by Tony Gjokaj May 11, 2021 6 min read

Protein is an essential macronutrient that helps repair and develop new cells. These cells consist of our skin, muscles, nails, and physique. It also helps repair broken down muscles as a result of exercise.

Protein also helps fight fatigue and aids in muscle retention, which is extremely important when it comes to dieting for fat loss.

In this post, we are going to explore Protein Quality.

Let’s dive in!

Protein Turnover

When we digest proteins, our bodies break them down into peptides (2 or more amino acids). As the digestive process continues, the peptides get broken down further into individual amino acids. This is one part of the process known as protein turnover.

Protein turnover is the process of breaking down and rebuilding proteins. When protein is broken down into aminos, they produce a variety of things: from enzymes to hormones, neurotransmitters, and more.

If we are well-fed, we won’t lose many amino acids in the turnover process. If we don’t consume enough proteins, our body will look for them in other places (muscle tissue, hormones, and more). This is why we believe it’s necessary to get a consistent supply of protein spread throughout the day.

While pretty much every food we eat contains some amounts of protein, it’s important to note what makes up a quality protein.

Quality Protein

When it comes to protein, quality does play a larger level of importance when it comes to exercise performance, recovery, and more.

For protein quality, we should look at the following factors:

  • Amino Acid Content. According to various studies, essential amino acids help us with a variety of things. For example, leucine helps with muscle protein synthesis. Protein Synthesis helps us with muscular growth and overall maintenance.
  • Protein Digestibility.This refers to the digestibility of the amino acids found in protein sources. The highest quality of proteins is the ones that are easily digestible.

Ultimately, the proteins with the best amino acid content and amino acid absorption are the ones you should consider eating often.

Amino Acids

Amino acids can improve a variety of things: from muscular development, transporting nutrients, improving immune health, and more. So it’s extremely important to consume diverse protein sources to get your aminos.

While leucine is one of the most important amino acids that contribute to muscular development, it’s important to understand all types of amino acids and what they do.

Non-Essential Amino Acids

Non-essential amino acids consist of four amino acids that we make in our body. These aminos consist of the following:

  • Alanine
  • Asparagine
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Glutamic Acid

Non-essential means we don’t necessarily need to consume more of these aminos. However, Beta-Alanine (a modified version of alanine) is used in pre-workouts for improvements in workout performance (it also gives that tingling face feeling in pre-workouts).

We use 3.5g of Beta-Alanine in our pre-workout, Catalyst.

Essential Amino Acids

Essential amino acids (EAAs) are 9 aminos that we cannot synthesize. This means we need to consume these aminos from the food we eat.

Essential Amino Acids consist of the following:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine (BCAAs)
  • Leucine (BCAAs)
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine (BCAAs)

You can get these amino acids from eating meat, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, dairy, quinoa, and more. If you don’t get enough protein in or follow a vegan-based diet, consider supplementing with EAAs.

Conditionally Essential Amino Acids

There are 8 other amino acids that we only need with the conditions are right. Known as Conditionally Essential Amino Acids, these aminos are only needed at times of physical and mental stress (exercise, illness, etc).

Conditionally essential amino acids consist of the following:

  • Arginine
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Tyrosine

Just like other amino acids, you can get them from meat, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, and more. You can also supplement with some of these, as amino acids like tyrosine help cognition during acute levels of stress.

Quality Sources of Protein

Now that we have explored the entire range of amino acids, let’s dive into the highest quality sources of protein that contain the majority of these aminos.

Whole Eggs

Whole eggs are pretty high amino acids, especially in leucine.

Some may argue that whole eggs are bad for your health, but this depends on your overall health to begin with,as shown in this examine post.

Meat & Poultry Proteins

From lean meats like chicken & turkey to meats like beef & steak, meat proteins also contain various amounts of vitamins & minerals: from iron to selenium, vitamin a, and more.

Fish Proteins

These proteins are not only high in amino acid content, but they’re also high in EPA/DHA content. EPA & DHA are extremely important for overall heart health.

Consider prioritizing fish if you’re not getting enough omega-3’s in.

Plant Proteins

Most plant proteins are not complete, so they must be consumed in larger amounts (compared to meat, fish and poultry proteins) in order to provide you quality protein content.

Protein Powders

Whey Protein powdersare one of the highest quality protein sources available. In fact, various studies have shown that it has the highest quality protein (based on leucine content and amino acid absorption).

While whey is the highest quality source, we should never neglect other sources of protein because they typically contain various amounts of micronutrient and amino acid content.

You can supplement with various protein powders based on personal preferences… however, just understand that they’re not as complete as a whey protein source.

On Vegetarianism & Veganism

If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you’re going to have a more challenging time getting leucine and other amino acid content from your protein sources.

Animal and Whey protein provide leucine in large amounts, which is why it’s fairly difficult to adhere to a Vegan/Vegetarian diet for exercise performance and health.
This doesn’t mean it’s not possible, however.

One solution is having a diverse palate of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes & grains that cover all nutritional bases. This requires you to know what foods provide the amino acid content you need.

As vegan products continue to expand, products like protein powder alternatives (pea protein, for example) have become popular. However, pea protein powder does not cover the amino acids we need in their entirety.

The solution to ensure your bases are covered can come in the form of supplementing with BCAAs & EAAs. BCAAs and EAAs both contain leucine and other amino acids necessary to improve the quality of your protein consumption.

Protein Recommendations

When it comes to protein, recommendations are individualized based on whether or not you’re sedentary, you work out a lot, or other situations (like pregnancy or dieting for fat loss).

If you are physically active, consider consuming around 0.8–1g per pound of bodyweight.

If you are dieting for fat loss, we recommend 1–1.2g per pound of body weight. This is to prevent muscle atrophy (or muscle loss) during a diet.

Hand-Portion Recommendations

If you’re not tracking macronutrients or calories, you can hit your protein goals with hand portions.

You can easily hit your protein goal by having 1–2 palm servings of protein per meal. One palm serving is usually around 20–30g of protein, which is around 120 calories per palm serving.

When fat loss dieting with portion control methods, we suggest you add a 1/2 serving of protein in one or two of your meals.

Health Conditions That Require Lower Protein

In regards to protein intake for kidney health, it’s important to note that unless you have underlying health conditions, a higher protein intake may not necessarily be something to worry about.

However, people who are more prone (or have) kidney or liver diseases should consider lower their protein intake for health purposes.

Remember that you should always consult with a doctor or physician when it comes to special food considerations such as this one.

I Need Me Some Protein!

Protein is one of the essential macronutrients that we require to help repair and build new cells, especially as a result of exercise. It is needed for overall health, fatigue management, and helps improve skin and nails.

When it comes to protein, 0.8–1g per pound of bodyweight is a good ballpark to how much protein you should be consuming.

To put it simply, 1–2 palm servings of lean proteins per meal you consume throughout the day can help get close to hitting a quality protein intake as well.

Remember that it’s not just about the amount of protein you consume, but it is also important to consider what sources of protein you consume.

If you have any other questions, comments, or insights, feel free to email me at tony@reforgedperformance.comor direct message us on Instagram.

Until next time, Reforged Legion.

Go seize your destiny!

Tony Gjokaj
Tony Gjokaj

Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and has been in the fitness space for over a decade. His goal is to help bridge the gap between physical & mental health through fitness.

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