What is Protein? BCAAs? Collegen Supplements?

I think protein is like the favorite child. No diet is ever telling you to avoid protein. I mean have you ever heard of a “low protein” diet? I haven’t! I think everyone can generally agree that everyone needs protein, but there still is confusion about how much you should be eating and why is it added to everything??? To complete my introduction to nutrition- Illa edition…. I bring you PROTEIN!



What is Protein?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients (explanations of the others are in my previous blog posts). Protein is made of amino acids. These amino acids are made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and/or sulfur. Protein takes more energy to break down, so it keeps you fuller longer than both fat and carbohydrates.  


What does it do for your body? 

Protein has soooo many roles in the body. It transports oxygen throughout the body, builds antibodies which boosts immune function, builds muscle, skin, hair, blood, organs and hormones. Your body does not store protein, so you need to have a constant intake to keep these processes going. 



How much do you actually need?

Here’s where things start to get a little more complicated. Nutrition professionals argue about the correct amount, and of course various fitness trainers also have their own opinions. When this happens, we want to look at science. The original guidelines suggest that we need 0.36g for every pound of body weight. So if you weigh 130lbs, you would need 47g. You can also think of it as trying 10-35% of your calories come from protein. Once you turn 40 years old, your muscles start breaking down so you should aim for 0.45-0.68g/lb of body weight at that time. 



If you are at a high level of exercise then you may need 0.54-0.9g/lb of body weight, but defining what that “high level” really means is difficult. Ideally, the upper end of that range would be for Olympic athletes and the lower end would be for a routine jogger. Everyone else falls in the middle.  


Our bodies absorb protein better when it receives it every couple of hours, instead of a bunch of protein all at once. Try to divide your total protein between 3-4 meals per day by having a serving of protein at every meal. You also don’t need to have protein supplements (bars, shakes, etc) if you’re eating a serving of protein at every meal. Reserve those for if you are unable to eat a protein source with meals.  


What are sources of protein? 

You can get protein from animal and non-animal sources. Animal sources have much more protein per gram, but you can still reach your protein goals with vegetarian and vegan options.  

- 3oz of top round steak- 23 g

- 3 oz lean ground beef- 18g

- 3oz skinless chicken breast- 24g

- 8oz Greek yogurt- 23g

- ½ c cottage cheese- 14g

- 1 egg-6 g

- ⅔ c black beans- 10grams

- ⅔ c edamame- 10 grams

- 1 ¼ c peas- 10 grams

- 2 oz seitan- 10 grams

- 3 oz tofu- 10 grams



 Complete Vs Incomplete?

You do not have to eat all 20 of the different amino acids all at once. Eating a balanced diet will provide you with all of the essential ones (which means your body cannot make them) and your body will assemble what it needs from what you give it. “Complete” proteins contain all 9 of the essential amino acids at once. These are eggs, animal protein, dairy, chia seeds, soy, and quinoa. But again, you don’t need to worry about complementary or pairing foods together as long as you’re eating a variety of all food groups.


Should I be drinking BCAAs with my workouts?

...No. Well at least that’s my opinion. BCAAs are branched-chain amino acids. They are the only amino acids with “branches.” Leucein, isoleucine, and valine. Your body cannot make these, but you can get them from food. These are special because they are broken down in the muscle instead of the liver. Many claim they can help reduce fatigue while working out, regulate blood sugar levels, and reduce muscle soreness. However, there really isn’t enough scientific evidence to support this. There is no evidence that BCAA supplements are better than just receiving them from your regular diet. If you’re eating enough protein, you don’t really need to supplement with extra BCAA’s.


What’s all this I hear about Collagen?

Collegen is the most abundant protein in your body! It is found in bones, muscles, skin, and tendons. It holds all that stuff together. And the best part? Your body actually makes it own its own! So you don’t really need to take the so-popular supplements. Collagen cannot be absorbed through the skin (like many lotions claim). It can be effectively used as skin fillers through injection. Your body can use it through oral supplements, but you can also eat it through animal protein sources. There are nutrients that you can eat to help the body make its own collage: proline, vitamin C, copper, and vitamin A. More scientific evidence is needed to support the use of actually using an oral collagen supplement...so just eat your protein.