A Simple Introduction to Protein for Beginners
Wanna’ get jacked? Then drink protein shakes and lift weights. Sounds simple right, perhaps a little too simple? Well, unfortunately, that’s because it is. In reality, increasing your muscle mass whilst reducing your body fat percentages simultaneously is an incredibly complex process, that takes years to fully get your head around. In actual fact, there are pro bodybuilders out there that still don’t know everything there is to know about getting in shape, and that is all part and parcel of the process. Building muscle and getting in shape is a constant learning experience, though as you’re probably aware, protein does indeed play a key role in getting jacked and making gains. Protein is essential for the growth and repair of muscle tissue (more on that later) and without it, your body would find it virtually impossible to build muscle, or repair itself after a strenuous workout. With that being said, protein supplements such as shakes, bars, cookies, and flapjacks, can offer you a huge advantage in your quest to become big and jacked. But do you know everything there is to know about protein supplements and getting in shape? Probably not, which is why we’ve compiled this handy guide to help clear things up for you. In this document we’ll be looking at the importance of protein in the body, especially in regards to building muscle, whether whole foods or supplements are better, the different types of protein supplements available to choose from, and how to use each one to your advantage. So, ready to get freaky jacked? Great, then read on.
What exactly is protein and why is it so important?
People tend to think that protein is only really important for people looking to build muscle and increase their strength. Those people however, are wrong. Protein is one of three macronutrients, the other two being fats and carbohydrates, that is incredibly important for the growth and repair of muscle tissue, and cellular health and function. We mere humans are basically comprised of billions upon billions of microscopic cells, so it therefore makes sense that we should look after the cells that basically make up our bodies. Proteins are made up of a series of amino acids that are linked up to one another in a chain formation. Now, each link on the chain has to be held together by something, and those somethings are known as peptide links. Protein helps ensure we enjoy optimal levels of nitrogen in the body, it helps balance PH levels, it provides energy, it helps to build and maintain muscle tissue, it helps boost immunity, it helps keep major organs functioning correctly, it helps regulate fluid balances, and it plays a key role in countless physiological chemical reactionary processes within us. Basically, protein rocks!
Protein for building muscle
As mentioned, protein plays roles in countless processes within the human body, and truthfully there aren’t enough hours in the day for us to cover every single one. As we’re placing an emphasis on building muscle, and as you’re probably reading this because you’re looking to find out how protein can help you build muscle, that is the route in which we’ll be taking you right now. Have you ever noticed how bodybuilders can often be seen chugging down protein shakes, and tucking into huge plates of chicken, steak, turkey, fish, and other high protein foods? They don’t consume these foods and supplements purely because they enjoy the taste, they consume them because protein is vital for the body if you’re looking to build muscle and recover after a training session. Though you may not realize it, even doing something as simple as walking, is taking a toll on your muscles, meaning that your body is constantly utilizing protein to help repair muscle tissue. As protein turnover is constant because muscle tissue is constantly being repaired and replaced by bigger and stronger tissues, a constant supply of proteins and nitrogen is vital. The human body needs a certain amount of protein each day to maintain itself in its current state. The bigger you are and the more lean muscle you are carrying, the more protein you require. If you don’t get enough daily protein to meet these requirements, the body becomes confused and, as it is panicking that it is lacking energy and nutrients, it will eat away at muscle tissue to help make up for this deficit of protein. Not only that, but this can also result in hormonal imbalances, as well as a compromised internal PH balance. When you lift weights and train intensely, more muscle tissue is broken down, which means more muscle tissue will need to be repaired and replaced. This is why bodybuilders and other athletes require more protein than the average person. By supplying the body with a steady stream of proteins and amino acids, a positive nitrogen balance can be achieved, which in turn will help keep you in a constant anabolic state where your body is building muscle, rather than breaking it down via muscle catabolism.
