You need essential amino acids in your daily diet because your body cannot make them. If you do not get essential amino acids in your diet, proteins break down, resulting in muscle loss and problems with repair. Amino acids, which are building blocks of proteins, can be essential, non-essential, or conditional. Non-essential and conditional amino acids are made in your system, so you do not need to worry about consuming them each day. Knowing which foods provide all or some of the essential amino acids helps you make sure your body gets adequate amounts.
Your body needs more than 20 total amino acids to build and repair muscles and tissues. The nine essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lycine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Non-essential amino acids, made in your system, include alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, and glutamic acid. In addition, your body makes conditional amino acids — however, if you are stressed or severely sick, you need to get them from your diet as well. Conditional amino acids include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, ornithine, proline, serine and tyrosine.
A complete protein (or whole protein) is a source of protein that contains an adequate proportion of all nine of the essential amino acids necessary for the dietary needs of humans or other animals. Mostly complete proteins are derived from dairy milk, beef, pork, eggs, fish, turkey, and chicken. For vegetarian diets soy, quinoa, chia, hemp, and amaranth all contain these essential amino acids to make them a complete protein source although they are very low in protein in comparison to their animal-based alternatives.
An incomplete protein is one that lacks or is too low in one or more essential amino acids needed to support the biological functions of human beings and thus unless combined with other incomplete proteins to add the missing amino acids they are not beneficial for producing protein synthesis in the body. Sources of incomplete proteins include non-animal based foods, such as grains, nuts, beans, seeds, peas, nuts, rice, wheat, and corn. Some incomplete proteins—like whole grains, nuts and produce—can join together and produce a complete protein if the combining of these foods provides all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own, so for vegetarians as long as you consume sources of these essential amino acids you’re all good! A classic example of this combining is rice with beans. Rice is low in threonine, while beans are low in methionine and tryptophan. Combine them, and you get a delicious dish that has all your essential amino acids to produce a complete protein.
You Cannot Store Protein
Dietary proteins are in a constant state of flux in the body, being broken down into amino acids, transformed into other compounds, and sometimes reassembled into other proteins. They also are used for energy, a mechanism that increases when energy intake is low or when protein intake is inadequate. Muscle protein then becomes a source of energy, resulting in a negative nitrogen balance. This is a critical concern for all martial artists, who are regularly involved in energy-demanding activities.
When to Eat Protein
Just as important as the amount and type of protein you should eat when training martial arts is when they should eat it. As a result of physical activity, muscle breaks down. If protein intake is low, that muscle isn’t replaced. The general consensus is that protein ingestion after exercise, when muscle is most sensitive to nutrient intake, will boost muscle protein synthesis and recovery. The body does not store proteins so it is best to spread out consumption throughout the day.
Research has shown that adults need at least 30 g of protein at two or more meals to maintain healthy muscles,” says Donald Layman, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the department of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A study recently published in the Journal of Nutrition found that muscle protein synthesis was 25% higher when protein was evenly distributed across breakfast, lunch, and dinner compared with a more typical pattern when most protein was consumed at the evening meal.
Protein that’s evenly distributed throughout the day may be especially important for older, physically active adults, as older individuals experience resistance to muscle protein synthesis in response to meals containing less protein; in other words, the protein threshold to trigger muscle protein synthesis is higher in older individuals.
• Develop a plan that supplies adequate calories, carbohydrate, and protein each day.
• Distribute the protein equally across meals.
• Emphasize high-quality protein.
• Base protein intake on weight, not on a percentage of calories.
• Base protein intake on the activity and intensity level.
• Active, older individuals should boost protein intake, to help preserve muscle mass.
• Supplement with protein powders when you need added protein or calorie intake is low.