Superbowl Sunday just seems like a great time to talk about protein! Let’s list what Tom Brady eats and we can go from there… just kidding! We all need a certain amount of protein to support our body mass and help us build muscles, tissues, organs, nerves and more. Surprisingly, protein is also quite easy to skimp on. If you think about it, how often do you hear of someone binge eating 16 oz. steaks? Ok, maybe at Fogo De Chao this could be a daily occurance, but outside of a Brazilian Steakhouse, it’s much less likely. Coversley, we can easily eat a whole bag of chips or crackers, or mow down a huge salad filled with a variety of vegetables. Both would fill us up but neither of these things would provide us with adequate protein. Ideally we should be getting a minimum of 20-30% of our daily calories from protein.
In addition to creating tissues, protein has many other key functions in the body. It is an essential building block of enzymes, hemoglobin, antibodies, and peptide hormones. Hemoglobin transports oxygen around the body (more oxygen = better recovery!). Antibodies help fight infections and fend off harmful invaders (immune support = less sick time!). Peptide hormones include our metabolism regulators: insulin and glucagon (regulating blood sugar = more energy!). If building more muscle to burn more fat isn’t our main reason to get adequate protein in, hopefully those few factors will help us reconsider!
Now let’s discuss the different types of protein and why we might consider choosing a complete protein over an incomplete source of protein. Proteins are composed of amino acids. There are 22 amino acids used in our bodies, among them, 9 are essential; meaning we cannot make them ourselves so we must get them from our foods. Not all protein-rich foods contain all of these essential amino acids in the right proportions. Proteins from plants, beans, nuts, and seeds are considered incomplete because certain amino acids are missing or limited. Animal protein is considered a complete protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids in the ideal proportions. These complete proteins also come packaged with more nutrients not found in plants like vitamin A, B12, EPA and DHA.
While it’s possible to get enough protein as a vegan or vegetarian, it requires a diligent effort to get in enough total protein and the full range of nutrients. It’s also important to keep an eye on quality, as humanely raised and properly prepared animals will have a higher nutrient density and fewer contaminants, along with wild caught seafood and organic, non-GMO soybeans. If sourcing and price is an issue, remember that toxins are stored in fat, so when we go to grab a conventional piece of meat, go for the lean cuts to avoid exposure to those potential toxins.
What about BCAA’s? Well, if we are eating the correct amount of complete protein sources already, we are already getting what we need, in the correct ratios, and in a form that our body recognizes! In this case extra BCAA’s would be expelled and our hard earned dollars might be better off spent on something else. However, if we are chronically under eating protein, or getting most of our protein from incomplete sources, BCAA’s can be a great supplement, just beware of the high amounts of sugar and color dyes found in most “sport” brands.