Protein: How It Really Works & Which Sources Are Best
Protein is in high demand. We experience this firsthand at in-store demos, where customers frequently ask us how much protein is in our bites, and which sources we use. We welcome these questions because protein is an important macronutrient for building muscle and workout recovery.
But do you know how protein-rich foods actually work? Do you know which sources are best? If your answer to either of these questions is “no”, read on.
From Food to Bigger Muscles
We all know that weight lifting and other resistance exercises are key to building muscle, but the effect of resistance exercise on muscle gains is small unless we eat enough protein. That’s because eating protein shifts the body’s tendency toward building muscle and away from breaking muscle down for energy.
The digestive system is a key player in muscle building as it is tasked to split the strands of protein in foods into amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. This breakdown is necessary for amino acids to make it from the digestive tract to the bloodstream. If any part of protein digestion is impaired, this will hinder muscle building.
Why Whey Isn’t the Way For Us
Whey protein powder is a popular choice for bar companies to use in their products because it is cheap and plentiful. But, unfortunately, it is not the optimal source for your health. There are four important reasons why we choose to use protein sources other than milk powder, whey isolate, or whey concentrate in our products:
- Many people have issues digesting dairy. In fact, there are some genetic populations that can’t digest it at all! Even for those of us who aren’t allergic to dairy, the odds are still high that we’re not digesting it 100%. And as you now know, you need to fully digest a protein source before you can reap the muscle-building rewards. You can eat all the whey protein bars in the world, but if your body isn’t fully breaking down the whey into the individual amino acids, you won’t actually be getting your money’s worth. Think twice before falling prey to the marketing messages of those protein bars containing 20 g of whey protein.
- Dairy is highly allergenic. Around 3.1% of the population is allergic to dairy, and quite a few others avoid it because of food sensitivities (including yours truly: whey protein hurts my stomach, and dairy in general makes me feel bummed out!).
- Whey and dairy from conventionally-raised cows—meaning those that eat corn, soy, and grains instead of grass—may contain residue from pesticides, insecticides, and other chemicals. Many of these chemicals mimic estrogen in the body, which can create or exacerbate hormone imbalances and contribute to cancer and other conditions.
- Whey is worse for the environment. Whey protein manufacturing is more water-intensive compared to that for plant-based proteins.
A Better Way: Level Up with These Protein Sources
Now that you know why whey protein bars are on the way out, let’s take a look at the better alternatives. Our team at Unwrapp’d experiments with a range of protein sources and diets, so we can better serve our customers’ dietary needs. Here’s what we’ve learned:
- For plant-based protein diets, combine foods to yield a complete protein (Complete Protein How-To here), one containing adequate levels of all of the amino acids that the body needs. We designed our protein bites to fit this description by combining legumes and seeds to formulate a complete protein snack. And some of our favorite meal combinations include: lentil pasta with walnut pesto, and gluten-free bread with hummus or peanut butter.
- For meat, poultry, and eggs, look for sources that are organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised. Animals who graze obtain more omega-3 fats than those consuming grain and soy-based feed, meaning you will, too. Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory, so they can help ease soreness following exercise. Here’s a guide to interpreting meat, poultry, and egg labels.
- If you’re thinking fish and seafood, look for wild-caught varieties that are on the smaller side. Farm-raised fish are often fed grains, creating same issues as in conventionally-raised land animals: lower levels of omega-3 fats, higher levels of inflammatory fats (omega-6’s), and more pesticide and chemical residue. In the wild, smaller fish usually carry fewer toxins like mercury and PCBs compared to larger fish that have been eating other toxin-containing fish. Here’s more information on choosing fish and seafood based on omega-3 fat levels, mercury levels, and sustainability.
In addition to being the Head of Product & Nutrition at Unwrapp’d, Maria Capecelatro, MNT is the owner of Dream Nutrition, a holistic nutrition practice in Denver for women who are tired, stressed, and depressed.