All About Protein

Protein is absolutely essential for tissue growth and repair, because they contain essential amino acids which are building blocks for all cells in your body. When you train with kettlebells, you will go through a cycle of cell damage and then regrowth which will build your muscles up stronger. For this process it’s important for you to consume high protein foods to facilitate recovery and growth.

Protein is a nitrogen containing compound and it can be found in all animals and many vegetables. The nitrogen is packed inside amino acids and because of that the amino acids are essential for growth and repair. There are a total of 20 amino acids in total, 9 of which are essential in dietary requirements, the remain 11 can be produced by the body itself.

The essential amino acids required from diet.

Note: There are technically 9 amino acids, but one of them (histidine) are only required for children. For our use we will consider the following 8 as essential amino acids.

Isoleucine Stablises and regulates blood sugar and energy levels
Leucine Prevents excessive breakdown of muscle tissue after exercise or injury
Lysine Regulates nitrogen balance
Methionine Required for make choline, and essential for building cystine and taurine
Phenylalanine Aids memory and treats depression
Threonine Required for building collagen, elastine and tooth enamel protein
Tryptophan Essential for producing serotonin and is a sleeping aid.
Valine Metabolised to produce energy

When you train you body’s need for amino acids increases, and therefore you must consume high quality protein rich foods to supply your body with its need. If you fail to do so, the body will cannibalise amino acids from muscle cells, and your progress will be hampered.

Protein in every meal

The body can only process certain amount of protein in any given time, it is widely believed that the maximum is 50g, any excess is wasted, and is not stored by the body like carbohydrates or fat. Therefore you must aim to spread out your protein intake throughout the course of the day for availability and usage. It’s good practice to spread out your daily protein requirement throughout the day, aim to consume 30-50g [depending on requirements] of protein in every meal.

Are all protein foods the same?

All proteins have the essential amino acids, but meat tends to have a much higher concentration and more proportionate ratios of essential amino acids. The best protein sources are obviously those that have a high concentration and are more “balanced” such as beef, chicken, tuna and eggs. If your dietary intake has missing or very reduced levels of certain essential amino acids it can reduce or stop protein synthesis.

Animal proteins tend to have higher concentrations of essential amino acids and are more bio available [more on that later] than vegetable based protein sources. vegetables have much lower concentrations of proteins and some lack essential amino acids, and must be combined with other vegetables to get a full range of essential amino acids.

Bio availability of protein foods.

Proteins from foods need to be processed before they can be used by the body, this is rarely considered by trainees as they tend to simply go by nutrition information provided on the food label, which does detail digestion issues.

This is important when assessing protein intake and planning meals, if a food item is difficult to digest then the protein may be excreted out, and will not be synthesized by the body.

You can look up the Protein Digestibility Correct Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which takes into account the digestibility of amino acids in food. Here’s a table below to illustrate, the highest digestibility is 1, meaning all amino acids are digested.

PDCAA score of a small selection of food items
Cottage cheese (Casein) 1 Soybeans 0.91
Egg white 1 Chickpeas 0.78
Soy protein 1 Fruits 0.76
Whey (milk protein) 1 Vegetables 0.73
Chicken 1 Cereals 0.59
Beef 0.92 Whole wheat 0.42

Note: beef has a lower PDCAA due to toughness of the meat, PDCAA can be increased by eating ground beef.

Taking PDCAA into consideration it’s even more apparent that vegetable protein sources are less than ideal, with the exception of soy protein that is. But soy has its own issues in that it contain high amounts of isoflavones which are weak estrogens, which can affect hormone balance levels in men.

Recommended protein sources

Whey protein
Whey protein is one of the most cheapest and biologically active protein sources, which means it can easily be used by the body. Whey protein should be used frequently to supplement protein in diet, but should NOT be used as a substitute for a well balanced diet. Whey concentrate has 80% protein and 20% carbohydrates, whey isolate goes through an additional filtration process and typically has 99% proteins

Cottage cheese
Cottage cheese has a high protein content from milk (casein), studies have shown that it improves nitrogen retention as well which prevents muscle loss.

Egg whites have high protein content and bio availability and should be used extensively in your diet. Egg yolk also contains good proteins but has high fat content as well. Aim to take 1 egg yolk for every two egg whites.

Beef, chicken, fish
You can never have enough beef, chicken or fish in your diet, while it may be tempting to opt for the cheaper protein sources mentioned above, there is merit in animal protein sources. Beef contains creatine which will improve muscle growth and performance, and fish has essential omega 3 and 6 and other essential minerals.

