What Is the Best Source of Protein?
When it comes to nutrition, protein is one of the most debated topics in the worlds of health, wellbeing and fitness. Whatever your diet or lifestyle, protein is an essential nutrient and getting enough is super important. But what’s the difference between different sources of protein? And which is ultimately the best for us?
What’s the Deal with Protein Anyway?
Protein is a macronutrient, which means that we need it in large quantities (as opposed to micronutrients which are needed but in smaller amounts).
It is absolutely essential and is continuously used in the human body for repair and maintenance, synthesising hormones, creating antibodies, providing a source of energy, catalysing enzymatic reactions and much more!
Dietary protein is also used to repair and rebuild muscle fibres post-exercise, so it’s a crucial nutrient for fitness. Protein helps to provide energy, prevent injury and supercharge your recovery after every workout – so you can come back fitter and stronger every time.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
Protein requirements are calculated using a person’s weight and activity level. For most of us, we need between 0.8-1.2g protein per kg bodyweight per day. For fitness freaks and endurance athletes this requirement can increase to as much as 2.2g per kg/day.
Getting enough protein is super achievable with a normal balanced diet, but athletes and gym junkies may choose to supplement their diet with a protein powder or supplement to top up their intake conveniently and reliably.
What is the Ultimate Best Source of Protein?
Foods high in protein include meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and more; so, which is best for us? Here’s a few things to consider when it comes to choosing the ultimate source of protein.
Protein and Amino Acids
Deciding which is the best food source of protein essentially comes down to amino acid composition. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are also what dietary protein is broken down into, before being recycled to synthesise new proteins needed in the body.
Essential Amino Acids
There are 20 different kinds of amino acids and 9 of these are essential, which means we can’t make them in the body so must get them from diet or supplements. Different foods provide different amino acids in different amounts.
Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins
Foods which contain all the essential amino acids in one handy package are said to provide a ‘complete’ source of protein. What constitutes as a ‘complete’ protein is heavily debated, but it’s the general consensus that meat, fish, dairy and eggs all provide a complete source of protein as they naturally contain all of the essential amino acids, as well as a mixture of some of none-essential amino acids too.
Animal vs. Plant Protein
So, meat, fish, dairy and eggs are all great sources of complete proteins – but where does that leave veggies, vegans and flexis? Can you get a complete protein from a plant-based food?
The good news is that whilst it’s harder to come by a complete source of protein in an animal-free package, plant-based foods do still provide amino acids. The trick to getting all the essential amino acids from a meat-free diet is combine your veggie sources of protein.
So, instead of just having one source of protein with each meal, it’s better to have two different sources of veggie protein e.g. beans and lentils. That way, you’re getting different amino acids from each food which then combine to create a pseudo ‘complete’ protein when digested together.
Quality vs. Quantity
An important difference between animal and plant-based proteins is the amount of protein they contain. This is an interesting point when it comes to comparing ‘complete’ plant-based foods such as quinoa and chia seeds with complete animal-based foods.
In general, you get a lot more protein per g with animal-based foods and so whilst you can get all the amino acids you need from something like chia seeds, they will be present in a much lower amounts. So, you need to eat a lot more of a plant-based food compared to animal-based to meet your daily amino acid requirements.
A final important factor when it comes to looking at the protein quality of foods is bioavailability – which just means how well a nutrient is absorbed. Nutrients with higher bioavailability are better absorbed and utilised in the body. In other words, you get more bang for your buck!
Studies have shown that the amino acids in animal foods are more bioavailable than those found in plants, another feather in the cap for animal protein over plant protein.
Wherever you get your protein from, the most important thing is to get enough protein, and this is easily achievable whatever your diet and lifestyle.
The science says that animal foods have a higher total amount of protein, which is more bioavailable to the human body. In other words, it’s easier, more convenient and more reliable to meet your protein requirements with animal foods. However, it’s entirely possible to get all the protein you need from a plant-based diet – it just takes a bit more planning and imagination!
Prime Salami Snack Bars
Snacks make up around 30% of our daily energy intake, so snacking on foods which contain a source of protein is super important to help meet your requirements. Prime Salami Snack Bars provide premium animal-based protein in a convenient and damn right delicious portable snack. Chomping on a salami stick is a great way to stay energised, satisfied and topped up on protein between meals!