©2019 by Dr Maria Luque

  • Dr. Maria Luque

Protein - Do I really need it? Why? How much? What kind?

I’ve been a fitness pro for 20 years now and the topic about adequate protein consumption or the lack thereof has always been a constant; and will continue to be. Hopefully, I can help you get a basic understanding of just how important protein is and why you should pay attention that you get enough of it. Not only is it a key element in building muscle but protein is also important in the proper functioning of your body (major structural component of our muscles, nervous system, brain, blood, skin and hair and is used by the body as a transport mechanism for vitamins, minerals, oxygen, and fats). 

Protein basics 

Complete proteins are proteins (animal sources such as milk, eggs, poultry, fish, meat) that contain all 9 essential amino acids. 

Incomplete proteins are protein sources that do not contain all essential amino acids. This is especially important to consider for vegetarians and vegans as they need to pay special attention to eat a variety of plant foods to make sure they consume enough of all amino acids.

Protein Types

Topping the list of high-quality proteins are meat, egg, poultry, and fish. Milk and all of its components (whey, casein, soy) are close behind.

Whey protein can be divided into whey powder (11%-15% protein), whey concentrate (25%-89% protein) and whey isolate (>90% protein). Whey isolate is lactose-free. (Hoffman, Falvo, 2004). This type of protein is quickly absorbed and digested and ideal for muscle regeneration after a workout. It has a much larger ability for muscle protein synthesis stimulation that casein or soy proteins (Hayes, Cribb, 2008).

Casein is released into the bloodstream much slower than whey and can provide a more constant supply of amino acids. A combination of whey and casein seems to have the greatest muscular strength improvements.

Soy is the only vegetable protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. Just like whey protein, soy can be divided into three types (soy flour, concentrate, and isolate) depending on the protein content. This type of protein has been in the news for its health benefits. FDA determined that diets with four daily soy servings can reduce levels of LDL by as much as 10 percent (1% drop in total cholesterol can equal a 2 percent drop in heart disease risk).

So what does this all mean?

The most important aspect of protein consumption is to ensure the consumption of the nine essential amino acids during the day. It is not necessary to consume complete proteins at all meals. This can be accomplished through complete proteins or a combination of incomplete proteins. When choosing a protein powder, pay attention to the type of protein (isolate is better than powder or concentrate).

Daily protein intake recommendations

There is much discussion about the different protein needs for athletes vs the general population. 

Recommendations from the American Dietetic Association and the American College of Sports Medicine are as follows:

  • General population 0.4 grams per pound of body weight

  • Endurance Athlete 0.5-0.6 grams per pound of body weight

  • Strength Training Athlete 0.6-0.9 grams per pound of body weight

Word of caution: even though excessive protein consumption has not been shown to have negative health effects in healthy and active people, individuals with kidney disease, diabetes, liver disease, or osteoporosis can be at risk. Always consult with your physician when making big changes. 

Stay happy & healthy

Dr. Maria Luque