Protein Quality: Even more important as you get older

Two beautiful things happen to our bodies as we get older

  1. It’s harder to lose the fat


  1. You lose muscle

Yep. Pretty much the exact opposite of what we are going for.

But all’s not lost!

With careful attention to what you eat – along with your exercise – you can help get the best of both worlds.

One of the most important macronutrients in maintaining your hard earned muscle and even stimulating MORE muscle growth is Protein.

Unfortunately though, it’s not as simple as just getting the right amount of protein each day. You also need to keep in mind the QUALITY as well.

When it comes to protein, quality is measured in two ways

  1. How much protein is present per 100g i.e. % of protein content
  2. How quickly the amino acids are absorbed in to your system and stimulate Muscle Protein Synthesis (it’s Leucine content)

Amino acids are the little building blocks that make up all of the proteins that our bodies use. And of the 20 or so amino acids that go to building all of these proteins, there are 8 of these amino acids that our bodies can only get from ingestion. These are called ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS. Essential meaning our bodies can not make them and we must get them from the foods we eat.

As it turns out, the very act of eating protein, actually stimulates your body to MAKE protein. That’s right, eating protein really does actually help you gain muscle. And, more importantly, at least hold on to it keep it while you are losing fat.

The main amino acids that are responsible to stimulating this Muscle Protein Synthesis are the ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS. More specifically, one called Leucine. Now, it’s not important you remember these names, just the effect that eating good quality protein has.

The best sources that get you ALL of your essential amino’s in one hit are termed COMPLETE proteins. Protein sources that lack one or more of the essentials are termed INCOMPLETE proteins.

To keep things a little simplified, the general rule of thumb is:

1) Animal proteins = complete proteins

2) Plant proteins = incomplete proteins

This kind of makes sense when you think about it. It you want flesh of your own, you literally have to eat the flesh of another animal to give you everything you need.

It turns out, some sources of animal protein are even better at doing this than others.

Whey protein, for example – you know that type of protein in all protein powder – is an excellent source of protein. Not only is it a COMPLETE protein, but it is also rich in ESSENTIAL AMINO acids. The main one being LEUCINE.

So, it has a high protein content. It is a complete protein. It is absorbed quickly in to the body and is a rich source of Leucine, meaning it will stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

There was even studies that compared feeding ESSENTIAL amino acids in a bolus dose vs NON ESSENTIAL amino acids only. The essential amino acid group stimulated muscle protein synthesis, the non essential group did not. So, make sure the quality of your protein sources tick the boxes above.

Other sources of animal proteins that fulfil this criteria are:

  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Different types of fish…

You know, the usual suspects.

As a general rule of thumb, you don’t want the fat content of your meat too high, as this actually lowers the protein quality slightly. The higher fat content means it is absorbed a little slower. This can sometimes be desirable, but again, we’re keeping it simple for now.

So, just as a recap, good sources of protein are:

  • Dairy (some better than others)
  • Eggs
  • Lean Meat
  • Whey protein

If you want the best quality protein, it is a good idea to get it from a variety of sources, as each of these also contain other benefits that are crucial for optimum health.  For example, you will get iron, zinc and creatine from beef. So, don’t think you can go and have protein shakes all day.

In your quest for fat loss, don’t forget you need to keep as much muscle as you can during the whole process. This comes from eating the right AMOUNT of protein each day, but, more importantly, the right QUALITY of protein.