Did you know that there is no life without protein? That's right! It is contained in every part of our bodies - skin, muscle, blood, hair, eyes, organs, bones and finger nails. The only substance more plentiful in the body is water.
Proteins are made up of smaller building blocks known as amino acids. There are eight that we get from our food sources. These are referred to as Essential Amino Acids. Most animal proteins or meat sources contain all of the essential amino acids. Those proteins from vegetable, bean or cereal sources have less than ideal amounts.
What's it do? (or the main Protein Fact)
A primary purpose is to build, maintain and repair body tissue. This is why you see so many weight lifters chugging down these protein shakes. They work their bodies hard and have to take in additional protein amounts. These shakes provide a convenient way to get an extra 30-40 grams of protein.
Excess protein will get converted to energy for immediate use or get stored in the body as fat. So watch how much steak you eat on a weekly basis. Under normal conditions protein energy gets used after the body has used up Carb and/or Fat sources or if they're unavailable. Since long distance runners don't have a lot of fat their bodies will use up protein for energy. This would help to explain why these runners have such thin bodies.
Where do we get it?
We get protein from a variety of sources:
Meats - chicken, beef, pork, or fish are the usual suspects
How much do my kids and I need?
For an adult with a 2500 calorie per day diet then you would need roughly 75 to 94 grams of protein (12-15% of calories should come from protein). Athletes and body builders require more due to the extra work their bodies are doing.
Obviously young children don't require as much food or calories as an adult. However, if you have an athletic child then they can easily consume 2500 or more calories a day. This is especially true for teenage boys. I don't want to sound proud about it but I did eat three quarter pound meals at a time when I was seventeen. That one meal (or 3) was around 4500 calories alone. Those were the days.
At a minimum you want to still make sure that at least 15% of their calories come from protein. 20% won't be a bad target either.
Protein Shake Facts
There are so many protein shakes on the market today. Many of them are full of "fillers" that don't provide any nutritional value or muscle growth support. Look for those brands that are manufactured by the company represented on the label. Many companies buy a product and re-label it as their own. When the company is in control of their own manufacturing, the claims on the labels will be more realistic. Always check your protein facts before buying a supplement product.
There are three types of proteins that you'll find marketed in these shakes:
Whey is a milk by-product that provides an excellent highly available source of quality protein. This is great for post workouts or anytime during the day.
Casein is another milk by-product but it is much slower in terms of absorption. This longer absorption period allows for sustained elevated amino acid levels over a longer period of time. Because of its slow digestive qualities it makes a great bed-time protein source especially for young boys and girls that are having trouble maintaining weight during puberty. A casein protein shake prior to bed will help minimize or prevent muscle catabolism (the body from eating its self) while they sleep.
Soy - For vegetarians or people that are lactose intolerant this protein source is a great substitute for Whey or Casein. Derived from soy beans this powder can also be used to replace flour.
Egg - A great natural form of protein. Almost completely devoid of carbs and fat and is readily absorbed by the body. (Who remembers Rocky chugging down a glass of raw eggs?)