Essential Amino Acid Foods Versus Protein Shakes

The top brands: Slim Fast, Optimum Nutrition, CytoSport, BSN Supplements, and EAS – makers of the popular protein shakes for increased athletic performance, lean muscle body building and weight loss such as Cytosport Muscle Milk, EAS Myoplex, Slim Fast High Protein Shake, Optimum Nutrition Complete Protein Diet (Pro Complex), and BSN Syntha-6 Extended Release Protein – in most cases contain derivates of dairy products and soy, and in the case of Muscle Milk, provide up to 350 calories in a two scoop shake (more than half of those calories from fat) with as much as 32 grams of pure protein per shake. Other protein drinks like EAS Myoplex Lite have about 190 calories / shake (20 of those from fat) and about 25 grams of protein, made from dairy milk concentrate, soy and sunflower oil. The protein shakes by Optimum Nutrition such as Whey Gold are lactose based whey protein almost 90% pure, offering 120 calories in a single scoop with 24 grams of protein. A look at BSN supplement Syntha 6 shows the shake’s protein is derived from dairy milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, oil and nuts, with a single scoop of powder delivering 200 calories (50 from fat) offering 22 grams of pure protein.

The question is: does the human body really need all that protein? To decide if you need protein shakes as part of your diet, it’s essential to understand:

  1. what protein is
  2. why protein is important in the human body
  3. how much protein an average person requires
  4. what the body does with excess protein
  5. what are the best natural sources of protein that the body can assimilate easily

1. What is Protein?

Proteins are chains of amino acids bonded by peptides. Although there are 22 amino acids, only eight are considered essential, meaning the body must get them from food sources since it cannot manufacture or synthesize them on its own. The eight essential amino acids are: 1. leucine, 2. isoleucine, 3. valine, 4. lysine, 5. threonine, 6. tryptophan, 7. methionine, 8. phenylalanine / histidine.

The body requires what we call “protein” because it actually needs amino acids. Proteins are broken down during the digestive process and converted into polypeptides, in other words a chain of amino acids.

2. Why Protein is Important in the Human Body

Protein is essential because without it the human body can’t grow, heal itself or maintain its cellular structure. Protein is what comprises every cell, every tissue, organ, muscle, membrane and even the hair on our head. It’s the amino acids derived from protein that creates the basis for everything, the building blocks of not only muscle but enzymes, hormones, blood cells, and that which regulates metabolic rates and immune functions. Amino acids are what the body requires for life – what the body uses to heal wounds, repair tissue, build muscle, tissue, membrane, etc. Because it’s so important, we tend to overestimate how much of it we actually need.

3. How Much Protein an Average Person Requires

Despite numbers being offered as to the average daily protein requirements, it must be noted that most figures are based on a sedentary person sustaining life and not on the requirements of an athlete or a patient recovering from surgery or severe illness or a growing child, lactating mother or elderly person. Nevertheless, in North America the basic needs of adult women between the age of nineteen and seventy are thought to be about 46 grams per day, while men in the same age group will require 10 grams more per day, in other words about 56 grams. A true evaluation of individual protein requirements would involve knowing how much a person weighs and their activity level The standard is about 0.8 grams per kilo but may be as much as 2.5 grams per kilo in a professional athlete or someone recovering from an illness or surgical procedure.

If we don’t know exactly how much protein we need and if we eat too much, is it dangerous? What happens? What does the body do with excess protein?

4. What the Body Does with Excess Protein

If you eat meals that include meat, dairy, cheese, fish, poultry, grains, carbohydrates and assorted vegetables and fruits, and also drink protein shakes to help build muscle, or are contemplating starting a protein enhanced program, you should know what your body does with excess protein because chances are you’re getting too much.

After ingesting protein, the body begins to break it down, separating the necessary amino acids into categories, using them to build or repair cells, and what’s left is oxidized and ends up passing into the urea cycle (in other words into the urine) and byproducts may be keto and glucose. High protein diets put a strain on the kidneys, bladder and the entire renal system because in order to eliminate the protein it must be converted to urine. A high protein diet may lead to ketones in the urine (one symptom is dehydration) and ketones in the urine may be a sign of diabetes and severe kidney disease. Some excess amino acids will be processed by the liver, nevertheless, since the body is not able to store protein as such (at least not long-term), when it has used the available means of excreting excessive amino acids through the liver and kidneys (severely straining the kidneys and increasing the risk of kidney stones), it converts some into a short-term reserve, but mostly will be converted into fat – stored in long-term subcutaneous fat cell deposits.

