Protein is a vital part of our diet. It delivers valuable nutrients, creates enzymes to keep the body functioning well, and boosts your immune system, among other things. But protein also creates and repairs muscle tissue, making it especially important for those on a bodybuilding regime.
Many bodybuilders opt for one of the many powders available to up their protein intake. However, there are dozens of completely natural sources of protein available that are cheap and easy to work into our diet.
With so many options available for bodybuilders seeking to increase their protein levels and bulk up, it can be difficult for beginners to find the protein source that works for them. Here, we seek to dispel the myths and determine whether bulk powders or natural protein sources are the best for your health.
What is the role of protein in the body?
Proteins are the muscles’ building blocks. They are made up of amino acids which help your cells function, produce hormones and, most importantly, repair your muscles after a long gym session.
Protein is also a macronutrient, so your body needs large quantities in order to function. It occurs naturally in a number of foods. However, many bodybuilders turn to protein powders instead as a means of rapidly increasing their protein intake in a controlled, measured way.
What is the optimum amount of protein?
Ask someone how much protein you need in your diet, and you’ll likely receive a variety of answers. The US Department of Agriculture recommends healthy adult men and women consume 0.8 grams of protein for every 2 lbs of body weight.
Of course, that’s just the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for the average healthy male. As a rule of thumb, men wanting to bulk up should eat 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight.
During the cutting phase of a bodybuilding regime, it is recommended that you increase your protein intake in order to boost metabolism and make up for the calorific shortfall.
Different types of protein powders
There are many different types of protein powders available on the market, although some are more popular than others. Here are some of the most popular that bodybuilders use to build mass.
The most common protein powder used by bodybuilders is whey, a milk protein that occurs during the cheese making process. It’s water soluble, making it perfect for protein shakes.
Whey comes in many forms, but most commonly as either concentrate or isolate. Whey concentrate contains around 70-80% protein and contains higher levels of lactose than isolate.
Whey isolate on the other hand contains higher levels of protein, up to 90%. It also contains less lactose, calories, fat, and carbohydrates than whey concentrate. This makes it an attractive option for bodybuilders seeking to lose weight while increasing mass.
Whey’s popularity lies in its composition. It’s high in protein but low in fat and, as it’s a complete protein, it contains all of the amino acids required for healthy bodily function.
Whey is also rapidly digested in the body. As a result, it’s perfect for quickly repairing your muscles after an intense weights session. Bodybuilders can expect faster, more visible results when drinking whey powder as a shake.
Further to this, whey also enhances your immune system. It contains the amino acid cysteine, which increases levels of glutathione. Glutathione combats bacteria and supports cellular function, keeping us healthy.
However, in its concentrated form, whey also contains lactose. While this isn’t harmful for the general population, those with an intolerance to dairy might struggle to digest whey powder. Even those with a mild sensitivity to dairy might find whey a difficult choice for bodybuilding.
Whey protein can also cause weight gain. The body can only process so much protein in a day, so excessive amounts of whey powder will force your body to store the undigested protein as fat.
Soy protein powder is a popular alternative to whey, and is made from soybeans, a member of the legume family. These are low in fat but high in protein and, when processed into an isolate, contains between 90-95% protein.
Many soy protein powders contain extra nutrients that are added during the production process to make it more nutritious and palatable.
As well as being naturally high in protein, studies show that soy protein can prevent the growth of cancerous cells and tumors. It’s also high in vitamins but low in cholesterol and fat. As a result, you can increase your protein intake without eating more meat.
Soy also contains high levels of fibre. Consequently, those with a sensitive digestive system or using soy protein powder for the first time might struggle to adjust to it. Introduce it slowly into your diet before using it regularly.
Pasteurized soy also has a lower nutritional value than regular soy. While this won’t negatively impact your health per se, it’s worth reading the label before buying to ensure you receive the highest nutritional value.
What are the best foods that contain protein?
Protein occurs naturally throughout our diet, from dairy products to meats and legumes. Here are the foods with high levels of protein that best suit a bodybuilder’s diet.
Eggs are often hailed by nutritionists as a great source of protein. A single large egg contains 6 grams of protein, as well as other minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients. Many bodybuilders opt for only the white of the egg, as this contains only protein.
People often criticize eggs for containing excessively high levels of cholesterol. And while eggs contain more cholesterol than most other foods (373 mg per 100 grams), it has little effect on your cholesterol levels overall.
This is because your liver produces cholesterol on a daily basis. If your diet contains high levels of cholesterol, your liver produces less to allow for it.
But eggs also contain high levels of sodium (124 mg per 100 grams). While not automatically bad for you, eggs should, therefore, be eaten in moderation. Stick to no more than one or two a day as part of a healthy diet.
Dairy is a good source of protein, and milk is a fine example. 1% fat milk contains 3.4 grams of protein per 100 grams. It also contains high levels of calcium too, vital in strengthening your bones during your training regime.
As with whey protein, milk’s main problem is for those suffering from lactose intolerance. Sensitivity to dairy will prevent you from regularly consuming milk as a protein.
Turkey is a staple part of many bodybuilders’ diets, and with good reason. 100 grams of roasted turkey contains 29 grams of protein, as well as vitamins, zinc, and niacin.
And because skinless turkey contains low total and saturated fat, it is an excellent post-workout food that won’t impact your diet.
However, turkey is also high in sodium, containing 103 mg per 100 grams. And prepackaged turkey slices often contain other substances added during the production process. To ensure you get the most nutritional value, buy fresh or frozen turkey instead.
What are the effects of too much protein?
As with everything we eat, too much of something can have a negative impact on our health. Here are just a few of the side effects of a high-protein diet that you should be aware of.
As mentioned earlier, excessive consumption of protein can cause weight gain. The body can only process between 25-35 grams of protein in a day. As a result, the excess protein is turned into fat, while the unused amino acids are excreted from your body.
Many people opt for dietary supplements to mitigate the weight gain effects of a high-protein diet. But be warned: these are not always effective, and there are lots of unlicensed and fake diet pills for sale online which can do more harm than good.
Instead, be mindful of how much protein you eat, especially if you are following a high-calorie diet. Natural weight loss methods such as combining cardio with weights are a much better — and safer — way to lose weight.
Those on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet might also experience severe bad breath. Such a diet puts the body into a metabolic state of ketosis, which causes the body to release chemicals that cause bad breath.
Bad breath as a result of a high-protein diet can be treated with plenty of fluids and brushing your teeth regularly.
Damage to kidneys
Amino acids present in protein contains nitrogen, a chemical that stimulates growth in the body. If you follow a high-protein diet for an extended amount of time, this excess nitrogen can build up.
Consequently, your kidneys have to work harder to flush out the nitrogen. This, in turn, increases the risk of kidney damage and can exacerbate the condition for those who already suffer from kidney damage.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to protein powders or natural protein sources. The former is a convenient, controlled way of increasing your protein intake, whilst the latter provides a number of other vital nutrients alongside protein.
However, protein powders offer few specific benefits over a high-protein diet. It is possible to up your protein intake sufficiently through diet alone, instead of relying on protein powders. While they might be a convenient way to quickly increase your protein consumption, a careful diet plan delivers enough protein (plus other vital vitamins and nutrients) to help you with your bodybuilding program.