All proteins are not created equal and knowing the protein quality of the foods you are choosing at meal time and when looking for protein supplements can make a difference. Not to mention the benefits of spreading out your protein intake over the course of the day instead of a huge quantity at dinner and very little at breakfast or lunch.
While all proteins you eat contribute to meeting your daily protein requirements, some are better utilized by your body than others and there is a scientific method used to figure it out.
Protein Quality & Timing
A food’s usefulness depends on how digestible the protein is, how available the amino acids are to the body and then how well the amino acids fit the pattern needed by your tissues. Proteins fall into many categories – animal proteins, plant proteins, soy based proteins and protein supplements such as whey protein powders – and eating from a variety of protein sources is key.
Given that most people are able to meet their protein requirements through their diet by eating many of those high protein foods, the next focus should be on protein quality and its distribution throughout the day to meet your health and performance goals.
Quality Protein and the Science Behind the Score
For the past 20 years the gold standard in assessing protein quality by scientists has been called the Protein Digestibility Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). This system ranks protein choices compared to a reference value that is cut off at 1.0.
Cow’s milk, egg and soy protein are given a value of 1.0 with beef (0.92) following closely after. Legumes (0.78) and nuts (0.52) are further down the list as they have other good things such as fibre that interferes with digestion of the proteins.
The World Health Organization and the FAO have recently recommended the use of a Digestible Indispensable Amino Score (DIAAS). This score recognizes the digestibility of individual amino acids and how your body uses them.
While it is new and information is just emerging, the DIAAS is already showing its value in highlighting the benefit of different higher quality proteins that were previously truncated at 1.0. Whole milk, followed by whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, beef and soy isolate have topped the list.
Both the old as well as the new ranking system show us the value of milk proteins for their amino acid profile. Comprised of whey and casein protein, these complete proteins are high in the amino acid leucine, a key amino acid that turns on your body’s muscle building machinery.
Including leucine-rich whey protein (like Boomer FIT protein powders) after resistance exercise session has been shown to increase muscle mass and strength in both young and old. For the non dairy and vegetarian eater, soy protein is the closest alternative to animal (dairy) based whey, yet the strength gains are often slightly less.
Once you have met your total protein requirements with high quality protein, you can improve your overall health by being more strategic about your protein intake. Experts recommend a minimum of 20-25 grams per meal for younger folk and an increase to 30 grams per meal as you age.
Well-spaced protein at each meal boasts many health benefits including the ability to maximize muscle protein synthesis (muscle repair) and fight age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia). Contrary to the typical North American diet with little protein at breakfast and a large amount at dinner, your body is better able to utilize the proteinic consumed throughout the day.
Try including protein in mid day snacks as well. Smoothies, nuts, greek yogurt, homemade high protein cookies or even these banana protein breakfast waffles can increase the amount of protein you consume earlier in the day or between meals.
Finding the Balance
In the end, a balance of complete high quality animal proteins and a variety of vegetarian protein sources throughout the day is a good way to meet your health and nutrient needs. Determining the right balance of proteins in your diet to age successfully and achieve your personal health goals is what you should be striving for.
Follow-up with a health care professional if you have questions about the best protein choices and amounts recommended for you.