 grams of protein
- One 8-ounce container of yogurt has about 11 grams of protein
- One cup of milk has 8 grams of protein
- 1 egg has about 6 grams of protein
- 100 grams of tofu have about 9 grams of protein
What about amino acids supplements like BCAAs?
Your body uses 21 different amino acids to create all of the different proteins necessary for tissue function. However, 9 specific amino acids, called essential amino acids, can’t be produced by your body and must be obtained through your diet. Similarly, additional supplementation with amino acids before exercise can help enhance cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and overall recovery.
What about BCAAs?
Branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs, include the three amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. These amino acids can be found in dietary protein, such as meat or eggs, or they can be supplemented. Branched chain amino acids are most commonly used for their role in building muscle, improving exercise performance and decreasing post-exercise soreness and recovery time.
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