Almost everybody knows that macronutrients are classified into three groups: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. We are constantly told that protein helps us maintain and grow our muscle mass. Yet, when I started my health and fitness journey almost nine years ago, I did not understand why protein was so important for health, what could happen when we do not have enough of this macronutrient, or whether there is such a thing as excess protein intake. If you have ever asked yourself any of these questions, then this article is for you. Get ready to dive into a wealth of knowledge and join me, Daria, and the FLOW Wellness group in prioritizing a healthier and more fulfilling life.
Amino acids (AAs) are the building blocks of proteins, and the proteins we consume need to be broken down into amino acids, which are then absorbed and released into the bloodstream. Proteins perform many important functions in our body, including hormonal, enzymatic, and structural roles. There are 20 amino acids, of which 9 are essential (EAAs) because our bodies cannot produce them, and they must be obtained through our diet. Three of the EAAs—isoleucine, leucine, and valine—are also called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and play important roles in muscle metabolism, energy production and regulation, and protein synthesis.
For individuals who consume animal products, maintaining a sufficient daily intake of essential amino acids is easier, as animal sources contain all of them. However, this does not mean that vegetarians and vegans cannot obtain enough from the foods they eat. The key thing to remember is that their protein food sources need to vary and be incorporated into dishes that contain a combination of a few amino acid sources because certain plant-based protein sources may not contain all essential amino acids (EAAs) in optimal proportions. For instance, grains tend to be deficient in lysine, while legumes often lack methionine. In such cases, there is a risk of a single amino acid limiting the rest.
A limiting amino acid refers to the essential amino acid that is present in the lowest quantity relative to the body’s requirements for protein synthesis. When a protein source lacks or has insufficient amounts of one or more essential amino acids, the one in the shortest supply becomes the limiting amino acid. Even if the rest of the essential amino acids are present in sufficient amounts, the rate of protein synthesis will be limited by the one that is insufficient.
This explains why vegans and vegetarians must ensure they are getting a diverse array of EAAs. Some examples of combining non-meat protein sources include chickpea curry with spinach and rice; beans and rice; tofu stir-fry with brown rice; lentil soup with whole grain bread; quinoa salad with vegetables and black beans; hummus and whole wheat pita bread; and tofu and vegetable skewers.
Vegan protein powder supplements should contain a combination of at least two different protein sources, such as pumpkin seed protein, soy protein, brown rice protein, pea protein, and sunflower protein.
Historically, the diet has been influenced by the country’s climate, geography, and agricultural practices. Although dietary patterns can vary widely among individuals and may differ from historical norms, in terms of protein sources in the Scottish diet, several traditional foods contribute to protein intake:
The current recommendations for protein intake in the United Kingdom are 15% of daily caloric intake and about 0.75 g/kg/day for adults. This means that someone weighing 70 kg would need 70 x 0.75 g/kg = 52.5 g of protein per day. Different protein recommendations are set for children, adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and the elderly. Protein requirements are elevated for those involved in sports or any other type of regular physical activity.
It is important to note that there are no additional benefits for the ability of the muscles to synthesize protein if taken in quantities over 30 grams for a single meal, either for younger adults or the elderly, or above 2.2 g/kg/day for those involved in heavy sports. However, a protein intake of 25-30 grams 3 times per day is recommended for the elderly to reduce muscle wasting, a condition known as sarcopenia, which is typical of aging. Additionally, consuming protein-rich foods or supplements shortly after exercise may support muscle recovery and adaptation.
Consuming an adequate amount of protein is important for overall health, muscle maintenance, growth, and repair. However, excessive protein intake may strain the kidneys and liver, especially in individuals with pre-existing kidney or liver conditions.
High protein intake may increase the body’s water needs. It’s important to stay hydrated, especially when consuming protein supplements.
Overemphasizing protein intake at the expense of other essential nutrients may lead to nutritional imbalances.
Some processed vegan foods, like vegan meats or vegan cheeses, may lack certain essential amino acids if they are not fortified or formulated to be complete protein sources.
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In Health & Wellness