By Matt Steinacher
BHSc Complementary Medicine
Many people ask us at Vive about protein: how much should I consume, which is the best source, or what’s the best supplement for me?
Protein is a fundamental component of the daily diet. This macronutrient is found in many animal and plant sources and is collectively made of tiny molecules called Amino Acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of life and without these essential life ingredients our body’s vital organs and systems cannot function adequately. Did you know that amino acids are needed to maintain and support the brain as they are the foundations for neurotransmitter synthesis? Amino acids are also used in the body to maintain our musculoskeletal, immune and energy systems. For optimal health and wellness it is important that we include protein in our diets every day. However, as we are all unique, each individual has different requirements and preferences.
Protein, a molecule made up of amino acids, is utilised in the body to support and maintain muscles, tendons, ligaments, enzymes, immune functions, neurotransmitters, and energy production. Research recommends a daily intake of protein should be between 0.4g and up to 2.5g of protein per kilogram of body weight. In clinic, we see a number of people that consume far too little protein or consume all of their protein at dinner and forget to include it at breakfast or lunch. It is important to consume protein throughout the day (3 -5 meals) to ensure structural repair, maintenance and that energy levels remain balanced.
Prof. Peter Lemon of Kent State University, an industry expert who has done over 15 year’s research on protein requirements, indicates that individuals leading sedentary lifestyles will require approx. 0.8g per kg of body weight. Those who are regularly involved in endurance exercise will require 1.2g to 1.4g per kg of bodyweight, and those individuals who are pushing resistance or weight type exercise will need approximately 1.7g to 1.8g per kg of body weight. The Australian recommended daily allowance (RDA) is only 0.75g per kg of bodyweight, somewhat short of what any regularly exercising person would require. Using Prof. Lemon’s findings, the average person that partakes in some sort of exercise 2 to 3 times per week would require around 90g to 105g of complete protein spread out over 3 to 5 meals each day.
Which is the best form of protein?
Food! Including a great variety of protein food sources in the diet is the best way to achieve optimal nutrition. Meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs (cooked), nuts and seeds are the most complete and bio-available forms of protein. It is also advisable to complete your protein intake with a small amount of fermented soy (tempeh), whole grains, pulses, and vegetables. Generally, all protein requirements are achieved by combining a range of animal and vegetable proteins in the same meal. If specific or individual requirements do not allow for these varieties, or you are participating in intensive exercise, it is recommended that you check with your local Nutritionist to make sure you are on track.
Do I need to supplement protein?
If you have decided to remove animal products from your diet, enjoy exercise and body building, or have other special dietary requirements, you may find it easier and/or necessary to supplement protein.
There are many different types of protein supplements such as pea protein, whey isolate, whey concentrate, casein, egg albumin, soy, rice and carob. The quality, dietary action, and individual suitability of these options is quite varied.
Pea Protein Isolate (PPI): Pea protein is approximately 85 – 90% protein. The protein is naturally extracted from peas is an excellent bioavailable source due to its complete amino acid profile. As this is a naturally sourced protein it is suitable for vegans, vegetarians or people who suffer from allergies (including dairy, egg and soy).
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI): Pure WPI generally ranges from 90 – 94% protein. It is chemically and physically isolated from milk and contains practically no lactose or casein. The filtration process of WPI also makes it very bioavailable. This means that it is very quickly digested and assimilated in the body. WPI will be well utilised within 90 minutes following intake.
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC): WPC is a little lower in protein than WPI, it contains around 80% complete protein. As WPC is physically removed from milk through a membrane it does contain some lactose and casein. For those with allergies it may be advisable to avoid WPC although it does contain many immunoglobulins. Research clearly confirms WPC is a very useful food for immune support.
Casein: Has a very high content protein and widely used within bodybuilding circles. Casein is a large molecule that is difficult to breakdown and absorb. From a nutrition perspective it is probably the most allergic component in milk and is therefore not recommended by us at Vive. Conversely, as it is broken down slowly it does supply protein for a longer duration (7 hrs) which is why bodybuilders consider it as an option.
Egg Albumin: Egg albumin is bioavailable and well balanced protein. It’s down side is its taste and its ability to mix. If you have egg allergies it is best to avoid this source of protein. However, if there are no allergies, it is worth a try.
Soy Protein Isolate (SPI): SPI is normally approximately 80% protein however the amino acid profile (balance of essential amino acids) is not as good as whey or egg. With the research still inconclusive on the safety of soy based products, I would recommend using soy sparingly.
Rice Protein Concentrate (RPC): RPC is normally about 50% protein. Being a vegetable protein, RPC is not as bioavailable as Whey or Albumin and does fall a little short on its essential amino acid profile.
Carob Protein extract (Vegie protein): 50% protein. One of the newer options for protein supplementation, carob extract has a very low allergy reaction rate and is very bioavailable. It is easily the most recommended vegetable based protein.
Dairy allergy and Whey?
If an individual has a true allergy to whole milk it is best to avoid whey protein and choose either albumin or a carob / pea extract (blending both is best). However, many individuals react to casein and or lactose in milk and therefore can still tolerate whey. Keep to a very high quality “100% pure whey protein isolate”, or use one of the quality vegetable based proteins. Keep in mind it is best to first see an experienced nutritionist or environmental doctor if you have any allergies that you think may be an issue.