Is Protein Really THAT Important for Fitness Progress?
You are what you eat. Do you remember us saying that?
We’ve had numerous of our clients ask us, “If nutrition is so important, what exactly should I eat to lose weight / put on muscles or simply maintain my current body?”
Today we answer your question.
We consume water, carbs, fats, proteins, and micronutrients. Water is our solvent and plays the key role in our circulatory system. That’s what we were told in school.
But in addition to water, your body needs micronutrients to help it with homeostasis (the ability of your body to seek and maintain a condition of stability within its internal environment).
Our bodies also burn carbs like a car burns fuel. So it’s fair to say that carbs are our fuel. That’s what you probably know from reading nutrition articles on the Internet.
But what about fats and proteins? That’s where it gets tricky. While we will discuss fat a little later, let’s talk about proteins.
What is Protein and Why is it Vital?
All species on Earth are based on proteins. That’s a fact, and this fact alone implies that protein is something really important.
But what is protein? Google defines protein as “any of a class of nitrogenous organic compounds which have large molecules composed of one or more long chains of amino acids and are an essential part of all living organisms.”
In plain English, protein is a very complicated molecule that consists of different amino acids. These amino acids form various combinations, which in turn gives us different proteins.
Even the tiniest and simplest types of life form – such as viruses – are based on proteins.
But enough with the viruses. What does it mean for us, humans?
All of your internal organs, including the brain, heart, lungs, and muscles, are made of proteins.
Now that we’ve established the importance of protein for YOU, let’s talk about its components, amino acids. Before you say, “Oh, why do I even need to bother with all this?” hear me out: knowledge of amino acids can make a huge difference in your fitness progress.
I know it sounds complex, but trust me on this – understating how your body works is essential to maximize your gains.
What is an Amino Acid?
The one and only thing you MUST know about amino acids is that there are three different types of them:
Essential amino acids. If you’ve dabbled in the fitness world, you’ve probably heard of BCAAs. These guys are the most important amino acids from the essential category.
And the word ‘essential’ means that it cannot be produced by your body. There is no other option but to consume them. So, it’s not so hard to make a conclusion, then you must pay attention to them.
Conditionally-essential. This type of amino acids can be produced by your body, but in special populations and under extremely stressful situations they become essential. Keep that in mind.
Non-essential. As their name implies, non-essential amino acids can be produced by your body and it’s ‘not’ essential to be taking them from food or supplements.
“Okay, so how do I incorporate essential and conditionally-essential amino acids into my diet?” – I’m literally reading your mind right now (right?).
While it would take hours, if not days, to list all the products that would get you essential and conditionally-essential amino acids, keep in mind one thing: the key to getting these amino acids is variety in food.
Eating the same foods over and over again and depleting your body from other healthy food choices could be just as bad as eating junk food all day every day. Your body needs variety in food. Period.
Note: Even with the non-essential amino acids we still need material (protein) for the synthesis.
When our body consumes animal origin or plant origin protein, it splits it into amino acids. And then these amino acids are being split into amines and carboxyls.
What’s a BCAA?
BCAAs are three essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Please, don’t overlook the fact that BCAAs are essential (we put the word in bold for a reason!). And once again, these essentials are the most important from all the others.
Even if you are not into fitness, consuming the proper amount of BCAA from food or supplements is paramount. According to the National Academies Press, you need 42 mg per kg of your body weight of leucine a day, isoleucine (19 mg) and valine (4 mg).
How can you incorporate BCAAs into your diet? As might have guessed, since BCAAs are amino acids – and amino acids are components of protein – BCAAs can be found in foods that are rich in protein.
In general, the average BCAAs amount is about 20-25% of all protein in a good-quality protein source. Meaning: by consuming meat, poultry, fish, dairy and nuts you can get a sufficient dose of this group of essential amino acids.
Fun fact: chicken has the highest count of BCAAs.
Note: don’t forget that BCAAs are not the only essential amino acids to consume to maximize your fitness progress.
Most people tend to make this mistake over and over again: they buy BCAA supplements (which are great, there’s no denial in that) and ignore all other essential amino acids.
That’s a big mistake. While your body will get extra BCAAs from supplements (in addition to those that enter your body with food sources), your body will experience lack of other essential amino acids.
That doesn’t sound very good. You need other essential amino acids, too.
Okay, What About Protein?
As for protein itself, doctors recommend consuming no less than 80 mg of high quality protein per kg of your body weight (for both men and women). As you’ve probably guessed by now, that number increases if you’re huffing and puffing in the gym, trying to put on lean muscles. Think more along the lines of 1-2 grams per kg of body weight.
Okay, but what does it mean – “high-quality protein”? And how essential are non-essential amino acids?
Our body consumes proteins from food and supplements. This is obvious. But not all the food is equally great to get that daily dose of protein. For example, you can’t get enough protein from eating a diet full of rice, cabbage and fruits.
Sounds confusing? Let me explain.
Let’s say that the amino acid absorption from egg protein is estimated at 100 points level. The amino acid absorption from rice protein, on the other hand, is about 50 points.
Meaning: if you want to get the 100% of rice protein, you’d have to double your rice intake – which isn’t the smartest choice as your body would probably have a problem digesting so much rice in one sitting.
That means rice is not one of the high-quality proteins that you should be after. But which foods are high-quality proteins? Think: eggs, dairy, meat, fish, chicken (read more about the best proteins for fitness later).
Stay tuned for our next articles about nutrition in fitness. Next time we’ll talk about the importance of meat, fish, eggs, dairy and other foods for your muscles, weight loss and more.