To fully understand the importance of proteins foods, which carry out vital functions and processes in the body, I like to give the example of a building. Without protein, we couldn’t “build ourselves.” We would have the concrete and the tools, but we would lack the « bricks ». And it is that these are in charge of building the body tissues, sustaining them, and restoring and/or regenerating those that are damaged, as is the case with muscle tissue. For example, after being subjected to a stimulus such as a load training.
At the molecular level, they are really complex structures. Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, the smallest unit that makes them up. From there arises the concept of aminogram, which refers to the profile of amino acids that make up a protein, which will determine its biological quality.
To determine the biological quality of a protein, we must ensure that the structure of the building has all the “bricks”, that is, that the protein has the most complete amino gram possible. To understand it easily: the more amino acids (bricks) that make up the structure of the protein. The more complete it will be, consequently, the higher biological quality it will have (the building will be more consistent).
As a curious fact, vegetables are capable of synthesizing their own proteins. Unlike these, animals must provide them with food, exogenously, a fact that makes them an essential macronutrient for us.
Why are healthy protein foods important to an athlete?
Its consumption is essential since we are made up of proteins. It is the basic macronutrient that makes us up and it is estimated that around 50% of the cell weight corresponds to proteins. It is essential, both for the sports population and for those who do not practice exercise or sport. Since it performs vital functions: formation of enzymes, source of energy in certain situations, reserve or transport proteins such as ferritin or transferrin, and formation of immunoglobulins of the immune system. Formation of various metabolic regulatory peptide hormones such as insulin, leptin, ghrelin, etc.
In short, beyond its structural function, it has other important roles in the body.
How much protein foods should be consumed?
While it is true that protein intake was previously estimated attributing around 15%-20% of total energy expenditure. Today it is known that it is more efficient to calculate the need for protein based on the person’s weight. Thus, precise values can be established in relation to the individual needs of each one, in a personalized way.
In general, we could speak of a minimum of 1 g/kg of weight, in people with “normal weight” and without associated pathologies. In other types of populations, especially those related to renal pathologies, this percentage will be lower, depending on the severity of the pathology. If the individual is overweight or obese, the calculation should be made on the estimated lean weight.
In people who carry out some type of training with loads or athletes of any modality, the current recommendations are around 1.8-2.5 g/kg of weight, in order to preserve adequate recovery, as well as resynthesis. Protein after training. If the athlete in question is overweight or obese. The calculation will have to be made on the estimate of his lean weight. In certain cases, it could even reach 3 g/kg of weight. Especially in phases of fat loss, where the caloric deficit is already very high. It is important that it be a competent professional, dietitian-nutritionist in this case, who assesses it.
To gain muscle mass at any age, in addition to adequate protein intake. It will be necessary to take total caloric intake into account. That is to say, it will be decisive to assess in turn the contribution of carbohydrates and fats. These are the main fuel for muscle mass.
The best sources of protein foods
We return to the concept of the “biological quality” of the protein, to name the best sources of protein. Those with the highest biological quality (complete amino gram) and bioavailability (greater use and use) are those of animal origin.
Eggs and dairy products are at the top of the list because they include a form of protein that is easier to digest.
Next, we have meat and fish. Cooking these foods makes digestibility greater.
Regarding proteins of vegetable origin, it is true that some of them do not have such a complete amino gram and bioavailability is lower, however, they are still an excellent way to ingest protein. In addition, with a well-structured diet, the daily requirements can be perfectly achieved. Let’s see the most interesting:
Legumes: peas, chickpeas, beans, lentils, soybeans… The latter is the one with the most complete amino gram and provides us with around 13 g of protein per 100 g of edible portion.
Seeds and nuts: almonds, hemp, pistachios… They are also a source of fat, so it is important to take this into account when structuring the diet. They are an ideal option to dress salads, as a topping in vegetable creams, or to add to yogurt.
Cereals: they are a source of carbohydrates and also contain proteins, with an amino acid profile that complements that of legumes. Pseudo cereals such as quinoa, provide us with around 14 g of protein per 100 g of edible portion.
At this point, it is worth highlighting the evolution of the food industry. This provides us with good quality processed foods, which contribute to increasing dietary diversity and make it easier for us to reach the daily protein requirement:
Protein shakes: Today they exist for all types of populations and from multiple sources of high biological quality: egg, dairy, plant-based, meat protein, etc. This is a good option for people who find it difficult to meet their daily requirements, either because of their lifestyle or their tastes, or simply to give a greater variety to their diet.
Processed vegetables from legumes or cereals: tofu, tempeh, seitan, heura. All of them are valid for the population that bases its diet on vegetables.
Vegetable processes from fungal fermentation: mycoprotein. This option is very interesting since it provides a high amount of protein and a low amount of carbohydrates and fats.
One reason why parents don’t believe their children are receiving enough protein is that they are unaware of how many different foods contain it. Several varieties of foods other than red meat are high in protein, which means your kids are likely getting more protein in their diet than you think. Here are the richest food sources of protein:
- Lean meats such as beef, chicken, turkey, and lamb
- Fish such as tuna, salmon, cod, sardines, mackerel, and mussels
- Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas, edamame, and soybeans
- Tofu and tempeh (derived from soy)
- Low-fat dairy products like grits and Greek yogurt
How to distribute proteins throughout the day
The idea is to distribute protein intake linearly throughout the day, depending on the number of meals that are made. Let’s give the example of a person who eats five meals a day, distributed in this way:
– Three main meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
– Two snacks or snacks, mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
In this case, a greater amount of protein could be concentrated in the main meals and the other small proportion remaining in the “snacks”. However, it is important to highlight that there is no fixed rule to carry out this distribution. It is fully customizable and should be adapted to the preferences and lifestyle of the person in question. The most important factor to consider is whether each person’s daily caloric intake is sufficient for his or her needs. This will be the fundamental aspect to achieve the goal, whether you want to increase muscle mass or promote good health.
There are several protein-rich foods that may be lesser known, but still highly nutritious and delicious. Here are a few examples:
Quinoa: This gluten-free grain contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source. It’s also high in fiber, magnesium, and iron.
Seitan: Also known as “wheat meat,” seitan is made from wheat gluten and has a chewy texture similar to meat. It’s high in protein and low in fat, making it a popular choice among vegetarians and vegans.
Tempeh: This fermented soy product is a good source of protein, fiber, and probiotics. It’s often used as a meat substitute in vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Hemp seeds: These seeds are a complete protein source, containing all nine essential amino acids. They’re also high in healthy fats, fiber, and minerals like magnesium and zinc.
Incorporating these lesser-known protein-rich foods into your diet can provide a variety of health benefits and add delicious flavors and textures to your meals.
In conclusion, incorporating healthy protein foods into our diets is crucial for maintaining a healthy body and mind. Proteins are essential nutrients that play a vital role in building and repairing tissues, regulating bodily functions, and supporting immune function.
There are a variety of healthy protein food options to choose from, including lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, and dairy products. It’s important to opt for lean sources of protein to minimize the intake of saturated fat and avoid processed meat products that can increase the risk of various health issues.
A balanced and healthy diet should contain a sufficient amount of protein to meet the body’s needs. The recommended daily intake of protein varies depending on factors such as age, gender, and physical activity levels. However, most adults require at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
Overall, incorporating healthy protein foods into our diets can provide numerous health benefits and contribute to a healthy and active lifestyle.