Most people equate protein to meats and food sources that increase muscle. Interestingly, protein does NOT magically make one ‘bulk up’ nor does it make your muscles BIG. It doesn’t quite work that easily!
Protein is an often neglected and miss-understood nutrient. Whether your aim is to increase lean muscle or to improve your overall health, protein is very essential. In fact, protein would have to be one of the most important nutrients after oxygen and water to sustain life. You see protein is not just for athletes, it is essential to everybody, young and old, fit and unfit. Our bones, nerves and tissues are composed of mostly protein as is collagen, an important protein which is a base for skin, teeth, soft tissues and arterial walls. On a cellular level, protein plays a never ending role for the growth and repair of the trillions of cells that change and renew every day. Protein also plays a major role in our immune system helping to fight bacteria, infections and disease. It also helps with the PH level regulation in blood and tissues and that is just a few of protein’s functions! It’s no wonder it is often referred to as the ‘unsung hero’!
So what foods do we get protein from? Interestingly enough, many people don’t know the answer to this. Protein is primarily found in two forms; from meat and meat products such as beef, chicken, lamb, pork, fish, eggs, dairy products and protein powder and the other form which are vegetarian sources such as tofu, legumes and pulses. Obviously, like all other food groups, there are better quality choices of proteins. If you are a carnivore then you will find it easy to get enough protein, however, if you are a vegetarian, you will have to work a little harder particularly to get a balance of good quality usable protein in your diet.
Most people don’t get enough good quality protein in their diets and most people eat very high carbohydrate, low protein and low quality diets. This is so because of two simple words – FOOD PROCESSING. I believe most people eat for convenience over knowledge and good intentions for their health – a sad but true fact. I also know that many people care more about the fuel they put into their cars than into their bodies….If this is so, then be prepared for steady weight gain and a multitude of health problems.
Getting back to the ‘muscle bulk’ myth….Protein will not make your muscles BIG. Using your muscles with the correct resistance will certainly work here. Protein is however essential for repairing and feeding muscle tissue. Many women think that protein will make them big. In fact it will have the opposite effect if the diet is balanced with good quality ‘adequate’ (not high) protein, unrefined carbohydrates and essential fatty acids along with an effective training regime. Protein also has a positive effect on blood sugar levels and gives us a feeling of satiety, which in turn helps with fat loss. A champion nutrient if you ask me! To get enough protein for the average adult would be around 1 gram per kilo body weight. If you are training, an athlete or convalescing then you may need to increase your protein needs. If you don’t like the sound of sizzling meat, then look at a good quality whey protein isolate or concentrate powder. With many on the market, it is important to do your homework and choose the best quality with minimal high quality ingredients (as with any food there are good and bad protein powders).