Protein is essential for the everyday functioning of the human body and is even more important for those that are weight training or engaging in strenuous exercise, it’s a key component in recovery from exercise. A dietary focus on protein is exploding at the minute with entire supermarket sections devoted to high protein foods.
The norm in the fitness industry and for those seen as dedicated bodybuilders is to eat a chicken based meal (chicken, rice and broccoli in a Tupperware box sound familiar?) all day with a whey protein shake thrown in after a workout. Chicken breast is a lean protein source whilst whey protein powder is cheap and easy to consume, both are good options for those looking to build muscle or maintain muscle whilst losing fat which is why they are seen as a staple for those working out.
There are however issues (and missed opportunities) when people stick to the same protein sources religiously.
Protein is only part of the nutrition equation
It’s easy to look at a chicken breast and see it as roughly 25g protein. Anyone following a diet will find it easy to follow if they have the same piece of lean chicken breast or turkey mince with each meal, both are low in fat/carbs and high in protein. The key issue with this approach is that even though you’re getting the required protein target each day, you’re missing other essential vitamins and minerals that the body needs in order to function optimally. Oily fish such as salmon is a lean protein source, however it’s also high in essential fatty acids (not to be mistaken with the general term fat), beef is a source of iron and creatine, liver is another source of iron and essential vitamins. By sticking to the same protein source each day you are missing out on other essential vitamins and nutrients that not only help you to function correctly but will in fact help you to function optimally.
Different Amino Acid profiles
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and different protein sources are made up of different amino acid profiles. To use a simplified example: 1 chicken breast might be made up of 10g type A amino acids and 5g type B amino acids whereas a salmon fillet might be made up of 5g type A amino acids and 10g type B amino acids. This is of course not how amino acids are made up but it helps illustrate the point that by consuming the same type of protein you’re neglecting the body of certain amino acids. A variety of protein sources will lead to a greater intake of all essential amino acids. 1g of protein is not necessarily the same in all foods as shown by the BCAA content table below.
This table for example shows that whilst eggs don’t provide the most protein per serving they have the most complete amino acid (BCAA) profile per gram of protein.
Variety to fuel motivation
Eating the same food every day is not only boring but also difficult to maintain. Having a variety of food (protein) sources available for each meal will mean you are more likely to stick to a given diet, the person that can choose from 5 different protein sources each meal is more likely to follow their plan than the person forced to eat the same meal with no variation. Taste, texture and variety of meals are key factors to consider when trying to stay motivated and dedicated to a diet and that is exactly why you need to be flexible in your approach.
A different stimulus
Much in the same way the body adapts to a workout routine it will also adapt to your diet (not necessarily a bad thing as your body will become more efficient when digesting and utilising the same foods day after day). Doing the same thing over and over again will eventually lead to slow or stalled progress as the body adapts. Cycling your protein sources will see your body getting an ever changing variety of nutrients and minerals as a result, small changes such as this seem insignificant, however they are a great way to ensure progress remains consistent.
Vary your protein powders too!
It’s not just food based protein sources that you can benefit from cycling, varying your protein powder choices can also give you different results. Table 2 below shows a simple illustration of how protein powders can differ.
Everyone digests food differently, even though whey protein is the go to source of protein powders, a great proportion of the world population actually struggle to properly digest lactose due to a lack of the necessary enzymes (hence the common agreement that protein shakes give you gas). Therefore a switch to a plant based protein powder such as hemp may see a noticeable difference in ease of digestion. The table below only shows certain factors, plant based powders for example are suitable for vegans whereas the dairy powders are not. Casein is also a slow releasing protein so is an excellent option to consume before bed. By using a variety of powders you’re maximising potential progress in different areas.
All protein sources have benefits and drawbacks depending on your goals, white fish is good for dieting due to a low fat/carb content whereas steak is good for strength training due to higher calories per gram (200g beef is 500 calories, 200g tuna is 310 calories by contrast). By using a variety of sources you can supply the body with all the essential nutrients and vitamins it needs to grow.
Albert Einstein described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, this can be true when using the same protein sources and expecting different results!
Table 2 – https://www.eidopro.com/protein-powder-guide
About the Author
Simon Byrne is a health and fitness writer covering a range of subjects including training, nutrition and supplementation. Whilst currently a certified nutritionist, he is also studying towards a degree in sports nutrition. Outside of the fitness industry Simon’s career is in venue and events management.