Before we go into daily protein intake, let’s understand what is protein. Protein is a macronutrient found in many foods such as meats, dairy products, nuts, and beans and etc. It’s comprised of amino acids, the building blocks of lean body tissue that promote healthy skin, hair, bones, fingernails, as well as muscles . Before dissecting the pros and cons of different protein sources it’s important to understand two ways protein supplements are often classified:
- Protein Concentrate vs Isolated Protein: Protein is derived from various food sources and is “concentrated” by removing the non-protein parts. The result: a powder that’s 70-85 percent pure protein (with the remain 15-30 percent consisting mostly of carbohydrates and fat). Taking the concentration process a step further, “isolation” removes a much higher percentage of non-protein content. The additional processing yields a premium protein that is up to 95 percent pure.
- Complete vs. Incomplete Protein: Amino acids that cannot be produced by the body are known as essential amino acids. “Complete proteins” contain all 10 essential amino acids, whereas “incomplete proteins” contain some, but not all, of the essential amino acids.
- Whey Protein: The most popular protein supplement on the market today, whey is a by-product in the process of turning milk into cheese (seriously, who knew it happened like this?).
Pros: Whey protein has been shown to promote lean muscle growth and fat loss, as well as support cardiovascular health and a healthy metabolism . Whey is also quickly absorbed by the body, making it useful for post-workout recovery.
Cons: The sugar found in milk (aka lactose) is a common allergen that can make whey indigestible for some. And while those tasty flavors make whey a yummy choice, they often come with a host of less-than-desirable artificial sweeteners and chemicals.
- Casein Protein: Got milk? Well here’s another protein powder that comes straight from the udder. Casein is produced using a separation process applied to liquid milk that can concentrate or isolate the milk protein from the carbs and fats.
Pros: Casein protein powder offers similar benefits to whey protein, but with a different release process. Because casein digests over a long period of time, research has found it’s an optimal protein choice before bed.
Cons: Casein is a by-product of milk, making it allergenic to some, much like whey. Also, it’s not ideal as a post-workout supplement because it’s absorbed so slowly. After exercise the body craves nutrients to replenish and rebuild—which is best left to whey or a combination of the two. Casein also more expensive than whey, and often contains many artificial ingredients to help make it more palatable.
- Egg Protein: Egg protein comes from eggs! It is a complete protein made by separating out the yolks and dehydrating the egg whites.
Pros: Aside from just protein, egg protein powders are rich in vitamins and minerals that can contribute to a healthy diet.
Cons: Allergies to eggs are common, similar to milk allergies, especially in children and young adults . Egg protein is also one of the most expensive protein supplements available.
- Soy Protein: Soy beans are one of the few plant protein sources that offer all of the essential amino acids. The protein is concentrated or isolated after the soy beans have been hulled and dried into soy flour.
Pros: Protein from the soy bean may help improve the body’s immune function and promote bone health . Soy may also help prevent cardiovascular disease and reduce the risk of certain cancers .
Cons: In recent years, soy has come under heavy scrutiny because it is often genetically modified to produce greater crop yields. Some research has also singled out soy due to its effects on hormone levels. Many foods are already full of soy due to its extremely low-cost protein.
- Rice Protein: There is protein in rice! Although often thought of as a carbohydrate only, brown rice is becoming a standard source for vegetarian protein powder.
Pros: Protein aside, brown rice protein is considered a good source of complex carbohydrates, vitamin B, and fiber. It’s also hypoallergenic, meaning it’s easily digestible and therefore almost entirely used by the body, not relieved as waste.
Cons: Unlike soy, rice protein is a plant-based option that’s deficient in some amino acids and therefore should not comprise the main source of dietary protein.
- Weight Gainer: Looking to bulk up? Weight gainer combines protein, often whey, with a mix of high-carbohydrate ingredients that makes it much more calorie-dense than typical protein powders. It is often used by bodybuilders who are looking to pack on the pounds, or by serious athletes who have difficulty consuming enough calories to offset the large amount they burn through intense training .
Pros: Jam-packed with calories, weight gainers allow people to consume more calories than they could through food alone. They also help keep the grocery bill in check by delivering calories at a slightly more economical price.
Cons: Unsurprisingly, weight gainers often contain many additives, artificial sweeteners, and fillers so that they can pack the calorie and protein punch their users are looking for. It’s also worth mentioning that the huge calorie count in these products doesn’t necessarily translate to more muscle. In fact, all those extra calories will be stored as fat if not needed for recovery after intense exercise.
How Much Protein Is Really Enough?
Popular belief is that in order to build muscle you must consume up to 1.0g of protein per kg of body weight. For some of you that might seem high and for others it might seem too low. The answer to that is really, it depends.
Research shows that the average trainee looking to build muscle can benefit anywhere from 0.6g to around 1.1g of protein per kg of body weight. It all really depends on your goals, genetics, and the rest of your diet, but aiming to hit between those targets should be sufficient for most people. For example, a relatively fit 80kg man should aim to consume between 108g and 198g of protein daily for muscle gain.
What I recommend if you are overweight and trying to reduce your body fat is to aim to consume your target body weight in grams. For instance, if a 100kg man wants to reduce his body weight to 80kg through proper training and nutrition he would consume a base of 180g of protein per day. It is also important to note that lowering your carbohydrate and fat intake as extremely important as well!
On the other hand, if you are trying to gain weight it might not be a bad idea to eat a few extra grams of protein (along with fat and carbohydrate) to get your calories up. You may have heard that consuming extra protein is a waste and that what your body doesn’t use will be excreted, but I beg to differ. Although this is partially true, if you are trying to put on size and weight, you need to consume extra calories so now is not the time to nitpick nutrients – just eat!
Whether your goal is to build muscle, burn fat, or train like an athlete, you should aim to consume roughly your body weight in grams of protein daily to cover all your bases. Since this isn’t an exact science, going a little over or a little under shouldn’t be detrimental to your results or health. I will, however, argue that it may be better to err on the side of eating a little more rather than eating too little as the drawbacks of undershooting far outweigh the effects of overdoing it.