Let's talk Protein!
Protein is most commonly known for its relationship with muscle building and training performance. This is not the only role proteins play, proteins are the building blocks for EVERY cell in the human body. If we are not consuming adequate protein we cannot rebuild & repair, provide our bodies with the tools it needs for adequate recovery through times of stress & injury and support sufficient cell cycle functioning.
Let me clarify further how proteins work within the body. When a protein is broken down and digested in the body it becomes an amino acid and these amino acids are further classified as either an essential and non-essential amino acid. An essential amino acid basically means it is essential that we consume this type of amino acid through the foods we eat because our bodies are unable to produce them ourselves. Whereas a non-essential amino acid can be made by the human body. There are 9 essential amino acids that we must consume in our diet and when one particular food provides us with all 9 essential amino acids it is classified as a high quality protein. Not all protein sources have all 9 essential amino acids, they may be missing one or two; and if this is the case, they will be referred to as a lower quality protein.
Animal products such as red meat, eggs and some dairy products are all high quality proteins and that is why you tend to see fitness gurus or body builders who are wanting to increase their muscle hypertrophy embark on a high egg and chicken diet. There is a method to their madness, they are simply supplying their bodies directly with all 9 essential amino acids - also known as a complete protein. Before my fellow vegetarian friends get concerned, there is non-animal products that contain complete proteins - soy.
Lower quality proteins are your plant-based protein sources such as leafy greens, seeds and nuts. When a food source doesn’t have all 9 essential Amino acids; a limiting protein, the body can look internally for the missing amino acids from our protein stores to make a new protein pattern, in turn creating a complete protein. So now you can see why it would be more beneficial to consume a high quality protein aka complete protein through ingestion so it does not need to build the pattern internally. So for those people wanting to build or maintain lean muscles you must be aiming to ingest complete high quality proteins so your body can synthesis protein more efficiently.
Those on a plant-based diet can still receive complete high quality proteins as I mentioned with soy products or through a method known as complimentary proteins. Complimentary proteins is combining plant-based protein sources that contain amino acids that complement each other. By pairing protein sources together you can make a complete protein pattern. A great example of the perfect combination that gives you all 9 essential amino acids in the one meal would be rice and black beans. This would be an ideal complete high quality protein source.
It is very important that vegetarians are aware of complimentary proteins and the structure of protein quality. It is common for vegetarians to be deficient in certain nutrients and a lot of the time they are unaware of this. The body will tell us if there is something wrong, so if you are experiencing hair-loss, slow wound healing, dry skin and/or other skin conditions, brittle nails or slow muscle recovery; don’t always assume that it is normal. I highly recommend seeing a nutritionist, naturopath of your general GP. Our bodies are great at healing themselves but when we start receiving signs and symptoms of deficiencies or malnourishment, this is the bodies way of saying it needs a little bit of help.