Protein for fat loss
Individuals looking to lose body fat will also consume higher than average amounts of protein. This is because protein is known as being ‘thermogenic’. This means that it increases your core body temperature and therefore means that your metabolism increases. Why does this happen? Well, because of protein’s molecular structure, the digestive system finds it harder to digest and break down protein than other food sources, and so it has to work harder. It can’t do this by itself however, it needs more energy and so the metabolism is forced to increase to generate more energy. This energy comes from calories and stored body fat so you are literally losing weight, even in a sedentary state, by consuming quality high protein sources. Your body also requires protein in order to mobilize fat stores for energy, like they are intended to be used. Without enough protein, your body cannot utilize stored body fat properly for energy, so again, this lack of energy could result in muscle wastage instead.
Protein and muscular recovery
People often work under the assumption that when they’re pumping iron in the gym, they’re building up their muscles and making them bigger. This actually couldn’t be further from the truth, not only are they not building their muscles when lifting weights, they are actually breaking down and destroying their existing muscle stores. What?! You mean lifting weights breaks down your muscles and destroys them?! Yep, that’s exactly what we mean. Now, before you throw your gym membership in the trash, just hold your horses. Yes, lifting weights and exercising intensely does indeed break down your muscle tissues and destroy them, but this is a necessary process if you want to get bigger and stronger. After we exercise we often feel tired, and, as those of you who don’t skip leg day will know, we also feel sore, often for days at a time. This is generally a sign of a good workout, though if your protein consumption is lacking, you might want to address this fairly sharpish. When we exercise, glycogen levels in our muscle cells diminish, and tiny muscle tissues and fibres become damaged and destroyed. We build our muscles when we rest, as our bodies repair them and deliberately rebuild them bigger and stronger through numerous processes, including protein synthesis. This is a deliberate attempt by your body, to help protect your muscles against the “trauma” they endured when you exercised. If you imagine your muscles as a tiny paper shack in the middle of a field. One day a storm blew by and destroyed this paper shack. That night, your body rebuilt the shack from stronger materials in an attempt to prevent it from being destroyed when the next storm blows by. The next day another storm blows by, and that night even stronger materials are used, and the shack becomes bigger and stronger every time it is destroyed and rebuilt. If you imagine the proteins and amino acids as the materials used by your body to repair your muscles, well, that gives you a rough idea of how the process works, albeit a far-less complex and scientific idea, but an idea nonetheless.
Protein supplements or whole foods: Which are better?
Without going on all day, and boring you and ourselves in the process, we’ll get straight to the point. Whole food protein sources are always better than supplements, so if it’s a choice between protein powder or fresh chicken breasts from the store, chicken breasts win every time. Whilst you should always ensure you consume fresh, healthy, and natural whole foods, including plenty of wholesome protein sources, if your diet is indeed on point, supplements can really help give you that slight edge you may have been lacking, and they will certainly help you take your physique to the next level. Some quality whole food protein sources include, but are not limited to:
- Chicken breast
- Chicken thighs
- Red meats
- Nut butters
- Whole organic eggs
- Oily fish
- White fish
- Cottage cheese
A look at the different types of protein powders currently available
Now, we’ll assume that you’ve taken our advice and that you have indeed cleaned up your diets and have made sure to consume plenty of natural protein along with other nutrient-dense whole foods in the process. If you have, you can now consider picking up a protein powder or two to help supplement your diet and take your gains to god-tier levels. Choosing a protein powder is not as easy as you may have hoped, especially considering the fact that there is so much scientifically sounding terminology to wade through. To help make your decision that little bit easier, we’ll now provide a breakdown of some of the more popular forms of protein powder supplements currently available:
Whey protein concentrate
Whey protein concentrate is probably the first protein supplement you’ll ever purchase, unless you’re vegan that is. Whey protein concentrate is the most popular protein supplement in the world, for a number of reasons. Whey concentrate is derived from cow’s milk and it is obtained when enzymes are added to the milk to cause it to split and separate, just like when cheese is made. The milk separates into solids known as curds, and liquids known as the whey. It is the liquid we’ll be looking at here. This liquid whey is where much of the protein is kept, and it is then taken away, filtered, processed, dried, and flavoured, before being packaged up and shipped off to your favourite supplement store. Whey concentrate is one of the more cheaper protein options out there because it doesn’t undergo an incredibly complex processing and filtration process. Typically whey concentrates provide around 80% – 85% protein per serving, with the remaining 15% – 20% coming from carbohydrates and fats. Some of the cheaper brands of concentrate however, are derived from poor quality milk and undergo very minimal processing and filtration, making them far less nutritious than more expensive brands. Some of the cheaper economy whey concentrates out there can be as low as 65% – 70% protein per serving, which is very poor.
