Athletes have always known that hard training bodies require adequate quality protein to build and repair muscle. Protein is necessary for muscle growth, repair and recovery. It also helps balance blood sugar and control your appetite.
The highest quality protein foods contain all of the essential amino acids and are easy to digest. A “complete protein” supplies all of the essential amino acids which are needed for the growth and repair of the human body. Easy to digest proteins are low in fiber. When working with athletes, we generally minimize the reliance on plant proteins since fiber can inhibit the work of enzymes that break down protein into amino acids and plant protein can be missing or low in certain muscle building amino acids.
As protein is digested, long peptide chains are broken down into smaller chains and inpidual amino acids that enter the bloodstream and reconnect to make thousands of body proteins. Similar to the 22 letters of the alphabet being arranged into thousands of different words, inpidual amino acids are reconverted to build and repair body proteins. The human body is approximately 22% protein, and just under half of that is muscle. Hard training muscles require a continual supply of amino acids to replenish them. When inadequate protein is consumed, muscle can be sacrificed as they can be broken down into specific amino acids that are needed for other vital body proteins.
Protein also controls appetite by balancing blood sugar levels, which helps curb cravings and energy fluctuations. Below are some of our favorite protein choices for athletes. They are all quality complete proteins containing little or no fiber making them easy to digest.
- Eggs -Eggs are considered the most perfect protein, containing the ideal amino acid profile needed for the human body. The yolk contains nearly half of the protein in an egg and the powerful sulfur bearing amino acids, plus vitamins and minerals. Eggs are definitely one of the richest sources of protein for the least amount of money.
- Beef - Beef contains a good supply of branched chain amino acids, is loaded with zinc, iron, Vitamins B6 and B12 plus other vitamins and minerals that increase energy and endurance, reduce fat and promote muscle growth. Nearly half the fat in beef comes from CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). Studies have shown that CLA can promote improved muscle and strength gains. Choose from top round, flank steak, tenderloin, or ground sirloin as they are the leanest cuts.Grass fed beef contains even higher amounts of CLA, Omega-3 fatty acids andVitamin E.Buffalo and Bison are similar to grass fed beef but much lower in fat making them excellent choices as well.
- Pork - Referred to as “the other white meat”, pork tenderloin is very lean. It is a great source of Vitamin B6, niacin, thiamin, phosphorous and selenium.
- Venison - Similar to beef but also very lean, venison is considered one of the healthiest forms of meat since it’s amino acid profile is closest to what our ancestors would have eaten. It is high in B-Vitamins, iron and zinc, plus phosphorous and selenium.
- Poultry without the skin - Chicken and turkey are both very low in fat and calories. It is high in iron, which supports energy levels by producing the cells that your body uses for fuel and helping muscles store rejuvenating oxygen.
- Oily Fish - Wild salmon, mackerel, trout, tuna, anchovies, and sardines are all seafood that not only have a great amino acid profile high in Arginine and Lysine, but supply the healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. These fats have been shown to have many health benefits for athletes including hormone production and anti-inflammatory properties as well as heart health, mental health, and cancer prevention. Fish is also high in vitamins and minerals, notably Vitamins A and D to move calcium into bones to keep them strong.
- Whey Protein Powder – Whey protein is a very anabolic protein (muscle building). It contains all of the essential amino acids and is particularly high in the branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) and glutamine (the immune boosting amino acid). Whey is easily digested and absorbed, peaking blood amino acids in about an hour. A 40-30-30 smoothie made with whey protein powder or a Balance Bar can become an ideal post-workout meal. When purchasing whey protein powder, look for a product with approximately 20 grams of protein per scoop, containing very little carbohydrate or fat and no added sugar.
- Milk - The majority of the protein in milk is casein, a slow digesting protein for a slow and sustained elevation of amino acids. It is a good source of Calcium, Vitamins A and D, and 2% low fat milk contains nearly a perfect 40-30-30 ratio of carbohydrate, protein, and fat making it a great before bed drink to ensure your body has the amino acids needed for muscle recovery. Note: Just don’t add chocolate syrup and cookies.
- Greek Yogurt - Greek style yogurt provides a healthy source of probiotic bacterial cultures that help boost immune support and keep a healthy digestive tract. Greek yogurt is strained several times removing some of the lactose sugar thus making it lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein than traditional yogurt. It is also tolerable for most lactose intolerant inpiduals. It is also a great source of calcium. Choose from 2% low fat or non fat, and avoid fruit flavored Greek yogurt to eliminate added sugar. You can add berries or other fruit and nuts for a delicious pre- or post-workout snack.
So when you’re looking for protein foods to give you the performance advantage, remember to choose the highest quality protein foods that are easy to digest. And always remember to balance your protein meals with low sugar carbohydrates and healthy fat. For additional meals and recipes, refer to our book, The Formula, A Personalized 40-30-30 Weight Loss Program.
*Joyce Daoust is a Certified Nutritionist, Balance Bar® spokesperson and national best-selling co-author of THE FORMULA, A Personalized 40-30-30 Weight Loss Program