03/05/2017 - 17:33

All power athletes know that it's a good idea to consume lots of protein. But what exactly is protein and why is it good for you? This article reveals all and everything else you need to know about protein.

Amino acids

Proteins are macro nutrients (just like fats and carbohydrates), the building blocks your body needs to be able to function. Your body consists of over 100,000 proteins that all have a different function. Proteins are large molecules, which consist of smaller molecules. The smaller molecules are called amino acids and are important building blocks for the protein in body cells. Cells are repaired and boosted by the supply of amino acids. There are twenty amino acids found in proteins, twelve of which the body is able to produce itself. This means that you need to obtain the other eight from your diet. This is why they are also called essential amino acids (eggs contain all eight!). Of the twelve non-essential amino acids, six are semi-essential; they can be produced by the body but not in sufficient amounts in the case of certain illnesses.

The essential amino acids are: Lysine, Tryptophan, Phenylalanine, Leucine, Isoleucine, Methionine, Valine and Threonine. The World Health Organisation also includes Histidine as an essential amino acid, because a lack of it has a harmful effect on haemoglobin levels. The semi-essential amino acids are: Glycine, Histidine, Glutamine, Arginine, Tyrosine and Cysteine.

In principle a varied diet should contain sufficient amino acids. Glutamine could become an essential amino acid if you are training hard and often, and is therefore fine to take as a supplement in this case.

Proteins

Proteins are needed as building blocks, enzymes and antibodies. As building blocks they ensure, for example, muscle growth (without protein you would not build up any muscle, even if you train hard), as enzymes they act as catalysts in chemical reactions in your body and as antibodies they aid your immune system. They are involved in the repair and development of body cells, and play a role in transporting substances. They are indispensable for producing hormones and neurotransmitters (such as adrenaline). The skin, hair, nails, muscles and in fact all cells in the human body are constructed from proteins. This is why it is important to consume adequate quantities in your diet. They naturally occur in legumes, meat, eggs, fish, dairy products and nuts.

The quantity of protein you need on a daily basis depends on whether or not you exercise a lot. And if you do, it depends on your goal. The following averages apply:

  • Non-athlete: 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight
  • Endurance athlete: 1.2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight
  • Power athlete: 1.5 - 1.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight

These averages are based on muscle recovery. So, if you want to build up muscle as well as aid the recovery of muscle mass, you will have to consume more. Up to 2.4 grams per kilo of body weight is recommended to achieve maximum muscle growth. For someone weighing 100 kg, this equates to 240 grams of protein a day. Considering that you have to eat approximately 200 grams of chicken to obtain 30 to 40 grams of protein, it's obvious that most people do not consume enough protein and therefore must adapt their diet. Breakfast and lunch in particular contain much less protein than the average power athlete needs. In principle you can obtain more protein from your diet, but it is easier to use supplements, such as whey powder, for example 100% Whey. It is not only healthier than eating excessive amounts of beef, but also cheaper.

Biological value

Protein in food should preferably be as similar as possible to our own body protein. The greater the similarity, the greater its value. The term 'biological value' was devised for this reason. A high biological value also means that it contains a relatively high amount of essential amino acids in the right proportions (corresponding to those in the human body). The biological value of animal protein is generally higher than that of vegetal protein. An egg has traditionally been viewed as the source of protein with the highest biological value (96 percent). However, whey has a higher biological value (104 percent). If whey is more concentrated its biological value could even increase (up to 150 or 160 percent).

Vegetal and animal supplements

Animal protein supplements are the most commonly used supplements by far. Vegetal proteins may contain fewer essential amino acids, or the wrong proportions. Sometimes they are also more difficult for your body to absorb. If you are a vegetarian or vegan the Nutrition Centre (Voedingscentrum) recommends you consume between 20 and 30 percent more protein. A wide variety is also important because the essential amino acids can differ per product (no standard high biological value). There are a number of vegetal protein supplements that you can use as a whey powder substitute. The most well-known are:

  • Soy protein: contains all the essential amino acids, as well as phytic acid, which is not so good for you.
  • Hennep protein powder: a hypoallergenic source of protein with lots of essential fatty acids.
  • Pea protein: vegan alternative to casein, with a slow release.

