Protein’s Popularity Explained

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Understanding protein

Protein’s Popularity Explained

Walk down the aisles of any supermarket and you’ll see the word ‘protein’ highlighted on all kinds of food products. It’s definitely the trendiest of the three macronutrients – the other two being carbohydrates and fat. 

There’s good reason for this spike in consumer demand. You need protein to help with the repair and recovery of muscle from daily activities. When you consume protein in conjunction with regular exercise, the combination helps build muscle size and strength. This makes protein an essential nutrient for athletes and active adults alike. 

Understanding Protein

Protein, along with carbohydrates and fat, are collectively known as macronutrients. Your body needs more of these on a daily basis compared to micronutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals. Protein plays a role in numerous body functions including muscle repair and recovery, as well as building muscle size and strength. That’s why protein is such an attractive nutrient to active adults. Read on to get a better understanding of how protein can help you attain ambitious performance goals. 

The Basics

Proteins are the body’s building blocks. They are used by numerous aspects of your body – from your hair, skin and nails to cellular structure and function, enzyme reactions, transporting oxygen through the bloodstream. Protein is also important to metabolism and hormones. What many people don’t realize is proteins can also act as an energy source for the body, especially when carbohydrates and fat stores are low. 

Each protein has a specific combination of amino acids that makes it unique, and this construction dictates the protein’s function. Amino acids are divided into two classes: essential and nonessential. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and must be taken in through diet. These Essential amino acids are very important to active people because of their role in muscle protein synthesis. Non-essential amino acids can be made by the body. One way to assure successful muscle recovery is to consume foods with adequate amounts of essential amino acids.

Protein from Foods

When trying to get enough protein in your diet, it’s important to choose high quality, complete proteins. A complete protein means that it contains all of the essential amino acids that the body needs to function optimally. Because these essential amino acids can’t be made in our body, we need to get them through the foods we eat. Examples of complete proteins include animal proteins—chicken, beef, fish, pork, dairy, and eggs—and also soy, a plant protein. Below are some examples of protein rich foods:

Complete Protein Foods

Protein Content

4 oz. (140 g) chicken breast

25 grams

1 cup (226 g) cottage cheese

26 grams

1 cup (150 g) edamame

18 grams

1 cup (227 g) Greek yogurt

22 grams

~4 slices (56 g) turkey deli meat

9 grams

1 large egg

6 grams


Of course, many other plants contain protein. Beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds are good examples. Unfortunately, plant proteins usually don’t contain sufficient quantities of all the essential amino acids. This is why vegetarians or vegans are encouraged to eat a variety of protein rich plant foods to make sure they get all of the essential amino acids.

Protein & Performance

Your body prioritizes the use of amino acids by using them to support important physiological functions like oxygen transport, cell structure, and metabolism support. Protein is especially important to active individuals who are regularly training. Muscles are made of proteins, and it’s important to consume enough protein each day and to space out your consumption of protein throughout the day to provide amino acids for muscle repair, recovery and growth. If building muscle is one of your goals, you may need to add a little more protein to your diet.  

Always try to get your protein from food first. If you feel like you need more protein, consider adding a protein supplement to help meet your needs.

Types of Protein Shakes And Usage Occasions

Many active adults who have a pre-determined amount of protein they want to consume each day use protein shakes to help them reach that target. Whey protein is a rapidly digested protein made from cow’s milk. It makes up roughly 20% of the protein in a glass of milk and contains all of the essential amino acids. Because of whey’s rapid digestion rate, it’s often consumed after exercise to help kick-start the muscle recovery process. Another ideal usage occasion is first thing in the morning to ‘break the fast’ of not having eaten for 8 to 10 hours.

There’s another milk-based protein known as casein that makes up the other 80% of the protein in milk and digests more slowly than whey. Micellar casein can deliver amino acids to recovering muscles for hours throughout the night, so one ideal usage occasion for this shake is right before bed. Another is between meals, especially if your meals are spaced far apart, to maintain a feeling of fullness known as satiety. 


Optimum Nutrition Posted by: Optimum Nutrition
TAGS: Nutrition

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