Are all proteins created equal?

Athletic people often ask me which proteins are the best. There is an aura surrounding proteins among people who do sports. Are all proteins equal? How much protein should we consume when we do sports? The nutritionist answers your questions!

Vegetable or animal proteins?

All proteins are made of amino acids. Your body is able to build most of them, but eight of them are “essential”—i.e. you absolutely must get them from your diet. A protein is said to be whole when it has all of the amino acids your body needs, in good quantities. Animal proteins—found in meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products—are whole proteins.

With the exception of soy, vegetable proteins are not whole. They therefore do not provide all of the amino acids your body needs. So how can vegetarian athletes meet their protein needs? Soy (tofu, enriched vegetable drinks), legumes, nuts and grains are the best vegetable sources of protein. As it happens, vegetable proteins complete each other. For instance, wheat contains a significant amount of essential amino acids missing from legumes. Therefore, by consuming other vegetable products within 24 hours, such as cereals and other whole grains, your body is able to take amino acids from all of these sources and combine them to meet your needs.

Unless you deprive yourself of cereal products, which could highly jeopardize your performance due to the importance of carbs, you can meet your protein needs with either animal or vegetable foods.

A steak or a shake?

Powdered protein supplements are popular among those who do sports and train at the gym. Proteins are particularly important for repairing and building muscle.

However, most people who do sports for pleasure do not really need to add protein supplements to their diet. Often, the protein they consume at mealtime is sufficient in entirely meeting their needs. Actually, the north-American diet is usually too high in protein!

Consuming a small amount of protein after training helps repair muscles. Fans of powdered protein no doubt appreciate its convenience. However, it is absolutely possible to consume certain foods to meet your protein needs. For instance, yogurt, milk, a home-made shake or nuts can meet your needs while giving your body other nutrients.

If you do sports or train to increase your muscle mass, your diet alone may not be enough to meet your protein needs. If this is one of your goals, it may be a good idea to speak with a nutritionist. Not only will they be able to support you throughout the process, they will also guide you to safe supplements if your diet is not enough.

By: Bernard Lavallée
Nutritionnist, Dt. P., M.Sc