As somebody starting out on your fitness journey, you might hear a lot about protein, and have questions, but nobody to answer you. I have compiled some of the common questions received on protein and posted it into one big FAQ so you can find all your protein related questions answered here.
What is protein?
Protein is a macronutrient in the body, similar to carbohydrates and fats. However, the body doesn’t use it as energy, but instead as building blocks in the body to help ensure your cells, enzymes and muscles are working properly.
What are the main benefits of protein?
- Build muscles, cells structures and provide signalling among many other functions within the body. Basically, they are used as a building block
- High intake of protein can reduce appetite
- The body uses up to 7 times more energy to break down protein compared to carbs and fats, which can means more weight loss in the long term if you eat within a calorie deficit
- Muscle maintenance/building
What are protein made of?
Dietary protein, or protein you eat as your food, are made of 20 amino acids. Among the 20 amino acids, 9 of these amino acids cannot be made by the body and has to be consumed from food.
What are amino acids?
Amino acids are building blocks for proteins. You need 20 amino acids to make a protein.
Where can I find protein?
Protein are mainly found in eggs, dairy, seafood and meat. You can also get them from plant base sources like soy. Do note though that most plant base sources have a combination of protein and carbohydrates/fat.
What is the best quality of protein you can get?
According to the PDCAAS score,
- Non-plant based: Beef, Eggs, Whey protein
- Plant based: Soy
Main difference between plant vs meat-based protein?
You need to combine different plant sources to get whole protein source
The bioavailability (How much you can absorb from your food) of plants are lower compared to meat based protein, so you need to eat more plant based protein to “gain” the same level of protein synthesis as meat based protein.
Does this mean plant protein is inferior compared to meat based protein?
Yes, and no. From a gram for gram perspective, plant protein are not as complete nor available as compared to meat based protein. However, by having a mix of plant protein at a higher volume, you can compensate the weaknesses of plant protein. From a longevity perspective, a plant based diet also seem to fair better based on current observational research.
How do I calculate how much protein I need?
It really boils down to you as an individual, your activity levels and your goals.
0.8g/kg is the minimum requirement
To receive fitness related benefits from protein, we generally recommend between 1.5-2.5g/kg
Individuals trying to lose weight may see their protein at 3g/kg and higher as it helps to reduce appetite. This is of course, assuming said individual is on a calorie deficit.
I’m a runner. Do I need to eat a lot of protein like my bodybuilding friends?
It depends. If you have an existing injury that is still in the midst of recovering, you might. Runners and other endurance athletes generally have a high energy output and need to concentrate most of their nutrition on fueling, therefore in most cases, nutritionist would usually recommend 1.5g/kg.bw of protein to endurance sports, focusing the rest of the macronutrients on carbohydrates and fats.
Can protein stay in my body?
No. Unlike carbohydrates and fats, protein does not have a storage system.
How long does protein stay in the body?
Typically, protein stays in the body for 3-4 hours within the amino acid pool before it gets disposed off as waste, or pee.
How much protein can the body absorb?
Typically for muscle building purposes, 20 grams of protein is enough to increase protein synthesis. Protein synthesis generally plateau around the 40 grams mark, so 40g would be your upper limit. It would therefore not make sense to eat more than 40 grams per serving
Is eating too much protein dangerous?
Studies have tested up to 4g/kg of protein and found no issue with their biomarkers. We don’t have answers for anything above 4g/kg, but at least we know this amount would not harm.
To put this into perspective, a 70kg individual can eat 280g of protein per day without any issue. That translates to about 800g of chicken breast, 11 scoops of protein shake, or 47 eggs.
Are protein shake fine?
The origin of protein shakes come from milk, where they process whey and casein, and then further process it to become protein powder.
What is the difference between Whey Concentrate, Isolate, and Casein Protein?
Whey concentrate: This is the rawest form of whey protein after it gets processed. Whey concentrate generally also contain the impurities from milk, such as the fat and lactose. As such, whey concentrate are cheaper, but higher in calories. If you do not have issues processing dairy, this is for you.
Whey Isolate: Further processing has been made on whey isolate to remove impurities, therefore providing you with protein as pure as possible. The fat and carbohydrates are stripped off in this process, so individuals with lactose intolerance should usually be able to drink this.
Casein: Unlike whey, casein are thicker in texture, and stays in the body longer. Individuals usually use casein as a pre-bed drink to reduce muscle wasting. I just use it to make protein pancakes because they taste nicer, softer and slightly fluffier.
When should I take protein shake?
A food first perspective is encouraged. Traditionally, post exercise sessions, on those that requires you to train harder, as your body and muscles will be stressed. Aside from that, you can also take protein when your meal is insufficient in protein and you need it as a supplement.
That said, some people consider protein powder as a food ingredient now, as they are widely accepted in baked goods and drinks.
As a female, if I take protein shake, will I become the hulk?
No, similar to eating chicken or eggs, you don’t grow muscle from drinking protein shake. In order to become like the hulk, you need to massively increase your total calories and eat a lot of protein
What is the difference between protein bar and energy bar?
Protein bars have higher protein levels compared to energy bar. Energy bars also tend to have higher carbohydrates and/or fat, and lower protein. Protein bars will likely keep you full for longer compared to energy bars
When should I consume protein bars?
You can use it as an anytime snack to reduce appetite, or a post-workout meal to help improve muscle protein recovery.
I REALLY love drinking protein shakes. It’s nice and tasty. Can I drink them anytime I want?
We like to focus on a food-first directive, so if you can, always try to get your nutrients from food. That said, there is no known harm in replacing protein shake from your regular protein meals, so feel free to add them as part of your daily dietary needs, whether in smoothies, as part of your breakfast cereal, as a baked good or as far as your creativity brings you.
What are BCAA?
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are made of Leucine, Valine, and Isoleucine. They are key component to signal the building and recovery of muscles.
That said, while consuming BCAA can activate muscle protein synthesis, it will not be able to maintain the production. For that, you need all 9 essential amino acids to help ensure that your body can synthesize and build muscles for growth, maintenance and recovery.