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Protein guru

Get a better understanding of this vital macronutrient.

Another day at the gym. You’ve probably frequently over-heard blokes standing around the leg press machine, talking about how gains are all about the protein shakes. Well, not quite. You see, while no-one can dispute the healthy benefits of protein, many of us fail to understand what protein actually is and how it works to build and repair muscle.

What is protein?
Protein is a macronutrient commonly found in animal products, though is also present in other sources. It’s composed of building blocks called amino acids. These link together to form protein chains in different combinations. The amino acid chains must be broken down in order for us to reconstruct their order in a specific way for our bodies.

What does protein do?
Protein gives you energy, helps maintain and build large muscle mass, cultivates the growth of your cells, regulates your electrolyte balance and creates essential antibodies and hormones. You also use protein to make enzymes and other body chemicals, and protein is also an important building block of bones, cartilage, skin and blood.

How do we use protein?
Many so-called “experts” promote high protein consumption and give whole grains and fruits a bad rap, saying they’re the culprits of weight gain. Even worse, we’re taught that we can never consume too much protein – that by eating eggs and bacon we’ll have a lean body and defined muscle tone. To understand why this isn’t so, you need to learn how the body really uses protein.

First off, our body doesn’t exactly use protein, it uses amino acids. Theses long chains of amino acids make up proteins. Inevitably, these chains wear out and need to be replaced. The way we produce these replacements for protein is by eating foods that are rich in amino acids. Our body cannot use a complex amino acid chain without rebuilding it first. We can’t just eat animal protein (which is basically just the muscle of the animal) and expect it to turn directly into muscle in our body. Our body has to break down the amino acids from the meat and then restring the amino acids into protein chains that are specific to humans.

Vegies have protein, too
Some of the strongest animals are vegetarians like horses, hippos, rhinoceros and gorillas. You certainly wouldn’t want to piss off a silverback. How can they be so strong on a non-meat diet? Well, they’re able to build up muscle from the amino acids they eat in greens.

There are 23 different amino acids, 15 the body creates itself and eight that cannot be manufactured by the body and must come from diet alone. When foods contain all eight of these amino acids (AKA essential amino acids) it’s called a complete protein.

Amino acids can be found in:
Sprouted grains like buckwheat, oats, quinoa and millet.
Vegetables including dark greens, mushrooms, capsicum and sweet potato.
Legumes like beans and lentils.
Raw nuts and seeds like hemp, almonds and pumpkin seeds.

THE JOY OF SHAKES
Yes, there is a place for protein shakes. They present a great way to get your fill of muscle-building nutrients. You can choose from a variety of great tasting protein mixes that just require the addition of your preferred liquid (water, milk, juice, coconut water), or you can make your own protein shake from scratch. Here’s how to make a healthy, delicious shake that will give you the amino acids you need to power through the most brutal of muscle-building workouts.

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RAW CACAO HEMP SHAKE

Serves 1

2 cups of almond milk
1 banana
1 tablespoon of hemp seeds
1 tablespoon of chia seeds
½ tablespoon of nutmeg
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
Ice (optional)

Directions
First step: while making a hemp shake, put on some Bob Marley.
Then place all the ingredients in blender and mix till smooth. You can add some ice if you like your shake nice and cold. Sprinkle a little extra cinnamon on the top and enjoy!