Non-vegetarians/vegans naturally have more choice and can consume a greater variety. The most commonly used (animal) protein supplements are:

  • Whey powder (Whey): is quickly and easily absorbed by the body and contains a lot of essential amino acids. As it is absorbed so quickly it is ideal for taking immediately after a workout.
  • Casein: is absorbed much more slowly than whey powder. Therefore it is ideal to take before you go to sleep, so that your body is nourished during the night and energy does not need to be obtained from your muscles.

There are also combinations of animal and vegetal proteins, so you get the best of both worlds. For example, SynPro Matrix contains soy, whey and casein.

Proteins and why they are important

Ageing

As you age, your muscle mass will decrease if you don't do anything about it. This is a natural process. A significant loss of muscle mass could occur after five days of minimal exercise. If you spend most of your time at work sitting down, muscle loss could occur even faster. Muscle degeneration resulting from age may begin at the age of 30, but the change mainly occurs in people aged between 40 and 50. In total you will lose approximately 50 percent of your muscle mass between the age of 20 and 90.

By taking a protein supplement with a slow release in the evening (casein) this reduction can be slightly counteracted. Especially if you power train (which is a good idea in any case), this type of supplement helps restore your muscles and prevent muscle degeneration. In this case you could take Aesthetic Whey, but SynPro Matrix mentioned above is also a good choice. Aesthetic Whey also contains creatine and zinc, which particularly helps if you power train.

If you suddenly run out of supplements you can prepare your own protein shake. It's not as effective as whey powder, but it's better than nothing: in a blender pour 250 ml of semi-skimmed milk, 200 g low-fat quark with some ice cubes and stevia to taste, then mix. 

Facts about protein

  • The American Health Council considers that an adult needs circa 58 grams of protein per day.
  • The average American eats over 36 kilos of beef a year. The average Dutch person eats approximately 14 kilos.
  • If middle-aged people consume too much protein-rich food it is not good for the kidneys and increases the risk of cancer. This is not because of the proteins, but the other foodstuffs it contains.
  • It is not medically proven that people perspire more after eating meat. The only explanation is that an increased metabolic activity produces heat.
  • According to Euromonitor International over seven billion protein supplements are sold every year.
  • Insects (especially crickets) are a good source of protein.
  • A steak weighing 180 grams contains 48 grams of protein and 18 grams of fat (of which 7 grams are saturated). A cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein and just one gram of fat.
  • An egg white contains 4.3 grams of protein and no fat (the yolk contains 3.4 grams of protein and 5.8 grams of fat).
  • Research has shown that taking casein protein combats the erosion of tooth enamel.

Proteins and why they are important

Protein bombs

Want to make a protein-rich meal for after your workout? Try the protein pancakes from the recipe below. They are nutritious, quick to prepare and what’s more, simply delicious! You could try endless variations, such as adding fruit or cooked sweet potato, pumpkin puree or grated carrot. They all work well. If you'd rather not use fruit or vegetables, try cottage cheese. This means your whey powder pancakes will not be as dry.

You will need:

  • 1 egg
  • 150 grams of low-fat cottage cheese
  • 15 grams of oat flour (finely milled oats)
  • 40 gram 100% Whey vanilla
  • 15 grams of peanut butter

Combine all the ingredients (except the peanut butter) in a blender or mixer. Then add a little coconut oil. Heat a frying pan and add your batter when hot. Turn down the heat to a medium setting. When you see bubbles appear on the surface of the pancake, turn it over. Let it cook a little, place the pancake on a plate and spread with peanut butter. You can also add a little honey if you want! Bon appétit!

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