A Quick Look at How Much Protein We Actually Consume

Although many people are concerned with not getting enough protein, most diets (even vegetarian ones) are more likely to be overly protein rich than protein deficient. As an example, take a look at a daily meal plan (none-vegan-vegetarian) that may include cereal with milk / eggs and bacon for breakfast, a steak and potato or cheese sandwich for lunch, and a veggie and chicken stir-fry for dinner. Not including any snacks, or counting the value of the vegetables, grains, dressings, condiments, bread and other carbs or desserts (even fruit) that may likely accompany this meal plan – the protein intake on the above diet is about 140 grams of protein – almost three times what’s recommended for an average woman, and what’s most amazing is that this diet would likely be considered a healthy balanced one with milk, fruit, veggies and very lean steak or chicken stir-fry.

When was the last time you counted the amount of protein you’re giving your body? Do you really need MORE protein? If you do find your diet to be protein deficient, perhaps it would be wise to look at natural sources that have less fat and fewer calories – lean, natural sources that the body can easily utilize.

5. What are The Best Natural Sources of Protein the Body can Assimilate

Tempeh is one of the highest natural sources for protein. What’s tempeh? It’s whole soy bean that has undergone a process of fermenting and is therefore is usually sold in a cake-type format. (Tempeh is an Indonesian food, but is available in many western health food / grocery stores.) Since tempeh is the WHOLE soybean and not an extract, it retains its high level of fiber, vitamins / nutrients including all the essential amino acids the body requires.

One cup of tempeh contains about 41 grams of protein, higher than tofu, lentils or other types of beans, chickpeas, spinach, broccoli, assorted seeds, nuts or grains. As a comparison, regular cooked soybeans offer about 30 grams of protein per cup and lentils / black beans provide 15 – 18 grams of protein / cup. A small lean steak (meat) contains about 30 grams of protein.

The best natural sources for protein that should be included in ALL diets be they vegan, vegetarian or other, include: black beans, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, green peas, quinoa, tofu, cooked soy, soy milk, peanuts / peanut butter, raw almonds, wild or brown rice, potatoes, broccoli and spinach.

Who Can Benefit From Protein Shakes

While drinking protein shakes may be a choice that professional athletes and bodybuilders choose on the advice of dieticians (based on their weight and performance needs), most people who want to eat a healthy balanced natural diet do not require rich protein drinks to get sufficient amino acids for maintaining a healthy body.

WHOLE Essential Amino Acid Rich Foods

Choose whole foods versus protein drinks and get what you need to build and repair your body. How? With a single serving of tempeh, or a large three bean salad mixed with assorted greens, or a whipped soy milk smoothie with a banana and some almonds, or a plate of brown rice with a spinach and broccoli salad and a raw almond butter dressing. These will provide the essential amino acids needed, and as a bonus deliver vitamins in a whole food format that’s also filled with water, trace minerals and natural fiber for good elimination and colon health (and they won’t unduly stress your liver or kidneys). You don’t need to be vegan or vegetarian either; you can still choose to eat 80% fresh whole foods – veggies, whole grains, etc.

Weight Loss Using Protein Shakes as Meal Replacements

Protein shakes are not necessarily a healthy meal replacement or the quickest way to lose weight, especially if they replace vegetable juices, fresh raw salads, beans, lentils, leafy greens and fiber rich high-water-content living foods.

Instead of buying expensive egg, whey and dairy based supplements, then mixing them with more daily milk, try eating vitamin, mineral and protein rich low calories foods that are whole, nutritious and exactly what the body needs. Try a juice diet or a complete body cleansing program, and after detoxing, add soy milk shakes with fruits and nuts to your diet if you’re concerned about protein intake.

For more information on how to cleanse your body and how to lose weight in 2 weeks or less, browse related posts that include nutritious fresh juicer recipes, fast weight loss tips that are healthy, and lists of both low calories and negative calorie foods to help you learn how to reduce weight and feel energized and revitalized.

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About the editor

Nena Argent, editorial director of EbT magazine since 2009, oversees online editorial content in English and Spanish. She joined EbT after ten years as an investigative journalist in Asia where she researched oriental health, nutrition and beauty treatments. Now based in Europe, she reports on the latest beauty trends, health issues, high-tech medical advancements and state-of-the-art cosmetic procedures from around the world.

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