Protein has been a popular topic for decades, yet many still have questions. How much do you need? Aren’t all protein sources the same? What are the benefits of protein? As diet trends change over time, we find what works and what doesn’t. Whey protein, which has garnered attention for decades, still stands the test of time. This functional food provides an excellent source of quality protein, is easily digested, works great for muscles and tissue repair, and provides a special compound called glycomacropeptides.
Not all protein is equal. Whey protein provides proven exceptional quality and properties. One advantage is its bioavailability, or the digestibility and usability of the protein. Plant proteins contain fiber, phytic acid and other compounds that decrease the digestibility of the protein. Animal proteins also generally have a larger variety and percentage of the core building blocks of protein called amino acids. Some of these amino acids cannot be built by your body and must be consumed from foods. Unlike plant proteins, whey protein contains high amounts of all these essential building blocks.
Scientists use a formula to measure and score protein quality called Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Scores (DIAAS). Higher scores reflect higher quality and balance of amino acids.
Many plant-based proteins, such as wheat, score less than 0.8, whereas soy protein has a DIAAS score of 1.0. Whey protein tops the list with scores of 2.3 – 3.3, as it is especially rich in the amino acids leucine, lysine, methionine, and tryptophan and has high bioavailability. Plant-based proteins have considerably lower levels of amino acids and less bioavailability, thus the lower DIAAS scores.
Muscles, Vital Organs, and Daily Repair Needs
Muscles and other protein rich organs in your body are in a daily cycle of turnover. Ongoing cellular rebuilding (anabolic) and tear down (catabolic) in muscles, tissues, and organs occurs to remove old worn out cells and replace them. An estimated 250 – 300 grams of protein/amino acids are used everyday in this natural process in healthy adults. Adequate consumption of daily protein and the protein reserves in your muscles and organs provides for this rebuilding process.
Stress, illness, fasting, injury, and age-related muscle loss contribute to a higher need for dietary proteins to provide for this ongoing remodeling. If the protein needs are not met, protein/amino acids are pulled from muscles and shunted towards your vital organs for their needs. This is one of the reasons why your muscles may feel weak and wimpy after an illness or fasting.
mTOR and Protein Needs
Whey protein provides excellent support for building skeletal muscles and repair because it is high in the amino acid, leucine. Leucine triggers a skeletal muscle repair compound called mTOR. This mTOR compound directs signals related with insulin and repair hormones, AMPK (a master fat burning enzyme) and ATP production, physical activity, and balance of amino acids used within muscles for repair and rebuilding.
Leucine – A Trigger for mTOR
In times of stress, illness, and fasting, mTOR is downregulated. When dietary intake of protein resumes, especially proteins rich in leucine, then the process shifts back to building new muscle (anabolic) and tissue repair. Research shows it takes 2.5 grams of leucine in a protein rich meal to trigger mTOR and muscle repair process.
To get 2.5 grams of leucine and trigger the mTOR remodeling, you need about 30 grams of animal protein or 35-40 grams of plant-based proteins at one meal. One scoop of Daily Protein Unflavored provides 2.8 grams of leucine and 26 grams of protein. Daily Protein Plus (any flavor) provides 2.2 grams of leucine and 21-22 grams of protein per scoop.
Dietary protein recommendations for a healthy adult are generally 0.8 g/kg body weight. A middle age adult who weighs 150 pounds or 68 kg needs a minimum of 55 grams of protein per day. Older or obese individuals, athletes, those with digestive difficulties or under high stress or recovery may need a minimum of 1 gm/kg of protein. That equates to at least 68 grams of protein per day in a 150 pound adult. Even higher amounts may be warranted pending in