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Nutrition

What Is a High-Quality Protein?

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Nutrition, Protein

Reading Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

What does your diet consist of and are you getting the most out of your workouts? The protein you consume in your diet influences the amount of muscle growth and repair that can occur after a workout.

Consuming just any type of protein is better than none at all. But to achieve optimal results you must consider choosing high-quality protein sources. Protein can be consumed through many different forms including, animal food, soy protein, protein powder, dairy and more.

Let’s look into what makes a good quality protein and what foods are best to consume.

What is Protein?

Protein is made up of branch chain amino acids. These are the building blocks of your muscles. They are responsible for strengthening muscle tissue when you consistently perform strength training. They are simply smaller units of protein that make up a complete protein.

Protein increases energy levels, improves mood, and supports brain function. An amino acid called tyrosine is actually responsible for triggering the production of feel good chemicals in the brain. Some of these chemicals or hormones are norepinephrine and dopamine.

You might be wondering if you need to supplement with BCAAs. Check out this article on the ISSA blog to see if adding BCAA supplements is beneficial for you.

Protein is most known for building and maintaining lean muscle mass. It is also responsible for repairing tissues and cells that experience damage from exercise. But it does more than just that. It can even improve cognitive function and possibly help reduce the risk of depression in clients.

How Do You Tell If A Protein Source Is of Low or High Quality?

You most likely heard of the term “essential amino acid” before. Well there are nine essential amino acids that make up a complete protein. These amino acids are not produced naturally by the body. This means they must be consumed through the food we eat.

They are essential because we need them to build proteins in the body and help regulate hormonal function. There are other characteristics that determine if a protein is of high quality. These include the amino acid composition, biological value, and digestible value.

Amino Acid Composition

The first question to ask yourself is, what’s really inside the protein you consume each day? Essential amino acid profiles vary based on the protein source you consume. The body cannot produce essential amino acids:

  1. Leucine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Valine
  4. Threonin
  5. Methionin
  6. Histidine
  7. Phenylalanine
  8. Tryptophan
  9. Lysine

A good amino acid composition contains all nine of these essential amino acids.

Biological Value

The biological value refers to the quality of protein. In more detailed terms, it is how fast the protein can be used in the body. Protein synthesis benefits most from this because it allows cells to make proteins more efficiently. 

Digestible Value

Can your body break down the protein you consume? And how efficiently can your body digest it? High quality protein is digested quickly and then readily available. Protein is digested mainly in the stomach and small intestine. This is where amino acids are created and then absorbed into the blood. The blood then transports them to working muscles.

If they are not needed to be used at that time they can be held for a short period of time. The body can then combine other amino acids together to support other bodily functions.

Protein digestibility scores are usually measured out of 100%. If a digestibility score is 80%, then for every 10 grams of protein you consume the body will only absorb 8 grams.

High-Quality Protein Foods

Protein sources like meat, dairy, eggs, and fish are high-quality and complete proteins. Which means they have a high digestible value. Plant protein sources on the other hand have a different amino acid profile from that of animal protein. 

They contain much less of the essential amino acids, especially leucine. This is one of the most important amino acids for muscle protein synthesis. Soy protein is one of the only plant protein sources that contains all essential amino acids. However, soy is not always highly recommended because it is estrogen based. 

Many other plant proteins require you to combine different foods to make a complete protein. Combining a legume and grain food will make a complete protein. An example of this is beans and rice.

It can be much more difficult to prepare a high protein diet without including meat-based foods Here are some plant-based protein options to provide clients if necessary.

High quality protein foods include the following:

  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Turkey
  • Milk
  • Quinoa
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Lean beef or red meat
  • Protein powders

Protein Powder

When choosing protein powders there are two main types. Whey and casein are popular protein powder options. The protein quality is dependent on the amino acid profile and process that the protein undergoes.

Whey protein is fast digesting and casein is slow digesting. Therefore, casein is most beneficial when used at night. This is because of its slow digesting properties. Whereas whey is an effective supplement to use immediately after a workout. 

Often times using a protein supplement is extremely useful. But you’ll want to try and consume protein through foods for the best results. Protein supplements alone do not help you reach your goals. Though they can help you attain protein requirements when trying to eat a high protein diet. 

The Importance of Protein

Incorporating the right types and amounts of protein in your diet will not only optimize muscle growth and repair. It will help maintain immune system function, reduce the risk for many diseases and help improve energy levels.

The effects of protein on producing enzymes, hormones, and chemicals in the body is a benefit that clients don’t want to miss out on. Bones, muscles, skin and even blood benefit from protein. The nutrient provides structure, maintains pH levels, and regulates hydration levels.

High protein diets make you feel and look good. Protein encourages healthy skin, nails and hair along with low body fat levels. Isn’t this what all clients want? Unfortunately, most do not consume enough protein in their diet and need your help.

Start by teaching clients to aim for 30% of the calories they consume each day to come from protein. Or 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Clients who are not used to consuming high amounts of protein should start with lower amounts and gradually build up.

Before clients begin increasing their protein intake share some of these protein myths with them.

Do you want to help clients even more with their nutrition? Maximize client results by learning how to design effective nutrition programs. The ISSA’s Nutrition course prepares you to provide more services to clientele and sets you apart from the competition.

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