Whey protein isolate
Whey isolates are far more expensive than concentrates, and that is because they’re much purer and are of much better quality. Whey isolates are obtained in exactly the same way as concentrates, except they undergo additional filtration to remove even more by-products, leaving you with more protein per serving. Whey isolates provide around 95% – 98% pure protein per serving, so you are basically getting more protein for your money, plus it is of a much higher quality. They say that we get what we pay for in this world, and with whey isolate, this is a perfect example of how we need to pay a little more if we want to enjoy quality products.
As the name implies, protein blends are protein supplements made up of a combination of different protein sources. For example, a whey isolate/concentrate blend will contain more protein than concentrates alone, and more nutrients, without coming in quite as expensive as whey isolates. If you happen to be vegan, vegan protein blends are also very popular at the moment as they contain several different types of vegan-friendly protein, all of which behave differently in the body and are absorbed at different rates.
Mass gainers are protein-based supplements which are designed to help people gain weight. Mass gainers contain proteins, as well as fats and carbohydrates which bump up the calorie contents. For people looking to force their bodies into a caloric surplus to gain muscle mass, mass gainers are ideal because drinking one high calorie shake is much easier than consuming an incredibly high calorie meal, not to mention the fact that it is far more cost effective.
Casein protein also comes from milk, though casein is primarily found in the milk solids and it therefore behaves very differently in the human body. Whey protein is a rapid digesting protein that is absorbed quickly, whereas casein is slow digesting and it is therefore absorbed much slower. Because of this, casein protein shakes are ideal when consumed late at night before bed, because they ensure your body has access to plenty of proteins and amino acids, and so it therefore not only helps repair the muscles more effectively, it also ensure that the body doesn’t eat away at muscle tissue like it would if it was lacking energy.
As mentioned, vegans obviously cannot consume proteins obtained from animals, which is where vegan proteins come into the equation. Plant-based proteins include sources such as: hemp protein, brown rice protein, and pea protein, and each one is ideal in its own right. You can go with plant-based blends if you would like, or you can purchase them individually. These proteins are also great for people who ordinarily suffer from allergies such as gluten or lactose intolerances.
If possible, you should ideally opt for a grass-fed protein such as Organic New Zealand grass-fed protein. This basically means that the protein is obtained from cows that have been allowed to graze on grass in the wild, rather than being cooped up in a shed and being fed GMO-rich grains and pumped full of antibiotics. The milk that these cows produce is of a much, much, much better quality, meaning the protein you consume is also of a much finer quality as well.
How much protein do you need per day?
Ask different people this question and you will receive different answers. Some people claim you require just 0.6g of protein per pound of bodyweight, whilst others claim that you should aim for 1.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight. In reality it all depends on what it is you’re looking to get out of your training. If you are looking to maintain muscle mass, experts recommend that you aim for 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. So, if you weigh 210 pounds, per day you should consume 210 grams of protein. However, if you’re looking to build muscle, experts recommend around 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. Again, if you weighed 210 pounds, you would need to be consuming 315 grams of protein per day. You should also ensure that you consume no more than around 35g of protein at a time, as any more than that and the body would struggle to utilize it all so any leftover would simply go to waste. This again, is where protein supplements prove to be so useful because taking in more than 300g of protein per day, through whole foods alone, would be very difficult and very expensive.