A common misconception within the endurance community is that carbohydrates are king. Although carbs are an important fuel source, there is a specific time for their consumption. Protein and fat must be accounted for, too.
Protein can be found in a variety of foods, predominately in meats. But what are the best protein sources out there? And what are the unique benefits of these particular foods? This guide will examine some of the best protein sources to consume in order to sustain the physical demand athletes place on their bodies.
The most popular and predominant source of protein comes from various types of meat. However, aside from providing protein, those different types each come with specific benefits. Here's a look at how different types of meat compare:
Carbs are fuel, and best consumed either before or during a training session or race. Protein, on the other hand, is best consumed after exercise, as your body uses it to build and repair tissue, bones, hormones, and even blood.
Although beef is often looked down upon due to its relatively high saturated-fat content, there are numerous benefits to eating beef that should not be overlooked. Beef is a great source of iron, which helps build muscle, and also possesses a natural dosage of creatine, which is another great muscle-building substance. Aside from its muscle-promoting benefits, beef also possesses a strong dosage of vitamins B6 and B12. Among the effects of this nutrient is increased blood circulation, subsequently resulting in cardiovascular benefits.
Like beef, chicken is protein-packed and loaded with Vitamin B. What sets chicken aside however, is its low (saturated) fat and caloric content. Steak helps build muscle mass, whereas chicken helps build lean muscle (and burn fat). This makes chicken a more desirable choice of meat for most athletes who are looking to maintain or lose fat. Chicken’s ability to boost the body’s metabolism makes it a great evening protein source, as the evoked metabolic response will remain active all night while you sleep. Chicken has also been proven to help maintain and restore bone density.
Two primary benefits of fish stand out: It is a lean protein source and is rich in Omega 3 and Omega 6, which are essential fatty acids. Along with its protein and fat benefits, fish helps fight fatigue, diabetes, and depression.
Like chicken, turkey is a great lean-protein source. Some would argue that its cost and inaccessibility (compared to chicken) makes it a little less desirable to purchase. However, the main thing to consider when choosing between the two meats is your blood type.
As a result of evolution over various parts of the world, where particular foods were once accessible or inaccessible, different blood types came to absorb nutrients at various levels. For example, blood type B processes chicken better than turkey, whereas blood type A processes turkey better than chicken. Blood type O has a relatively even absorption rate of the two meets.
Protein from Dairy Products
Though most people (correctly) associate protein with meat, another viable source of protein comes from a source that is usually associated with calcium: Dairy products. Here are a few different dairy products that are also excellent sources of protein.
These are packed with high-quality protein and nutrients. One nutrient that stands out is Choline, which helps fight liver, muscle, and brain damage due to the mineral’s inflammatory-reducing benefits. Studies show that Choline levels are typically too low in most adults, and eggs are one of the healthiest resources for this important mineral.
Talk about a well-balanced food source. Milk contains a balance of protein, carbs, and fat (assuming you’re drinking the recommended 2-percent or higher). Milk protein is also the highest-absorbed protein source available. Additionally, milk contains the natural growth hormone LGH-1, which is great for building muscle. The calcium in milk helps improve bone density and blood health.
Not to be confused with the sugar-filled flavored yogurt that fills the dairy section of the local grocery store, Greek Yogurt contains no added sugar. It is also loaded with milk-based protein. Great to eat as a snack or with some fruit, Greek yogurt can be a calcium-rich alternative to milk or cheese.
One of the best dairy-related products available due of its high-protein-to-low-calorie ratio, cottage cheese is a great protein source before or after physical activity. Surprisingly, a serving of cottage cheese can also be sodium-filled; so be weary of the cottage cheese you are consuming. Sodium-reduced cottage cheese is available and tastes just as good!
Other Sources of Protein
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Quinoa, a type of grain, is an excellent protein source because it contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a “complete protein” source. It's also a whole grain, making it a great carbohydrate source as well. Quinoa’s health benefits include cardiovascular improvements, due to its high level of magnesium, a mineral that helps improve circulation and blood flow.
Along with meat and dairy products, there are plenty of other foods that can provide a healthy dose of protein:
- Whey: Usually found in the form of a powder, whey is a great protein source supplement. Superior to other protein powders, such as soy protein powder, whey offers the best absorption rate, giving you the most bang for your buck. Whey protein is best consumed as a post-workout fuel source so that you can feed your muscles the essential amino acids that they require for recovery.
- Soy beans:There are a variety of health benefits with soy beans. They are high in protein, high in fiber, high in vitamins and minerals, and they have high levels of essential fatty acids. Additionally, soy beans are a great meat-substitute. Soy beans have been proven to have the best protein-to-fiber ratio among all other foods (29g:10g). This is great for anyone looking for a protein source without the saturated fats.
- Nuts: Although they are a better fat source than a protein source, nuts still offer lots of protein-related benefits. Perhaps one of the most unique features of nuts is their versatility; this is evident when considering almond (or peanut) butter and almond flower. For those looking to keep their insulin levels under control, almond flower is a great substitute for regular flower. The monounsaturated fats that are found in nuts help lower cholesterol and even help manage weight loss — despite the common misconception that all fats are bad. Nuts generally have about 8 to 10 grams of protein and 15 grams of fat per serving. This makes them a great multi-nutrient snack.
Protein: The Building Block of Muscle
Protein is said to be the “building block” of muscle due to its amino-acid content. Aside from muscular development, it’s also important to take in a significant amount of protein for other reasons, such as circulation, organ health, muscular response, metabolism control, and inflammation reduction. Remember: Different protein sources have different benefits, so include a variety of protein in your diet!