Everything You Need To Know About Protein
1. Protein Top of the list for a reason—this powerhouse needs no introduction.
Most gym-goers, and many people who've never even touched a kettlebell, understand the importance of a protein shake, but they may not know its real significance. Protein is one of three macronutrients, the other two being carbohydrates and fats. That means your body needs a lot of each, every single day, to survive. They are our three big sources of fuel. Photo courtesy of https-//www.pexels.com/photo/black-bumper-plates-161557/.jpeg
Protein helps build muscle—a biggie for us gains-seekers—but it's not a one-trick pony. Protein also helps us feel satiated, which can be a significant contributor to weight loss. Protein can also help us fall asleep if taken 60 to 90 minutes before bed—but don't wait too long, as protein immediately before sleep has the opposite effect.
What's the Best Protein for Building Muscle?
If you're looking to build muscle, and lose fat, there are two types of protein so ideal that they seem ready-made for the job: casein protein and whey protein. Both these proteins will help your body build muscle fast. Casein and whey should be taken at different times because they process differently in the body.
What is Whey Protein?
My cheese-fanatic homies—you’re in luck! Well, kind of. Whey is a byproduct of cheese—it’s produced during the cheesemaking process, but not used in the cheese itself.
A thin level of liquid gets left over after making cheese. That liquid is called the whey. Whey is concentrated and dehydrated until it becomes whey powder—better known as in gym circles as whey protein powder. Whey is also found in milk, making up about 20% of its total protein.
What are the Benefits of Whey?
Repeat after me: fast absorption. When you hear the term “absorption” being used about supplements, it’s referring to the amount of time post-consumption for food to be digested, broken down into amino acids, and absorbed into the bloodstream.
Between 20-40 minutes after your meal, the level of amino acids—the building blocks of protein—are at their highest level of bloodstream saturation. Within the hour, those amino acids will have gone through a series of metabolic processes—either protein synthesis or oxidation. That means it takes about an hour for the whey protein to reach your muscles and begin to repair those micro-tears you experienced after a resistance training workout.
So, remind me—what’s the big benefit of whey protein?
When you take whey protein, it absorbs into your body and muscles much faster than either the protein in food or casein protein. This more rapid absorption rate helps rebuild your muscles after a hard weight training session.
What is Casein Protein?
Casein is a protein found in milk—it actually comprises about 80% of the total protein found in milk. Milk has two types of proteins—casein and whey. Our bodies can benefit greatly when we consume both. Balancing our consumption of the two is a big advantage in muscle repair and potential fat loss.
What benefits come from casein protein?
For one thing, casein keeps you sated for longer—meaning an extended period of feeling full. Casein can "gel" during digestion, causing the digestive process to slow down. When casein gel hits the stomach acid, its slow and steady digestion allows the amino acids in the casein to be released at a slower rate.
Unlike the fast release of whey protein, casein’s slow release allows your muscles to get a steady supply of protein for a longer period of time. Because of its slower release process, casein should be taken at specific times (which I'll go into in detail later in this article.) Casein also has greater muscle retention when you're on a calorie-restricted diet combined with a intensive regular workouts.
Casein Protein Overview
Put simply, casein protein helps you retain lean muscle when you’re on a low-calorie diet combined with regular, intense workouts. It also helps your body feel full for longer, maximizing the time between hunger pangs.
Will I get fat if I eat too much protein?
The short answer is no—as long as you consume the RIGHT amount of protein your body needs. The ideal amount of protein differs for everyone—the recommended amount is usually 10-35% of your total daily caloric intake—but what does that really mean?
I’ll break down the correct amount for you below. Remember, this formula is caloric consumption minus energy spent. It’s simple math—if you eat more food than you burn throughout the day in expended energy, you will gain weight.
So weight gain isn’t about how much protein you’re eating—it’s about how much FOOD you’re eating. The amount of calorie you take in compared to the calories you burn.
When should I take protein? And how much protein should I take?
You might read elsewhere that you should be taking around .8 grams to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. This can be too much for a few reasons.
Frequently, people who read this statistic think they should be getting all that protein from protein shakes and bars—but remember, the majority of your protein should come from meals, not from shakes—your meals should average around 1oz of protein each.
