There is an optimal diet for almost any goal out there. Whether it be fat-loss, muscle-gain or performance, there is a diet to serve them; more protein. Over this two-part post, I'm going to dive into protein; why we require so much of it to reach our fitness and health goals, which kind to use, and how to gauge how much you need. Let's get started.
What is Protein?
By definition it's any of a class of nitrogenous organic compounds that consist of large molecules composed of one or more long chains of amino acids and are an essential part of all living organisms, especially as structural components of body tissues such as muscle, hair, collagen, etc., and as enzymes and antibodies.
Protein actually comes from a Greek word meaning "most important." The key take-away here is that protein is ESSENTIAL.
So hopefully you're beginning to realize why the first step in creating a healthy diet is to get your protein intake in-line. With most fitness goals, you'll need to consume more protein than you normally might. Due to 1) the increase in structural (muscle) damage, 2) elevated hormones and enzymes (both during and after exercise), and 3) increased synthesis of protein (and overall calorie utilization) for up to 72 hours after a workout, you need more of the stuff to get the job done. You use it up during a workout so you need to replace it, and when you're using more of it, you need to replace more of it.
Proteins are made up of building blocks called Amino Acids (AA). There are 22 total AA; 8 of them are considered "essential" and are not produced by the body (meaning you need to consume them). A complete protein is one that contains all 8 essential AAs. If a protein is not complete, life cannot be adequately sustained. Some examples of foods that do not contain complete proteins are corn and flour which, unfortunately make up a majority of foods consumed today. When the body is low on complete proteins, then your protein-dense muscles are the first things to go--afterall, the body is smart and will get what it needs to survive. When your muscle deteriorates, it's likely your fitness goals do too.
Complete protein consumption is not always a challenge for meat-eaters, but for vegans and vegetarians, it can be tricky. Here's a short list of foods that are great sources of complete protein:
Rice and Beans
Ezekial (sprouted) Bread
Hummas (pair with Pita or wheat bread)
This is just the beginning, folks. In part two of this protein post I will dive into whether animal or plant proteins are superior, and I'll touch on easy ways to increase your intake every day.