Dietary Protein

Quantity and Quality Make The Difference

Protein is the only macro nutrient we need to survive. It supplies our bodies with the essential amino acids (EEAs) needed for protein synthesis throughout the whole system.

Our bodies breakdown and rebuild muscle protein throughout the day to keep the amino acid concentrations in the blood stable. During this turnover process we lose amino acids, some of which we can create ourselves, while others we have to replenish through dietary sources like food and supplements. Getting enough EAAs in your diet through quality protein is as important as drinking water to stay hydrated. There are many systems that depend on the availability of these EAAs to function properly.

There is dietary protein in almost every food. There is no one way of eating that is wrong or right as long as you are focused on eating whole, unprocessed foods that gives your body balanced nutrients and what it needs to thrive.

How Much Dietary Protein Do I Need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) that is published by the USDA says the average non-active adult should aim for 10% of their daily caloric intake to be from protein. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRIs) suggest between 10%-35% which is a wide range and confusing when trying to plan.

The other problem with this minimum amount and % is that we don’t ingest pure protein. The foods we eat have other macro nutrients in them that needs to be absorbed and may effect how many EAAs end up in the blood.

Instead of looking at the minimums or ranges, we should consider what is the optimal amount of protein required to provide your body with the EAAs needed to maintain your current muscle protein and stimulate protein synthesis.  

This varies with age, activity and other metabolic needs but for most healthy adults the goals should be to get 25% of their daily caloric intake from high quality protein sources.

To calculate your specific protein need, first go here and calculate the amount of calories you need each day based on your current weight and activity level.  Once you have that number multiply it by .25 and that is how many calories you need from protein each day.

What To Consider When Deciding on Dietary Protein Sources

Our goal is to stimulate protein synthesis and reach peak concentrations of EAAs in the blood as quickly as possible. Under these conditions the body is able to effectively go into an anabolic state where it can build muscle. This sounds straight forward but there are many factors that can effect protein from the time it’s ingested to the time it’s absorbed into the blood as amino acids.

Protein Quality

High quality proteins have a high proportion of EAAs relative to the NEAAs, an optimal and complete EAA profile as defined by experts, and can be digested and absorbed by the body.

The World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) is the official body that scores and ranks dietary protein based on quality. We suggest looking at the Digestible indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) to get the most accurate indicator of whether a food is considered quality or not. Foods that score 100 or more are considered to be a high-quality protein.

Absorption

Our goal is to stimulate protein synthesis and reach peak concentrations of EAAs in the blood as quickly as possible. Under these conditions the body is able to effectively go into an anabolic state where it can build muscle.

Different proteins are digested and absorbed into the body and blood at different rates. This is important to consider when planning meals and combining complementary proteins. All the amino acids need to be present at the same time in order to complete protein synthesis.

Absorption & Bioavailability

Different proteins are digested and absorbed into the body and blood at different rates. This is important to consider when planning meals and combining complementary proteins. All the amino acids need to be present at the same time in order to complete protein synthesis.

Another thing to consider when planning your meal is bioavailability. This is important again when considering how many calories you must eat in order to get the benefits of the dietary protein.  Also, although a food many contain protein, the amount of amino acids that end up in the blood stream after being digested can vary. 

Protein Density

Density refers to how many calories we need to consume of the food in order to meet the dietary EAA requirement.  This is important when you are either managing your weight or training for competition.

Higher quality proteins give you more protein per total gram of food thus you need to eat less to satisfy your EAA needs.

Vegetarian & Vegan Diets

There has been a huge spike in vegan and vegetarian options over the past few years. It is absolutely possible to lead a plant based lifestyle and still get an adequate amount of protein and EAAs necessarily to meet your daily needs in order to optimize protein synthesis. It does takes more planning and intention when creating a meal plans and eating out.

Plant-based eaters have less flexibility in their overall diet as they have to consume more food in order same amount of protein and EAAs that you would otherwise get from a smaller high quality protein source 

Plant proteins are not considered high quality based on the DIAAS score. They’re typically harder to absorb and they don’t contain the full amino acid profile that we need for protein synthesis.

You can combine and eat different plant proteins that are considered complementary in order to get all the EAAs but this isn’t a guaranteed approach.

The best way to maintain this lifestyle and still ensure you’re getting adequate EAAs to prevent muscle loss is to supplement meals with a quality EAA supplement.

Protein Powders & Supplements

Many people opt to take a protein supplement when they’re on the run and can’t eat, or as a way to supplement their plant based diet. Here’s what to keep in mind when making your selection.

Can You Trust The Label?

The problem with supplements is that they are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration and thus companies can make many claims about their products that are not supported by scientific studies.

Many have fillers and ingredients in them that can cause adverse responses in some people or even exert estrogen-like effects in some cases. 1

Because it’s not a regulated industry the labels are typically uninformative and misleading.

The best way to protect yourself and save money is to buy only from companies who have been certified and tested by an independent 3rd party sources.

Timing & Absorption

Protein powders comes from different sources and have other ingredients that can affect how much is actually absorbed into your system. This is especially important to keep in mind if you’re using protein powder as a way to stimulate protein synthesis after a workout for example. Remember that all EAAs have to be present as the same time and at the right concentration in order for the process to be completed.

3 Dietary Tips to Help Simplify Things

Instead of obsessing over calculations and combinations follow these simple steps to assure you are getting quality dietary protein and the necessary EAAs to prevent muscle loss and stimulate protein synthesis.

1. Build your diet around whole unprocessed food and quality dietary protein. Choose organic, non-GMO protein sources when possible.

2. Watch your portions – calculate your BMR and protein requirements to get a general sense of where you should be and try to stick to that every day.

As Michael Pollan puts it “eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”

3. Supplement your diet with a quality EAA supplement that is rapidly absorbed and completely bio-available. This will ensure that your body and mind has sufficient EAAs throughout the day to keep up with protein turnover and the need for certain neurotransmitters that help stabilize mood and cravings. Learn more about EAAs here.

Find out how muscles are formed,  the solution to maintaining and gaining quality muscle and how you can achieve your health and wellness goals.

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References:

1.Robert Wolfe, Essential Amino Acid Solutions for Everyone (unpublished, 2016), 96.

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