Everyone knows you should eat enough proteins. What are proteins? Translated from the ancient Greek word proteios, meaning primary, first or most important. Going from Greek to geek, it means “any of various naturally occurring extremely complex substances that consist of amino-acid residues joined by peptide bonds, contain(ing) the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, usually sulphur, and occasionally other elements (phosphorus or iron), and include many essential biological compounds (enzymes, hormones, or antibodies) »…talk about the most boring definition ever!
If you already read my last articles, you know I like to keep things simple, and if you didn’t what are you waiting for? Seriously, I’ll give you my definition of protein, why they’re not made equal, and where to find them.
Yes proteins are essential, simply put…no protein, no life!No protein, no life! Click To Tweet
The body uses them to build strong muscles (side note, your heart is a muscle, too!), to repair your brain, to produce hormones and enzymes, etc.
But the question is: are proteins all the same? Does protein equal protein? The answer is no! Their composition, length and utility are different from one protein to another. I like to view a protein molecule like a big train. Here goes my imagination again! A train is a train, right? So, you call me because you need a train, should I select the train for you or should I ask why you need a train to begin with? Is it to carry passengers, oil, grain or tanks? Are you shipping five or a hundred tanks? So a train is just a train…until you know why you need it! It’s the same thing with proteins.
Proteins are made of a combination of different types of wagons called amino acids. Some of these are considered essential (the body can’t produce them, you need to eat them) or non-essential (the body can use one amino acid it already has in stock to transform it to another one). There is a third category, the conditionally essential amino acids, meaning the body can create them but can’t produce enough if the need is too high. For example, if you get a burn, although the body can produce glutamine from the other amino acid, known as glutamic acid, you may need extra glutamine from your food to help your body heal.
The amino acids content varies a lot from one protein to another. Let’s compare the following proteins according to the amino acids; glutamic acid, described above and tryptophan that the body uses to make the well-known neurotransmitter serotonin (target of a lot of anti-depression drugs.)
Per 100g of food:
Glutamic acid (mg) Tryptophan(mg)
Spinach: 100 508
Whole egg: 167 1676
Australian lamb: 208 2589
Although, we just evaluated the content of 2 of the 21 amino acids, you can appreciate the huge difference in tryptophan content in spinach vs lamb, as well as, eggs vs lamb. Lamb also has 12x more tryptophan than glutamic acid whereas spinach has 5x more. So, if your body is in great need of tryptophan compared to glutamic acid, would it make sense to prioritize getting a good source of it, or would any protein do? Ok ok I hear you thinking…great to know Chris, but how do I know I need more tryptophan than glutamic acid?
The complex answer would be that levels could be measured in the blood stream. However, knowing that not everyone has access to these types of tests, my answer to what your true needs are, would be…“I don’t know!” I would need to get a lot of background information regarding medical history (illnesses, infections, etc.), type of training, level of stress, and the like. BUT, there is an easy way to get around the issue! Vary your protein sources as often as you can! As beef and chicken are very dense in protein content, there are plenty of different sources! You should rotate your protein sources every day and not come back to the same one for at least three days, but ideally five days. So if you eat chicken on Monday, have alternative sources of protein before Thursday or even Saturday.Vary your protein sources as often as you can! Click To Tweet
Now that you know that protein composition is important, you should look for proteins aligned with your body’s needs. Fish, game meat, seafood, and nuts are great sources of protein. Veggies are low in protein content, and may lack enough of all types of amino acids just from that protein source alone. One example of amino acids missing in veggies is taurine, which is necessary for glucose management, neurotransmitters and, cardiac muscle, found only in animal protein. For the well informed, taurine is made from cysteine, but its level will be low in the blood stream if you eat only veggies as a protein source, especially if your glutathione needs are high.
In conclusion, proteins are very important for your metabolism, but varying the protein source is even more important. The other primary nutrient is fat, which will be covered, in another article. How much protein should you have each day? Well, it depends on your activity level, weight, age, and health. However, a rule of thumb is just make sure you have some portion of protein source in each meal. Protein shouldn’t be taken alone; make sure to always double the quantity of veggies for any portion of protein source.
Written by: Christian Maurice