What Protein is Right for You?
When it comes to diet, one key element stands out for fitness and health above all others: protein. Protein is absolutely essential for muscle repair, immunity and balanced blood sugar. Consumption of a minimum quantity of protein daily is mandatory for overall health. Potential sources of protein are plentiful. For decades, debate has raged about which sources of protein are healthiest. Obviously, more than a half-century ago, consumers did not have access to the kinds of supplements, powders, shakes and enhanced foods that are available today at gyms, health food stores and supermarkets. Traditional and primary sources of protein were found in the foods of the day, including beef, chicken, pork, fish and dairy items.
As the health food and supplement industries developed around fitness and athletics, protein began to be examined more in depth and specific makeup and benefits of exact proteins were studied. Protein-centric products were created using a variety of methods and sources which continued to be refined to this day.
We now know that while some foods are very complete and protein rich, they may bring undesirable components such as saturated fats, toxins, hormones and allergens. Different proteins have different benefits for the body and not all bodies are alike in terms of being able to make use of the proteins that are consumed.
Some of the more popular proteins on the market today include supplement based soy proteins, whey proteins and plant-based proteins such as those from rice, peas, beans and/or hemp, grains and algae. Unlike meat or fish-based proteins, the protein content in these other sources is usually concentrated, free of antibiotics, hormones, mercury, dioxin and other contaminants.
Proteins must also be of the right size and structure that can be readily absorbed by the body. Different protein “fractions,” or components, will determine digestibility in the body. Some common protein fractions are casein, globulin and albumin. Most supplements list the protein fractions contained within them. Because there are too many to list here, you can research specific fractions on the Internet to see exactly what their benefits and effects are.
In general, proteins need to be isolated from other food elements such as pectin to be maximally useful. In a number of foods, these other elements may inhibit protein absorption by the body even if they contain protein in high amounts or saturation. For this reason, protein supplements may be a better source for your protein than food, which can contain unhealthy fats and carbohydrates.
Whey protein, which is extracted from dairy sources, is extremely concentrated and absorbable by the body. It also has a high BCAA content so it’s great for those who want to build muscle mass. It happens to be an excellent detoxifier and immune system booster. In fact, all of the amino acids necessary for health are present in whey protein.
Soy protein is noted for its phytoestrogen content, which lowers the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and breast cancer in moderate quantities. Soy protein isolate is the optimum type of soy protein as it contains less cholesterol and fat than soy protein concentrates.
In addition to whey protein and soy protein, many plant-based proteins, especially those from algae such as spirulina, rice and yellow peas are tremendously beneficial. Algae based proteins typically have a higher concentration of protein than any other natural food source. They also contain all essential amino acids and are extremely absorbable in digestion.
Rice protein is also highly digestible. If you can find it with the added amino acid lysine this is ideal. If you can’t, yellow peas are the source of one of the newest proteins that are high in this essential nutrient. When both rice and yellow pea proteins are taken together, their combined benefits can approach those of dairy and egg proteins, but without any potential allergic effects that some consumers may be sensitive to.
Ultimately, how your body reacts to these different protein sources may be the best determinant of which types are best for you. For people with dairy allergies or for those who want to consume high quantities of protein supplements, plant-based proteins may be optimal. Many people say they like the taste of yellow pea protein, which has a fluffy texture and is both gluten- and cholesterol-free. Others simply say they want to avoid the downsides of consuming beef, chicken, pork or fish.
No matter which type of protein you choose, by focusing on this essential nutrient, you’ll be doing your body good while helping it get the most out of exercise and healthy living.