Protein – More than just muscles
When we think about protein most of us tend to think about two things: meat and muscles.
This in and of itself is not really wrong. At the end of the day we all need protein to build muscle – and from an early age, we are taught that protein comes from sources such as meat and eggs.
Putting that aside for a moment. It’s important to recognize how important proteins are as an energy source. Whether it be in enabling vital bodily functions or building up our cells, proteins are everywhere in our body and it’s important that we know how they work.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is protein?
Just like fats and carbohydrates, proteins are macromolecules and are therefore primarily responsible for the production of energy.
Proteins themselves are made up of a set of short-chain compounds called amino acids. These come in two different types: essential and nonessential.
Essential amino acids can not be produced by the body itself, and therefore must be consumed in the form of food. While non-essential amino acids can be produced by the body – or at least in part – and as such it is not necessary to add them to your diet.
Amino acids consist mainly of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. They help the body with molecular processes and act as catalysts in the body, meaning that they accelerate vital processes in the body.
What do proteins do?
Proteins are about so much more than just building muscle. They’re actually responsible for a wide range of activities in our body. For example, it’s just the structural proteins that are responsible for building our tissue, be it our skin, our organs, or our hair.
Enzymes, the catalysts which enable or prevent chemical reactions in your body, are also proteins. What’s more, proteins can also act as hormones in the body and regulate our physiology and behaviour.
So, we’ve established that protein is about a little bit more than just muscle. In fact, without protein in our diet, we would really suffer. However, protein deficiency – even in vegans – is such a rare illness that it borders on the mythical.
That’s because proteins are abundant in so many different foodstuffs.
Which foods contain many proteins?
Your RDA of protein is about 0.8g per kilogram of body weight. For women this averages out at around 46g, while for men the number is a little higher at 56g.
The traditional sources of protein that we’re all familiar with are Animal products such as eggs, cheese, pork, turkey, and tuna.
However, many plant-based foods are remarkably rich in protein: tofu, nuts (such as almonds, Brazil nuts, peanuts), legumes (such as red lentils, chickpeas), oatmeal and also vegetables such as broccoli or spinach.
For example, a quick bowl of porridge with a nice sprinkling of fruits and nuts can be a perfect protein-packed breakfast.
Vegetable vs. Animal Protein
The bottom line here is that it simply does not matter which type of protein you choose – since they are all made up of exactly the same amino acids. The only important thing is that you eat them.
It is, therefore, no problem to replace animal protein with vegetable protein. Vegetable protein sources such as lentils, chia seeds, nuts, and more are the perfect alternative to animal proteins such as chicken or beef. In fact – even in such a meat-heavy culture as Germany – the DGE (German Nutrition Society) recommends eating no more than 300-600g of meat per week. In addition, many animal products, like sausage or bacon, have high amounts of fat and salt, which can have a negative effect on the body when frequently consumed.
When we’re talking about protein there is, however, a secondary concern and this is something called the biological value. Biological value is a kind of percentage score that lets us know how well the proteins in a certain food can be metabolized in the body.
For example, a hen’s egg has a biological value of 100% – it is the cream of the crop – with all nine of the essential amino acids and all nine of the non-essential amino acids too. So it is generally taken as a guideline for comparison.
There are also many vegetable protein sources with a relatively high biological value. Oatmeal proteins have a biological value of 60%, rye 83% and chia seeds even 115%.
|Food Source||Protein Content
|Biological Value||Fat Content
|Chicken||6 g||100 %||5,5 g||0,3 g|
|Beef||21 g||92 %||5 g||0|
|Tuna||21 g||92 %||15 g||0|
|Soy Beans||35 g||85 %||18 g||6 g|
|Rice||7 g||80 %||2 g||74 g|
|Oats||11 g||50 %||1 g||71 g|
Like we mentioned before – protein deficiency isn’t really a problem. That is unless you’re really into your sport and want to build more muscle mass. In that case, many people choose to supplement with protein powders in the form of a shake. Obviously, at this point, we should throw in a plug for our own advanced formula vegan protein powder. One shake after exercising and you’ll be eating 22g of protein per serving.