Whether you’re looking to build muscle or lose weight, protein is an important part of any serious training and nutrition plan. But in order to get the best bang for your buck (or build) it’s important to know your proteins from your proteins.
While it’s found naturally in whole foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, and legumes, there are also a number of supplement products available for a quick fix of protein on-the-run.
According to Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA), while protein supplements can be helpful as part of an “overall nutrition plan”, it’s important to remember they are not for everyone.
“The decision to use a protein supplement should be based on several issues relevant to the individual, including their training load, goals, daily energy requirements, typical diet, appetite post-exercise, budget available and general dietary intake,” the SDA website states.
If you’re doing heavy training, you may have protein needs higher than the average person, however, according to the SDA, most athletes should “easily reach their daily total protein targets” by consuming a balanced diet of vegetables, meat, and diary.
The SDA do acknowledge that anyone training on a vegetarian or vegan diet should consult a dietitian to ensure they’re consuming enough protein – while consuming excess protein offers little to no benefit.
“Research suggests each time protein is consumed there is a small spike in muscle synthesis with 20-25g of HBV protein producing a maximal response,” the SDA states.
“Eating quantities in excess of this amount, offers no further benefit to muscle protein synthesis.”
The type of protein we consume is also really important.
Proteins with high biological value (HBV), including animal based proteins from dairy, eggs, red meat, poultry and fish, as well as isolated soy protein, all contain the essential amino acids the human body needs and are recommended by the SDA.
The SDA also states that “Leucine, a branched chain amino-acid, plays a critical role in ‘switching on’ muscle protein synthesis”.
While the leucine content of food varies, some foods are naturally high in leucine, including milk (and whey protein) and red meat, just ensure you choose lean cuts of beef, lamb or, better yet, kangaroo, which has less than 2% fat.
Plant based proteins only contain some of the essential amino acids the body needs, and are considered to be of lower biological value, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to balance your HBV protein intake with wholesome fruits and vegetables to ensure a balanced, healthy diet.