A Beginner’s Guide to Protein

What is protein?

A protein is a large molecule consisting of amino acids which our bodies need to function in everyday life. Without proteins, our body’s structure, functions, cells, tissues and organs cannot survive.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and there are 20 of them in total, including: Alanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Aspartic Acid, Cysteine, Glutamic Acid, Glutamine, Glycine – Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Proline, Serine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Tyrosine, and Valine.

Why should I take it?

Protein plays an important role in almost every biological process of the human body but is especially important during the process of building, strengthening and repairing muscle fibres and tissues, often damaged as a result of training or exercise.

Protein is used by the body when muscle cells are grown and repaired and is integral to muscle maintenance. Consumption of protein, whether from whole food or from a protein shake, can help you recover more efficiently from training, kick starting the process of protein synthesis.

Muscles grow by repairing small micro-tears that occur on a cellular level during exercise. As micro-tears occur, blood flow to the area increases, promoting the delivery of muscle building nutrients, and thus supporting protein synthesis.

But it’s not all about muscles; protein is a great way of providing your body with healthy nutrition too. It is low in fat, carbohydrates, lactose and cholesterol, and helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer, reducing cravings for sugary foods. Because of this, protein is popular amongst people trying to lose a bit of weight.

Strawberry protein shake

What is the most popular protein?

There are several different types of protein, but the most popular is Whey Protein. Whey Protein is a food product, naturally occurring in milk; around 20% of milk’s protein content is whey (with the remainder being casein). Whey protein is popular for a number of reasons:

Amino Acid Profile: Whey Protein has an excellent amino acid profile; it is particularly high in Essential Amino Acids (EAA). Three of the amino acids that make up EAA are Branched Chain Amino Acids. Whey Protein is an excellent source of BCAA, particularly Leucine. There is an increasing amount of literature available which demonstrates that Leucine, in particular, is important for stimulating protein synthesis.

Digestibility: While most protein sources can take a long time to digest, Whey Protein is digested and absorbed by the muscles very quickly. Whey Protein can provide the muscles with amino acids around 30 minutes after ingestion. This compares favourably to milk, which clots in the stomach and can take up to 4 hours to fully digest. If you’ve had an intense training session, Whey Protein is ideal for recovery.

Biological Value (BV): While this isn’t a term that is used that frequently anymore, you may see it come up from time to time. A crude explanation of BV is it measures the amount of useable protein from a protein source. For example, if you ingest 10g of protein, how much of that 10g gets to the muscles. Whey Protein has a higher BV than egg, milk, chicken and beef.

Protein shake

What are the different types of whey protein?

The two main types of Whey Protein are Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) and Whey Protein Isolate (WPI). Typically, WPC has a protein content varying from 30 – 80%. A good quality WPC will have a 75-80 % protein content (75-80g protein per 100g). WPI tends to be circa 90% protein and there are some extremely high quality WPI products with 97% protein.

Due to the higher protein content of WPI, it will be lower in carbohydrate and fat (typically <2g per 100g. WPI will also be lower in cholesterol than WPC (neither is high though: circa 0.01g Vs 0.2g/100g).

If you desire the highest quality Whey Protein, WPI would be preferable. If you want the benefits of Whey Protein in the most cost effective way, then WPC would be your choice.

For a full blog on the difference between whey protein and whey isolate, see our blog on the topic.

What is casein and how is it different to whey protein?

Like Whey, Casein is derived from dairy; cow’s milk contains 80% Casein and 20% Whey. Unlike Whey however, Casein is a very slow-releasing protein offering a long and sustained amino acid delivery to the muscles for up to 7 hours.  For this reason Casein Protein is an ideal pre-bedtime shake option, or for anyone not able to get a supply of protein for an extended period of time.

When should I have protein?

There is no absolute optimum time to consume protein but post workout is generally considered the most beneficial time to supplement, as this is the time when your muscles require protein the most to support recovery. Casein protein, due to its slower digestion, is a great source to consume before bed, or if you need a prolonged release of protein throughout the day. From a general health and weight loss perspective, having protein in the morning can help to reduce food cravings by promoting satiety, assisting general weight management goals.

How much should I be taking per day?

For active individuals, protein has additional relevance due to its role in muscle growth and repair. The suggested daily intake for active individuals is 1.5-2g per kg of bodyweight. This amount will vary depending on your individual training volume and intensity and will increase/decrease accordingly. For exact requirements, speak to a qualified nutritionist or coach who will be able to advise you on your nutritional needs.

Did you enjoy this article?

Thank you for your feedback

Related Products