Protein Breakdown: Different Sources of Protein Explained

Protein plays a major role in our bodies. It provides the structure of our muscles, bone, skin, and tissues, as well as the power to fuel the chemical reactions in our bodies. It’s no secret that protein is important, but for some people it’s unclear which sources they should get their protein from, and whether or not all sources are created equal.

Whole Food:
Dairy-based proteins have been studied the most in the recovery and performance area, but quality non-dairy protein sources from egg, beef, pork, soy, pea, and hemp have also been researched. Research shows that quality whole-food sources of protein can meet baseline protein needs, as well as performance and recovery needs.

Protein Powders:
Although whole foods can supply sufficient protein, many individuals often look to protein powders and amino acid supplements to combine with whole foods because of their convenience and not being able to eat enough solid protein before or after training.

Whey Protein Powder is considered a complete protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids and it’s recognized for its high rate of absorption.

Whey protein powders are available in concentrate and isolate formulas, although there is considerable confusion between the two. To obtain whey from whole milk it needs to be separated from the fat, lactose, and other components of the milk.

  • Whey protein concentrate is a filtered version of whey that, depending on the exact process, generally is in the range of 70-85% whey protein; for example, 100 grams of whey concentrate powder yields 70-85 grams of useable whey.
  • Whey protein isolate, which involves a more complex and expensive process to obtain it, generally ends up in the range of 90-95% whey protein; for example, 100 grams of whey protein isolate powder yields 90-95 grams of useable whey.

Protein can be measured by its bioavailability; that is, the ability of the body to absorb and use it. For example, the bioavailability of an egg white as a whole food is 100. The bioavailability of whey protein concentrate measures 104; whereas, the bioavailability of whey protein isolate measures as high as 159.

Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) is another measure of protein quality. PDCAAS accounts for the body’s amino acid needs as well as its ability to use the protein. Whey protein receives a perfect 1.0 PDCAAS rating and does not differentiate between the concentrate and isolate forms.

Vegan Protein sources are non-dairy alternative proteins for those individuals who are lactose intolerant or who choose to avoid animal products. Its formulated to provide an amino acid composition similar to whey protein isolate. Pea protein compares favorably to whey protein when compared according to muscle thickness. Pea protein has a PDCAAS score of 92.8, which puts it in the range of whey protein.

Amino Acids:
When it comes to recovery needs, the science community has focused on the amino acid leucine. Leucine is part of a subset of amino acids called branched chain amino acids. It’s the key protein trigger that stops muscle breakdown during training and switches to recovery after training. Some individuals choose to take amino acids to directly stimulate this recovery process, especially those who have gut sensitivity issues post-workout, or those who are calorie conscious. It should be noted, however, that while amino acids are adequate to trigger the recovery pathway, complete proteins should be included throughout the day.

Although protein comes in many forms, the source that is right for an individual can vary from day to day. Often times a mix of protein sources will help meet individual needs. On the one hand, whole food sources of protein contain other valuable nutrients and are part of a well-balanced nutrition plan. On the other hand, whey protein sources are more convenient to consume and faster to digest than whole food sources. Finally, when recovery is the target, amino acids offer an even faster delivery system to the muscles and are low in calories for those with body composition goals in mind.

Vitamin zZz: How Sleep Impacts Health and Performance

With more than 40 percent of Americans getting less than the ideal amount of sleep, it’s easy to understand why sleep is such a hot topic among doctors and sports scientists. Lack of sleep has been shown to cause health problems such as weight gain, increased stroke risk, and other illnesses, in addition to research showing that sleep quality can have a significant impact on active performance.

Professional athletes such as LeBron James, Roger Federer, and Usain Bolt are on record as saying they need to sleep 10-12 hours a night to perform at their highest level. Two-thirds of athletes report worse than normal sleep the night before competition, while an evaluation of professional hockey players showed the percentage reporting sleep disturbances doubles in season. Student athletes who sleep less than eight hours a night are two times more likely to suffer an injury within a month.

Sleep deprivation can lead to decreased alertness, reaction time, and memory. Sleep loss can lead to potential decreases in immune system function and a reduction in the release of growth hormone, as well as the hormones leptin and adiponectin – both of which play major roles in fat gain and loss.