Another reason for misunderstanding comes from the ratio of energy consumption to energy usage. Just because you go to the gym doesn’t automatically mean you need to take a lot of protein.
The protein naturally provided by your meals is usually enough for the average man or woman if they're not playing a competitive sport or doing resistance training. The extra protein from a protein shake or other supplement applies directly to your intake as the extra energy used up in resistance-type training. But, if you're a person who goes to the gym only two or three times a week—and more importantly, if you're not putting lots of stress on your muscles—then you do not need much extra protein.
How much extra protein should I be taking?
Basically—if you go to the gym 2-3x weekly and you’re not 1) in a physically intense competitive sport or 2) doing regular resistance training to the point where your muscles are really sore the next day, then the protein from your regular meals should be enough to meet your intake needs.
If 1) you go to the gym three times per week or more, and your muscles are slightly sore the next day or 2) you do a physically intense sport, and your practice and games are just on the weekend, you should be consuming one 20-gram protein shake plus the protein from your meals each day.
If 1) you are a gym rat and sore all the time and/or you are 2) practicing regularly to compete in a physically demanding sport, then you should be consuming two or three protein shakes plus the protein from your meals each day.
So, if you’re supposed to get the majority of protein from your meals, how are should you plan to get the right amount? Every meal is different.
Here’s a simple method to know how much protein you need in your meals:
1oz protein (28 grams) = the size of your fist.
A man or woman who doesn’t work out should be eating about 75 grams, or 3 servings (fist-sized servings.)
A casual athlete—two-three moderate workouts per week—should be eating 150 grams of protein daily from their meals (6 fist-sized servings) plus two 24 gram protein shakes.
An active athlete/gym rat should 150 grams of protein daily from their meals (6 fist-sized servings) plus 2-3 protein shakes daily.
For people taking supplemental protein, it is recommended that you take whey protein before and after your workout, and casein protein before bed.
Remember: protein should make up between 10-35% of your total daily calories.
Now that we've established recommended amounts, and two excellent sources of supplemental protein, what are the best food sources of protein?
There’s no one particular food that’s best, but some options are clear standouts. Here is a list of dependable high-protein foods that’ll help deliver results:
Grass Fed Chicken Breast
Grass Fed Lean Beef
Get creative—there’s a lot to choose from! If you want to incorporate the powder into your regular meals and snacks, you can even add protein powder to cookie or brownie recipes! And no, the protein will not become denatured if you bake it.
Is it true that your body can only digest 30 grams of protein in a single meal?
This myth has been around for a long time, and invaded the general “knowledge” of exercise nutrition—to everyone's detriment. Those olds studies showed that protein absorbed differently into the body depending on the sources. The studies also showed that the average transit from the stomach to small intestines takes six hours. This two factors still hold true—but here’s the part modern science has disproven.
The researchers took the average of the absorption rate for all protein sources—from beef to plant protein—which was five grams, and the total average transit time of food from stomach to small intestines, which was six hours, and multiplied those numbers to get 30 grams.
This number they came up with has governed nutrition for years—but it never took into account some critical factors. For one thing, different types of protein absorb into your body and muscles at different rate.
On top of that, the precise way in which you consume the protein can speed up or slow down its digestion. For example, the whey protein consumed from drinking a glass of milk might absorb more slowly than the whey protein in a concentrated protein shake. Plus, the mere fact that your body may need that protein right away—for instance, immediately after an intense weightlifting workout—will cause an increase in the absorption rate.
All these factors put the nail in the coffin in this study—making the idea that your body can only digest 30 grams of protein far more fiction than fact.
Will a high protein diet hurt my kidneys?
Everyone's body is different, and no one diet plan is right for everyone—I recommend seeking your doctor's advice before going on a high-protein diet, but the same goes for any diet.
High-protein diets can result in more work for the kidneys as they process that extra protein, but studies have shown that a high protein intake causes minimal to no risk to renal functions for most people. Again, a consultation with your doctor is always the best way to go before making diet decisions, because there are some individuals who have preexisting kidney problems, for whom and a diet high in protein may cause serious problems. Now, that you know all you need to know about protein let’s talk about the second superstar supplement on the list..
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