Protein Primer

You would have to be living under a rock to not hear about the importance of carbohydrates in training for an endurance event.

However, the general public seems to think protein is the only thing any athlete needs (insert movie clip of Sylvester Stallone, aka Rocky Balboa, downing a glass of raw eggs and pumping fists in air).

Truth is, both protein and carbs are necessary for optimal performance. But like carbs, there are lots of misconceptions about protein. Here’s the skinny on three of them:

Protein Myth #1: More is better.  Athletes need more protein than couch potatoes but there is a point where more is not better.  The average Joe-Shmoe needs 0.8 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight (g/kg) and the average GOTRIbal woman needs 1.2 – 1.7 g/kg of protein each day (roughly between 50 and 75 grams for most women). Any extra will be converted to body fat and not used for muscle-building.

Protein Myth#2: Vegan diets have plenty of protein. Vegan diets can have adequate amounts of protein if the vegan has accurate information on protein and applies it correctly.  Unfortunately, many vegans don’t and this puts them at risk for having to break down muscle tissue to meet their body’s protein needs.

Protein Myth#3: All proteins are the same.  Many vegetarians believe that simply eating nuts and seeds will give them the same amount and quality of protein as meat or eggs. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

There are nine essential amino acids that humans need for optimal health and animal foods have the correct amounts and proportions of all nine of them. Plant proteins are usually lacking in one or more amino acids making it necessary to get a variety of plant proteins each day to ensure adequate protein intake. In addition, animal protein has higher “digestibility” than plant proteins, meaning that all of the amino acids from animal foods are easily digested and absorbed.

How is protein quality assessed?  Scientists use the “Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) to evaluate protein quality, which is based on the amino acid requirements of humans. Eggs have the highest PDCAAS score and are considered the gold standard for high quality protein foods. Meat and dairy foods are second, followed by soy foods, grains, nuts and seeds.

Vegetarians who are well-versed in protein quality of plant foods and who consume one or more animal source of protein, i.e, milk or eggs, will have no problem meeting their protein needs. In fact, vegetarian diets – when done correctly – are extremely healthy and more likely to prevent heart disease, cancer, and obesity than meat-containing diets. The key is knowing how to get the right kinds (and amounts) of protein each day.

Stay tuned for more information on vegetarian and vegan diets coming soon to a GOTRIBal article near you!

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