Protein is essential in your diet for muscle growth, repair and many basic bodily functions. For strength trainers and exercisers it is even more important. Without the correct protein intake, you are significantly harming your chance at getting the most gains out of your workout. Nutrition is a big part of your success when exercising and on a body-changing plan; protein is essential to those goals. You know why, how much, and when you should eat protein, but do you know where to get it…naturally?
The Low-down on Protein Sources
Protein sources are classified into two groups.
- Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids.
- Incomplete proteins are lacking one or more of the essential amino acids.
The 8 essential amino acids are:
Essential amino acids are crucial to muscle building. The body can synthesize all the non-essential amino acids. However the essential amino acids cannot, and must be provided by the diet. How many essential amino acids are in a protein source is important because to grow muscle you need to have them all available at the same time. If even one is lacking tissue growth will be much less efficient.
Protein that comes from animals gives you all the essential amino acids in one go. The big problem most people face here is that animal proteins can often contain massive amounts of saturated fats. There is very little point getting all your essential amino acids from a dirty take away hamburger. You might get your amino acids, but you are going to get a lot of other crap as well. The good news is that there are many lean sources of good quality animal protein that you should be chowing down on daily. Here is a list of some high quality complete protein sources.
- Chicken & Turkey
- Lean Red Meats
- Non-fat/ Low Fat Dairy
If you are a vegetarian you can still get your necessary protein. It just becomes a little more complicated. Plant proteins are incomplete proteins; they do not contain all the essential amino acids. You need to mix and match. It isn’t necessary to actually get these in your body in the one meal, just over the course of the day. You can get protein from many plant sources such as, legumes, grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and soy. Keep in mind if you still eat dairy products such as milk and cheese, then you will be able to get all your essential amino acids without having to mix and match.
Here is a list from bodybuilding.com of complimentary sources of protein for vegetarians. I.e. you need to eat one from each list to get a full count of amino acids.
Grains contain a lot of methionine but not much lysine. Many legumes contain a lot of lysine, but not much methionine. Therefore, if you combine both of these foods you get a meal that is a complete source of protein.
The Truth About Soy…Well Not Really
This is a hot topic. Soy as a very high protein count, gives you the full score of essential amino acids, and seems a good substitute for vegetarians, however there is some debate on its effect on testosterone levels and thus, muscle building capacity.
Upside Of Soy
- A plant source that is a complete protein, it contains all the essential amino acids.
- Reported to lower bad cholesterol
- Cheap source of protein
- Contains isoflavones, which may reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis and increase bone retention
- Possible increase in thyroid hormone output, which is a hormone that can help break down fat and carbohydrate, but stimulate protein synthesis if enough calories are eaten.
Downside Of Soy
- Low Biological Value score of 74. That represents the percentage of protein absorbed that your body can use for muscle growth and repair.
- Contains factors that block the digestion and absorption of some nutrients.
- Soy is rich in estrogenic compounds. For someone trying to build muscle a change in the estrogen/ testosterone ratio can lead to increased body fat and may interfere with muscle development.
Leaves you with a tough decision right? Well firstly, most manufacturers take out the factors that block nutrients, so that isn’t a problem. Reading my above pro and cons, you will notice that most stuff is a maybe, or a possibly, or a reported. There are pros and cons to eating soy. The biggest two that are relevant to the body builder or someone wanting to gain muscle and shed fat are the increase in thyroid hormones, and the estrogen effect. One is a big plus, and one is a big negative. My take, everything is OK in moderation. You aren’t going to grow boobs if you eat some soy, but you aren’t going to be a lean machine if you overload on it either. I wouldn’t make soy your only source of protein, especially if you are male. But if you are vegetarian, soy could be a great substitution for you. Just be aware of the pros and cons.
Here is a small table I have put together of protein values of certain foods.
Once again these aren’t my final words. There is an upcoming post on protein supplementation. Till then, eat some protein, natural is the best way!