Protein is essential for all of your body’s daily functions and is used for almost every metabolic process in the body.
Adequate dietary protein is important for the health of our bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Not only is protein required for muscle growth and maintenance, but protein has also long been known for its ability to assist in weight management, increase high-density lipoprotein (the good type) cholesterol, increase satiety and enhance bone mineralization.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Only 20 are needed to make all protein found in your body. These can be split into three main categories:
Essential amino acids. There are 9 essential amino acids that your body cannot make and therefore the diet is the only way you can get these.
Non-essential amino acids. There are 11 non-essential amino acids, which your body can typically make from the 9 essential amino acids.
Conditional amino acids. Eight of the non-essential amino acids are considered conditional, because they can become essential under certain conditions, such as illness or stress.
For optimal health, your body needs all the essential amino acids in the right ratios. If amino acids are not present in the right balance, the body’s ability to use the protein will be adversely affected. When an essential amino acid is limiting, all other amino acids will not be properly used for protein synthesis. Various health authorities such as the FAO and WHO have established an amino acid scoring pattern, which lists the amount of each essential amino acid in mg/g protein required for adults.
Foods that contain good amounts of all nine essential amino acids are generally considered sources of “complete” protein. Most foods — both animal- and plant-based ones — contain all nine essential amino acids. The difference lies in the amounts of them they offer. Different proteins can vary greatly in the types of amino acids they contain. For instance, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy contain high levels of all nine essential amino acids. On the other hand, some plant proteins tend to contain low amounts of at least one or two essential amino acids.
The exceptions are soy, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and nutritional yeast, as well as hemp and chia seeds. These plant foods offer good amounts of all nine essential amino acids and are considered “complete” sources of plant protein.
Some key plant proteins are often low in methionine, tryptophan, lysine and isoleucine. But fear not, by combining plant-based protein sources – you can create a complete protein. For example, pea protein is low in methionine and rice protein contains a high amount of methionine but is low lysine, but pea protein is abundant in this amino acid, making pea and rice protein the perfect pair! This is idea behind POWA protein blends, because variety is the spice of life!
Protein quality is not only determined by amino acid composition but also by its digestibility. Protein digestibility refers to how well your body can digest and absorb protein. Generally, the digestibility of plant proteins is slightly lower than animal proteins due to presence of antinutritional factors and the secondary structure of plant proteins. Keep in mind that anti-nutrients may also exert health benefits. Phytates, for example, have been found to lower cholesterol and prevent sharp rises in blood sugar. Many anti-nutrients have antioxidant properties.
However, antinutritional factors typically found in plant proteins on average have digestibility values of about 70% to 90%, compared to most animal-based proteins with average digestibility values >90%. However, it’s important to note that several processing techniques and methods such as fermentation, germination, de-branning/ milling, autoclaving, soaking, cooking etc. reduce the anti-nutrient contents in plant-based foods. Plant protein isolates, those typically used in protein powders, undergo treatments such as heat, milling or alkalisation which increases its digestibility to greater than 90%.
How much protein?
Protein needs vary from person to person, depending on age, sex and activity level.
An adequate level of protein consumption is essential for every individual, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has established an international dietary protein recommendation of 0.8-0.9 g/kg body weight per day for inactive adults.
There is general consensus that protein needs of active individuals are higher than those of sedentary persons. More protein should be consumed on days that include higher-intensity activity. Recommended daily protein intake for endurance athletes (e.g. runners) is 1.2-1.4 g/ kg of body weight per day and 1.2-1.7 g/kg body weight for power athletes (i.e. weight lifters). Researchers have found that there is no recorded benefit in strength or body composition changes when the recommended amount of daily protein intake is exceeded, where it is simply excreted in the urine. In fact, in extreme cases, excess protein consumption could increase the risk of dehydration and kidney damage.
So yes, we need to consume adequate protein to build muscle, but don’t go overboard.
When to eat protein?
When you’re working out, your muscles use up their glycogen stores for fuel. This results in your muscles being partially depleted of glycogen. Additionally, some of the proteins in your muscles get broken down and some muscle fibres get damaged.
After your workout, your body tries to rebuild its glycogen stores and repair and regrow those muscle proteins and fibres. Eating the right nutrients soon after you exercise can help your body get this done faster. It is particularly important to eat carbohydrates and protein after your workout.
Protein is one of the most essential components required for muscle development and maintenance. When you eat protein, your body breaks the protein down into amino acids. Those amino acids are then used to repair and grow new muscle fibers. When you consume an adequate amount of protein, your body will experience something called a positive balance of nitrogen. This positive balance signals your body to get itself into an anabolic, or muscle-building, state. Keep in mind there is a certain limit on how much your muscles can actually grow dependent on gender, age, and genetics. If you do not provide your body with adequate rest or nutrition, you can actually reverse the anabolic process and put your body into a catabolic or destructive state.
The rate of muscle recovery depends on the exercise and the intensity of training, but even well-trained athletes experience muscle protein breakdown. For example, endurance sports cause your body to use more glycogen than resistance training. For this reason, if you participate in endurance sports (running, swimming, etc.), you might need to consume more carbohydrates than a weight lifter.
A post-workout meal with both protein and carbohydrates will enhance glycogen storage and muscle protein synthesis. Consuming about 10-20g protein shortly after a workout is adequate.
POWA protein blends (coffee, original and chocolate variants) consist of 14g protein per serving, with 11g of unrefined carbohydrates per serving The Just Protein variant contains 24g protein per serving, which should be added to a smoothie blend where the fruits and vegetables will contribute carbohydrates to the serving.
The best time to consume protein for optimal muscle growth is a controversial topic. Fitness enthusiasts often recommend taking a protein supplement 15–60 minutes after exercise. This time frame is known as the “anabolic window” and said to be the perfect time for getting the most out of nutrients like protein. However, people who train in a fasted state, like before breakfast, should ideally take protein right after working out.
However, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, recent research has shown consuming protein any time up to two hours after your workout is ideal for building muscle mass. While protein uptake is fast-tracked immediately after your workout, the window for muscle protein synthesis stays open for roughly 24 hours, according to a 2012 meta-analysis in Nutrition & Metabolism. That means you need to focus on ingesting enough protein throughout the day, every day. Even on less active days, protein consumption should be maintained as muscle recovery, repair, and growth starts after your workout and continues for days afterwards. Insufficient protein intake on any given day can decrease protein synthesis and impair muscle repair and growth over the short- and long-term.
These recommendations are mainly geared toward people who need to maximize recovery before their next workout. For the average gym-goer, re-fueling a few hours after a workout should be suitable.