Fitness and nutrition isn’t just about the macro [fat, carbohydrate and protein] but also the micro-nutrients which you get from a varied diet consisting of numerous protein sources

Notable mentions for other good protein sources are lean pork, milk and soy protein concentrate

Optimal protein intake

For building large amounts of muscle [or bulking up] you must consume around 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, however with kettlebell training the focus isn’t building muscle per se, but rather endurance and fitness and fat loss. Kettlebell trainees should aim to consume 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. So if you weigh 150lbs your desired protein intake would be 120g per day.

Even that seems like a lot, but bear in mind your demand for essential amino acids increases tremendously with training, and it will increase your appetite and protein requirements as well.

So why is protein so important for kettlebell training?

Regardless of your goal, whether it be sport endurance or fat loss, protein is essential in your diet when undertaking kettlebell training. without it your performance will suffer, you will not be able to beat your previous lifts, and may even decline in performance.

Protein isn’t just for bodybuilders, even a sedentary person requires protein just for maintenance of general body functions and cell repair of skin, muscles, hair, eyes, nails etc. It may seem like the protein requirement is excessive compared to official guidelines and commonly dispersed knowledge on lifestyle magazines, but these guidelines are almost always aimed at sedentary people. When you lift weights your protein requirement increases dramatically.

In addition to this, a bare minimum level of protein is required for anabolic states for muscle tissue growth, without it no growth occurs, the body can change fat and carbohydrates interchangeably, but it cannot generate the essential amino acids found in protein so it must be supplied in your diet. As far as protein is concerned it’s always better to have a little bit more than a little bit less.

Risk of excessive protein consumption

Protein consumption should be regulated by spreading out the intake across all meals throughout the day, protein digestion releases a by product called uric acid which is toxic for the body. The kidneys have to work hard to process the uric acid and at excessive amounts can cause strain or damage to it.

The kidneys and liver work together to stabilise the build up of uric acid by converting it to urea and ammonia, which is flushed out of your system through urinating. There is a maximum capacity of uric acid the kidneys can deal with at any given time, and build up of uric acid makes the kidneys inefficient to deal with other toxins, so it’s important to not overload the kidney and liver and to stay hydrated to allow the kidneys to be flushed out.

Water also has the added benefit of diluting the uric acid inside the body which makes it less harmful.

It should be obvious but if you suffer from or have a history of kidney or liver problems, you should avoid a high protein diet, as a high protein diet will be a challenge for these organs.

Good supplements to take to deal with the build up of uric acid is Pantothenic acid which is a B vitamin that is required for the conversion of uric acid into urea and ammonia.

Alkalising the body through diet can help deal with acid build up, though this subject is beyond the scope of this book. Some alkali foods are celery, cucumber, pears, potato, olive oil etc. If you have trouble digesting large amounts of vegetables, you can juice them.

Final note on clean protein sources.

Supermarket shelves are full of cheap processed meats that are not clean cuts of meat from an animal, but are bits and pieces of leftover skin and meat plied together with fat and starch. You should avoid eating them as much of it is skin and fat which does not provide you with a reliable serving of essential amino acids, and makes calorie control difficult.

You should aim to consume meat from completely clean cuts of meat, fatty cuts are fine in moderation. But stay away from processed fast food and reconstituted meat.

3 comments to All About Protein

  • Unique

    Amazing advice on this site. Thank you!

  • Louay

    Hey, i’m new to kettlebells and am excited about starting. I am not incredibly strong and not particularly overweight. What size kettlebell would you say is right for me? From what i’ve read I think 12kg would be good. I know you advise against getting a weight too heavy to begin with, but to be honest i’ve recently lost my job and want to keep costs down as much as possible.

    Also what do you think about Spirulina powder (mixed with water) as an all natural easily consumable and digestible source of high quality protein (apparently it is very high in protein as well as other vitamins/minerals)? Thanks.

    • Karim (admin)

      A 12kg kettlebell should be perfect, they’re not too expensive, and although might cost a fair bit, they’re a worthwhile investment as you don’t have a recurring gym fee to boot.

      I don’t take spirulina, they are pretty good for vegans, but for meat eaters the protein in spirulina isn’t huge compared to meat (and spirulina is more expensive). Though, I do eat other green vegetables such as kale, celery, cucumber, spinach etc.

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