Whether you’re looking to slim down, tone up or build longer, leaner muscles, we all know that adding more protein to the diet is one of the keys for a healthy and happy body.
Yet, before you knock back a protein shake after a gruelling workout, have you ever stopped to wonder why? After all, why is protein so important to the body, and do we even need to consume protein powders anyway?
Here is our ultimate guide to protein, helping you to understand its function in the body, why we need it, and how much we actually need.
What is Protein?
When it comes to knowing what makes our bodies healthier, understanding what we are putting into it – and why – is always important.
Put simply, proteins are molecules made up of a chain of amino acids, which are linked together by peptide bonds. While it may sound scientific, our bodies need each one of these amino acids to thrive – they all support different functions within the body.
Of course, protein isn’t just found in the body! Along with carbs and fat, it’s also a “macronutrient,” meaning that it’s found within the food within our plates, and we need to eat plenty of it for optimum health.
Why Do We Need Protein?
Our bodies need protein to survive! We use it for all kinds of things, but most importantly we need protein to grow and repair, as well as for building and maintaining the cells in the body.
As a result, protein is part of the make-up of every cell in the body. For example, our hair and nails are mostly protein, while our bodies also need plenty of protein to create hormones and enzymes. It also forms the building block of bones, muscles, skin, cartilage and even blood.
How Much Protein Do We Need?
When it comes to our bodies, there’s no one size fits all – it really comes down to each individual.
However, most nutritionists and researchers can agree that we should aim to eat 1 – 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight, although we need more if we are active or very active. This means that a 70kg person (11 stone) should eat around 70 – 140g of protein each day for optimum health.
On the flipside, if you eat less than 0.8g per kilogram of protein (that’s 56g of protein for our 11 stone adult), then we are at risk of protein deficiency. This can affect our body in all sorts of ways, including issues with brain and muscle development.
Where Can I Find Protein?
Happily, it’s easy to enjoy the right amount of protein because it’s found in all kinds of foods! Common sources include meat, fish, milk and eggs, while vegetarians and vegans can find plenty of protein in pulses and legumes, nuts and seeds and soya products, such as tofu.
Many fitness enthusiasts also consume protein powders to boost their daily intake. Our Protein Smoothies come in three different delicious flavours and contain vegan-friendly pea protein, with an almighty 21 grams of protein per drink.
However, it’s not just consuming enough protein that we need to worry about – we also need to focus on eating each of the amino acids found within.
All proteins within our bodies contain varying combinations of 21 different amino acids. These amino acids all have a crucial role to play, affecting not just growth, but also the body’s development and repair.
Of these 21 amino acids, nine are classed as essential, meaning they cannot be produced by the human body. In other words, we need to enjoy them in our diets!
These nine essential amino acids can be split down even further. There are three called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) which play the most important role in the body by helping to create and repair muscle, break down foods into energy and forming the building blocks of DNA and protein. These BCAAs include Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine.
What Do I Need From a Protein Powder or Shake?
With hundreds of protein powders on the shelves and even lining our supermarket aisles, things can get a little bit confusing.
Where do we even begin when it comes to choosing a protein powder? Are they all created equal, and are they good for us?
Whether you’re looking to lose weight, build muscle or fuel your workouts, here are some of our crucial pointers to help you choose the perfect protein shake that’s right for you:
• Amount of Protein
It may seem obvious, but it’s always worth checking how much protein is in a shake – some actually have very little, and are often filled with other ingredients to make up for it. Aim for a protein shake with at least 20 grams of protein per serving (our Protein Smoothies contain 21g of pea protein) to ensure you’re buying a product that’s worth your money, and getting plenty of protein in one sitting.
• Amino Acids
As we mentioned earlier, we need a range of amino acids – particularly the nine essential amino acids (AKA BCAAs) – to help our bodies to thrive. Wherever you can, try to find a protein powder that’s a complete protein, or contains all nine essential amino acids.
Our humble pea protein, the kind of protein found within our Protein Smoothies, is a fantastic source of protein if you’re vegan, vegetarian or want to avoid the usual bulked-up whey proteins. It’s perfect either for pre-workout rocket fuel, or to use for post-workout muscle recovery, since it has a complete array of amino acids, including those crucial BCAAs.
In fact, pea protein has a similar amino acid profile to whey, without any of the side effects, such as bloating or cramping.
• The Type of Protein
Proteins work differently on different bodies. As well as having different amino acid profiles, our bodies may also react differently with them. Many people are intolerant to lactose or choose to not eat dairy, meaning what whey or casein is a no-go option.
Pea protein is a great dairy-free alternative for protein powders and is easy to digest since it contains no lactose or gluten. It can also keep us fuller for longer because it forms a greater numberof peptides within the body. This means it stays in our tummies for longer, lowering ghrelin levels (AKA the hunger hormone), and sustaining satiety for hours on end. As a result, pea protein is fantastic for weight loss, or for busy lifestyles.
Other dairy-free proteins to try include brown rice protein and pumpkin seed protein.
• Added Ingredients
Unfortunately, many protein powders masking as “healthy” contain all sorts of added nasties, which can cause bloating, discomfort or chaos within the body.
Wherever possible, always read the label and try to understand what it is you’re buying – and try to avoid artificial sweeteners like the plague!
We worked incredibly hard to develop our Protein Smoothies, ensuring that the ingredients are as pure and as natural as they are good for you. We believe in keeping protein powders simple and sugar-free.
As a result, our smoothies contain:
• 21 grams of organic pea protein
• Added fibre for fullness
• Inulin probiotics for digestive health
• Good fats to promote healthy metabolism
• Green tea antioxidants
They are also sugar-free and naturally sweetened with a touch of stevia, which is low in calories, as well as low-carbohydrate. Because stevia has a negligible effect on blood glucose, it is an ideal natural sweetener for people on carbohydrate-controlled diets.
Other ingredients found in our Protein Smoothies include Glucomannan, a bulk–forming agent which prevents blood sugar spikes by delaying stomach emptying, inulin (a soluble fibre) to increase calcium absorption while promoting the growth of ‘good’ bacteria, and antioxidant-rich Green Tea, which also boosts metabolism and fat burning.
• Taste and Texture
Of course, no one wants to drink a protein shake that tastes hideous, no matter how good it is for you! Always try to source a protein powder that tastes delicious and which you enjoy drinking.
Our Protein Smoothies come in three flavours (strawberry, banana and chocolate) and taste delicious on their own or as a base for your favourite smoothie and treats.