Protein and Muscles


Proteins are the building blocks of our body. It is known for its ability to rebuild and build muscle tissue, but it basically repairs and replaces all broken or old cells in the body. There is a big misconception in the fitness world that the more protein you take, the more muscle mass you will gain. Learn what sources of protein there are and how to combine foods with lower quality protein to make a complete nutritious diet.

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What does protein do?

Proteins are mainly known and used for building and rebuilding cells in our body. Cells can become damaged or become too old and need to be replaced. This is where protein kicks in. It helps the cells to repair themselves or even grow bigger.

Growing cells is what you see with bodybuilders. By lifting weights or doing body weight training your muscles grow bigger. These bigger muscles deliver more force, enabling you to lift more weight the next time you work out.

However, eating more protein does not mean you will get more muscular. The growth that takes place is due to the training you do. The protein you eat is only supporting the growth, rather than starting it. Protein that is not used will be turned into fat! Hence an excessive amount of protein can actually lead to overweight.

High and low quality proteins

Proteins are made up out of 8 essential amino acids. Essential means that your body cannot make it by itself and that it has to be derived by food.

A protein from food that contains all the 8 essential amino acids is called a high quality protein. Examples of these foods are: chicken breast, lean meat, fish, eggs (highest quality of proteins), (lean) milk products, cheese, whey protein and meat replacements such as soy.

Lower quality proteins do not have all the amino acids or do not deliver enough of any given acids. Examples of foods with incomplete proteins: Beans, rice, bread, vegetables, nuts, seeds all contain a lot of protein.

Every plant-based protein except for soy lacks (adequate amounts of) certain amino acids. Even quinoa and amaranth, which are often coined as complete proteins, are actually not high quality proteins.

The way you deal with this ‘problem’ is by making food combinations. By eating whole grains with beans for example you would make a complete protein. In contrary to popular believe you do not even have to put these two foods into one meal. Eating a diet with a lot of variety in it will ensure that you have enough good quality proteins.

What foods should you eat?

Here are some foods you should put in your diet in order to get plenty of protein. More information on serving sizes can be found in the 'weight loss' section under the article 'food guidelines'. The foods are listed in no particular order!

Animal proteins:
  • Chicken and turkey breast
  • Lean beef (limit to 1 or 2 servings a week)
  • Lean meat (avoid fat meat)
  • Eggs
  • Milk, yoghurt and other milk products (choose the lean variations)
  • Fish, both fat and lean
  • Cheese
  • Whey protein (see article about supplements)
Plant proteins:
  • Soy (best quality proteins from all plan sources)
  • Amaranth and quinoa
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Whole grain / brown rice
  • Whole grain bread and other whole grain products
  • Oatmeal, muesli and cereal (choose the most natural product without too much added sugars)
  • Legumes (such as lentils, peas, etc.) and beans
  • Nuts and seeds (most are very rich in protein)

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