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Proteins: Building Blocks for Peformance

June 18, 2015

Editor's note: this article was written by registered dietician Amanda Gilles. We wanted to follow up on the great article that pro triathlete Angela Naeth wrote for us last week. This will help you dig into what types of proteins you may want to supplement with depending on your dietary preferences and athletic goals. If you're interested in shopping our complete selection of protein, click here. Did you ever play Legos as a kid? Remember how certain pieces were the foundation for everything, or how you had to use different shapes and sizes to make your helicopter or castle? Legos are just like protein. Yep, the protein we eat on a daily basis provides the necessary building blocks that allow our body to grow, function, and just be! That’s pretty cool, right? Protein is essential for growth and repair within every cell in the body. It’s also important for:
  • building muscle
  • making antibodies to boost immunity
  • production of hormones and enzymes
  • production of neurotransmitters
  • production of white and red blood cells
Protein can also help us handle the physiological effects of stress, and provide essential amino acids that promote healthy body function. Of protein, fat, and carbohydrate, think of protein as the MVP. We can achieve our daily protein needs from a variety of different places; fish, poultry, lean red cuts of meat, eggs, dairy, quinoa, soy, hemp seeds and protein powders. Speaking of protein powder, it is quite the hot commodity these days. Although I highly recommend getting your daily protein needs through whole, real foods, there is a time and a place for a good protein powder. Having a protein shake post-workout can help make the most out of the time and energy, you’ve spent at the gym. Take advantage of the 30 minute ‘window of opportunity’ post workout to refuel muscle glycogen, promote muscle synthesis, and reduce muscle soreness. An excellent way to promote this recovery is with a protein shake, it’s a quick and convenient option. Plus it provides necessary nutrients to help your body repair itself after a tough workout. There is a wide variety of protein powders available today. Let’s take a look, at the most common types: Whey protein is quickly absorbed and utilized by our body, making it an excellent post-workout recovery nutrition option.
  • Whey Concentrate- Does not contain as much actual protein in comparison to other whey protein varieties. Most concentrates are only 80% protein, the other 20% will consist of carbohydrates and fat. The higher fat content will slightly slow the absorption and utilization of protein. Plus, this type of whey protein will be higher in lactose, which may cause stomach upset for those with lactose intolerance.
  • Whey Isolate - This type of whey protein indicates the whey protein has been ‘isolated’, meaning the other non-protein components have largely been removed. Isolates are typically about 92% protein. Isolates will provide fewer calories, more protein, and less fat and carbohydrates (lactose) in comparison to whey concentrate.
  • Whey Hydrolysate- Whey concentrates and isolates are available as intact proteins, but they can also be hydrolyzed. Hydrolysates have been partially broken down by exposing the protein to heat, acid, or enzymes that break apart the amino acids. This may cause the protein to taste bitter, but this process will enable the body to absorb the protein more quickly. The tradeoff of reduced taste and increased cost, may not justify the slightly faster absorption rate.
Casein offers similar benefits compared to whey protein. However, casein is digested and absorbed more slowly, which is not ideal after a workout. When we finish a tough workout, we want to get nutrients to our muscles as quickly as possible to receive the most benefits. Casein would be better used for a snack, or ideally, in combination with whey as a recovery drink. Since casein is another by-product of milk, it may cause stomach upset for those with milk allergies or intolerances. Egg protein powders are typically made from the egg whites, utilizing the protein known as albumin. Egg protein will stimulate muscle growth much like whey, as they are both rapidly digested and absorbed. The amino acid leucine is abundant in eggs and a key player in muscle growth. The only protein source that contains more leucine, than egg, is whey. Egg protein is naturally rich in vitamins, such as, vitamin A, B, D, and E. It will also be lactose-free; making it an excellent choice for those with lactose intolerance. Plant Proteins.  Vegetarian and vegans, have no fear! There are several plant based protein powder options that will promote muscle growth, and overall recovery post-workout. Soy Protein is one of the few plant protein sources available that offers all 9 of the essential amino acids, and can stimulate muscle synthesis. Plus it contains vitamins, minerals which can contribute to overall health and wellness. Despite the many benefits, there are a few potential downsides to Soy:
  • Soy is high in phytic acid. This substance can block the body’s absorption of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc.
  • Soy promotes the formation of an enlarge thyroid, or goiter. Plus isoflavones found in soy can inhibit thyroid peroxidase, which produces the thyroid hormones.
  • Soy isoflavones, have very mild estrogen-like (phytoestrogen) activity. Though a controversial topic at this point, they potentially could cause, stimulate, or otherwise promote hormone-driven cancers such as prostate and breast cancer.
  • A very common GMO crop – when looking for protein powders, look for non-GMO.
Pea- This particular protein powder is very easy to digest. Pea protein contains glutamic acid, which can assist in turning carbohydrates into energy. For best results pair this protein with rice or hemp to ensure you are taking in all essential amino acids. Rice - While rice is known for being a carbohydrate, it also contains protein. The protein is isolated from the rice grain to create this protein. Since it is plant-based it is not a complete protein, and for best results it should be paired with other plant-based proteins such as hemp or pea. Brown rice protein is tolerated by many struggling with food allergies, plus it is easy to digest. Hemp proteins -Also, lactose, dairy, and egg free! Hemp protein is lower in protein content compared to other protein powders. However, it usually has an excellent nutty taste, plus it naturally contains omega-3 fatty acids and some fiber. All in all, your best bet is a blend of protein powders; whey and casein, or pea, rice, and hemp. This way you’re getting the most ‘bang for your buck’. Using a blend of protein powders, guarantees you are consuming a complete protein, and providing your body with the most benefits possible. You wouldn’t allow your Lego castle to be missing Legos…don’t let your body fall short on its building blocks either! Be sure to shop our complete line of the highest quality protein bars and supplements in our PROTEIN CATEGORY!