Sleep has been shown to directly impact exercise abilities:

  • Well-rested tennis players have a 4.2% increase in hitting accuracy
  • Well-rested swimmers showed a 17% improvement in starting times
  • Well-rested football players dropped 0.1 second off their 40-yard dash time
  • Well-rested basketball players increased free throw and 3-point shooting percentage by 9% each
  • Under-rested athletes lost 20 pounds off their bench press after only 4 days of inadequate sleep
  • Perceived exhaustion increased 18% after only 30 hours of sleep loss
  • Sleep loss led to an 11% increase in time to exhaustion

Fortunately, the foods you eat can play and important role in your ability to sleep.

Protein consumption before bed is linked to improved recovery from exercise and ability to train the next day, while also promoting increases in strength gains and muscle mass. Adding cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, or a small whey protein shake before bed can help your sleep.

Warm Milk has long been believed to help achieve a good night’s sleep; however, many of the early theories have been disproven. Now, however, studies have shown that milk from cow’s milked at night have higher levels of melatonin(link), which helps regulate sleep, as well as vitamin D, and vitamin D supplementation has been shown to decrease the time it takes to fall asleep.

Tart Cherries have been shown to promote sleep by helping individuals fall asleep faster and spend less time awake throughout the night.

Kiwifruit consumption in individuals with self-reported sleep disorders improved both total time asleep and the amount of time spent in bed actually sleeping.

Nuts and Seeds are high in the mineral magnesium, and deficiencies in magnesium can lead to insomnia and “restless leg” at night. Magnesium helps maintain normal levels of blood pressure and blood sugar and promotes relaxation, which promotes a better sleep environment.

Lights Out – one study has shown that two hours of exposure to smartphones, tablets, and laptop displays decreases melatonin – which regulates sleep cycles – by more than 20 percent. Use of these devices should be limited before bed, or at a minimum, turned on night mode or dimmed. Supplementing with melatonin should be considered, as well as eating foods naturally containing melatonin such as pineapples, bananas, oranges, oats, and tomatoes.


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Nutrition Strategies Post Injury

Injuries are an unavoidable part of being active. The physical damage caused by training is the same as any other trauma where there is damage, there are nutritional needs that must be met.

The Healing Process
Protein plays a major role in tissue regeneration and repair.* Minor injuries might not require additional protein, but major surgery can increase protein needs by 10 percent. General recommendations for protein are between 0.8 and 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight, but major surgery can push the need up to 2.0 grams per kilogram. For someone weighing around 155 lbs (70 kg) normal protein needs would range from 56-84 grams with a recovery need up to 140 grams of protein.

Those who experience an injury can often meet their additional protein needs through dietary changes. Many people add whey protein isolate or a vegan protein option to help support their diet.*

Managing Inflammation
Inflammation is a necessary part of injury recovery triggered by the body’s need to clear dead and dying cells and to start the process of new cell development.

Research has shown that consuming 2-3 grams of omega 3s daily can positively influence markers of inflammation in the body.* The average person can consume this amount through a diet containing two servings of fish per week combined with increased intake of nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, chia and flax seeds–or through the addition of a fish oil supplement.

Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple, has been shown to promote reduced swelling and bruising after surgery.* Bromelain is recommended in amounts between 150 and 500 milligrams per day. Bromelain is most abundant in the stems, leading many people to add a bromelain supplement to their diet.

Curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, has been used as a medicinal food for thousands of years. Research has shown that supplementation of 500 milligrams twice daily can promote reduced swelling and tenderness.*

Repairing the Damage
Many vitamins and minerals are needed to support repair and recovery;* Vitamins A and C help support a normal inflammatory response and assist in the formation of collagen, which helps provide the structure of tendons, ligaments, and skin.*

Vitamin A is linked with a decrease in immune suppression normally seen after an injury.* Vitamin C deficiency can lead to a decreased stability of tissues and abnormal scar formation.* Zinc plays a role in new DNA creation and the ability of cells to multiply and protein formation.* Zinc deficiency, can limit wound healing.* Recovering athletes might consider a multi-vitamin containing vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc during the initial wound healing phase.

Arginine can increase nitric oxide production, which can improve blood flow to damaged areas, providing important nutrients and promoting removal of dead and damaged cells.*Understanding what is happening in your body after an injury can help ensure that your diet supports a full recovery and help you get back to the gym.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.