What are protein foods, what are the best choices you can make, and how can they help?
First let's get a better understanding on what we are looking at. Protein is an important part of every cell in your body and is used to grow muscle, hair, nails, skin, bones, blood, and organs. It's made up of chains of linked 'building blocks' called amino acids. Whether or not the protein you eat will help repair your muscles, or grow healthy hair depends on the proteins particular make up of these amino acids.
There are 20 different amino acids in total. 9 are called 'Essential Amino Acids' (EAA's), the other 11 are called 'Non Essential Amino Acids' (NEAA'S). The EAA's can’t be made by your body so they must be provided for by what you eat. Consuming the correct daily amounts of certain protein EAA foods is important for survival. Depending on the individuals goals and activity levels this amount required may vary.
Proteins considered to be of 'High Biological Value' are called 'Complete Proteins' and contain all of the EAA's needed for survival. Proteins considered to be of 'Low Biological Value' are called 'Incomplete Proteins' as they lack the full spectrum of EAA's necessary.
High Biological Value Complete Proteins come from animal origin, these include: Beef, lamb, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy, and whey protein powders.
Low Biological Value Incomplete Proteins come from plant origin, these include: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains.
If you're vegetarian it's worth noting that it's possible to combine a range of different plant foods (incomplete proteins) each day to provide all of the essential amino acids needed for health. Variety is the key.
Protein may help body builders build muscle and athletes recover faster from training, but what are the other benefits?
- Provides a back up source of energy for when carbohydrate stores are lowered through dieting or exercising.
- Helps us feel full for longer and decreases cravings. This may help us with a goal to eat fewer calories per day.
- Lean meats, egg whites, and whey proteins are 'clean' food sources low in saturated fats, carbohydrates, and calories.
- Through digestion protein produces an increased thermic effect (calorie burning effect) in the body. This may help contribute to body fat reduction.
Eating regular amounts often is the way to go to maximise benefits from protein foods. As the body can't store protein, consistent meals will keep a steady supply flowing of these building blocks of health and fitness. The 2 most important times to eat protein are first thing in the morning when you wake up, and as soon as possible following any exercise.