The lowdown on protein and why you need it.
PROTEIN: The first element
The term protein is derived from the Greek word protos which means “the first element”. Everyone knows that proteins are one of the most essential nutrients for the human body. These promote muscle growth and act as building blocks of body tissue. Proteins are basically made up of amino acids. Different sources of protein contain different types of amino acids.
These amino acids can be classified into two types according to our needs:
1. Essential amino acids
2. Non-essential amino acids
Essential amino acids are the ones that are not manufactured in the body and can only be attained from food sources. There are nine essential amino acids. Non-essential amino acids are the ones that occur naturally and can be synthesized by the body on its own.
Taking amino acids into consideration we can now classify proteins as:
1. Complete proteins
2. Incomplete proteins
Proteins containing all essential amino acids or in other words, proteins that are fulfilling the body’s protein requirement completely are called complete proteins.
Proteins lacking one or more essential amino acids are called incomplete proteins.
Now following the IIFYM (If It Fits My Macros) diet is great. But it has its own pitfalls. One major pitfall deals with the consumption of protein.
Sure, eating your leafy greens is healthy and provides you some essential macros and micros. But the proteins in most plant based foods are incomplete. Ignorantly sifting through these incomplete proteins is more common in vegans since almost all animal based proteins are complete proteins.
It’s very important to know the types of proteins you’re consuming. Plant based low quality proteins are not considered to be whole proteins and should not be counted towards you total protein score. Take an example of peanut butter. Peanut butter is well known for its calorific value and contains a good amount of 8gms of protein per serving. But its protein content is as good as nothing since it lacks one or more essential amino acids and will only be considered as fat unless it is paired wisely with some bread or another complete source of protein.
Don’t worry if you’re on the vegan road. You just need to make sure that you’re pairing the right complimentary proteins sources together. This simply means that you need combine protein sources in such a way that all the essential amino acids are being provided. A few examples of complimentary meals for vegans are beans and rice, peanut butter and bread, macaroni and cheese, yogurt with nuts, whole grain cereal with milk, etc. Vegans can also choose from complete plant based proteins such as soy, quinoa, tofu and chia seeds to get in an ample amount of complete proteins throughout the day. At first, this might seem like one of those calculus rocket science jigsaw puzzles but once you get familiar with the right kind of complete and complimentary proteins, it becomes much easier.
Whey proteins are the most commonly used protein powders and yes, they do contain complete proteins. But, since whey protein is a product of milk, these cannot be used be used by vegans. Though these may be a little hard to find, vegans also have a variety of protein powders to choose from such as blend vegan protein powders, hemp seed protein powders and soy protein powders. But protein powders are just as effective as the proteins you’re getting from foods or maybe even less. Thus, protein powders are not essential for muscle growth. You just need those proteins, one way or the other.