We all know we need protein, but sometimes the “why” and “how” is lost in the blur of everything else we have to worry about in a day. Over the next few months, we will be diving into the three macronutrients (carbs, fat and protein) to demystify what each of them are, how they function in the body, their benefits and how to incorporate each of them into a balanced nutrition plan. Today we are going to tackle protein – what it is, why you need it, and how to get enough of it.
What is Protein?
Protein is a macronutrient that is composed of amino acids and helps with muscle recovery and growth. When you workout, or put more resistance on your muscles than in regular day-to-day activity, you create tiny tears in your muscles. This is perfectly normal! These microscopic tears are what make you sore the day after a hard workout, but it is also those tears that make it possible for the body to build muscle. The body repairs the tears by filling them in with protein. So you need protein not only to recover (get rid of the post-workout soreness) but also to feed your muscles in order to get stronger.
Types of Protein
There are two types of protein: complete and incomplete. A complete protein contains all of the nine essential amino acids that the body does not produce on its own. Examples of food sources that are complete proteins are eggs, meat, fish, milk, and soy. An incomplete protein is a food source that contains only a portion of the nine essential amino acids, i.e. legumes, seeds, or brown rice. Our body needs all the essential amino acids in order to make protein.
Protein in a Plant-Based Diet
For someone who follows a plant-based diet, it may seem like the options for getting enough protein are significantly limited, but that is not the case. You can still get all the essential amino acids from a vegetarian diet, though it does take a little more planning. Because a plant-based diet does not contain many complete protein food sources, it is necessary to combine various incomplete proteins in order to get all the essential amino acids. Be careful not to rely on one source of incomplete protein as this can result in an amino acid imbalance in the body. For example, by combining grains with food groups such as seeds, milk products, or legumes, it is possible to obtain the essential amino acids your body needs to maximize usable protein.
Benefits of Eating Protein
Along with muscle repair and growth, one of the benefits of protein is that it keeps you satisfied longer than other foods. When protein is broken down by the body, it releases hormones that cap hunger, keeping you from feeling hungry right away. Obviously, this is great news for anyone trying to lose a few pounds, but it is also beneficial to anyone looking to be properly fueled for the day’s activities. No one wants to be sitting in a 10am meeting with a growling stomach. Starting the day with a high-protein breakfast will save you from getting “hangry” during your mid-day budget meeting, and incorporating protein into your nutrition throughout the day will ensure that you are fueled for your gym session after work.
How to Get It On Your Plate
Protein is often considered to be a little more difficult to incorporate into a balanced diet, but getting enough protein can actually be pretty simple! Having a plan when you head to grocery store will make including protein into your diet much easier. Plan to choose 2-3 protein sources that you can prepare in bulk and then mix and match with the other two macros, fats and carbs. This keeps shopping from getting overwhelming, saves time in the kitchen and still allows for a variety of meals throughout the week.
Stay tuned for our next blog about carbs – why they’re important, and why they’ve gotten a bad rap lately. Click here to learn more about the SISU Nutrition program!
Here’s a little recipe for my sweet tooth folks! With excellent macros and a prep time under 5 minutes, you’ll undoubtedly be making s’more of these.
NO BAKE S’MORES PROTEIN BITES
100 CALORIES | 10P | 10.5C | 2F
- 2 Tbsp (10g) Quick Oats
- 1/4 C (26g) Graham Cracker Crumbs or 1 large cracker, crumbled
- 1 1/2 scoop (45g) Protein Powder vanilla
- 1/2 Tbsp Stevia or 0-Calorie Sweetener
- 1/4 C (10g) Mini Marshmallows
- 1/2 Tbsp (7g) Chocolate Chips
- 2-3 Tbsp (30-45mL) Almond Milk or any low-cal liquid (start on the lower end and add as needed)
- Line a small plate or dish with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Mix dry ingredients together, adding marshmallows and chocolate chips last. Mix well.
- Slowly add almond milk or liquid, stirring in gradually. You’ll think you need more milk but aim for as little milk as possible. The mixture may almost look crumbly. That’s ideal for forming into balls.
- When the mixture is evenly mixed, form into balls using your hands and roll between your palms to smooth. If your mixture is too crumbly, add 1 tsp of liquid at a time. If it’s too moist to form into balls, add more protein powder or oats. (If you double this recipe, which I recommend, you may want to rinse your hands half way through. The more balls you form, the more the other balls will stick to residue on your hands.)
- This recipe makes 4 balls around the size of golf balls. Add balls to parchment paper and place in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Store leftover balls in the freezer and thaw for 5-10 minutes before eating.
4 s’mores protein bites: 400 Calories| 40P | 42C | 8F — Per protein bite: 100 Calories | 10P | 10.5C | 2F
Protein – The Foundation of Building Muscle, BodyBuilding.com,
Why Protein Curbs Your Hunger, and How It Can Help You Lose Weight, MensFitness.com
What Happens To Your Muscles When You Work Out, LiveStrong.com
The Difference Between Complete and Incomplete Proteins, spoonuniversity.com