Protein helps build muscle tissue and just about everything else in the human body. We cannot do without it, and nutrition authorities set an acceptable daily intake of around 0.5 grams per pound of body weight per day. Athletes, bodybuilders and weight trainers may require up to 50% more protein in their diets to provide for the stresses of training and tissue repair.
In addition to high-quality protein, iron and zinc are important minerals for weight trainers, bodybuilders and fitness trainers in general. Protein sources often include useful amounts of iron and zinc.
Red meat from grazing animals is high in protein, iron and zinc. It’s also high in undesirable saturated fat and cholesterol, which, in excess, is associated with heart disease. Too much red meat in the diet has also been linked to bowel cancer risk. Also, the fat in red meat may be “marbled” in the meat itself rather than at the edges, where it is easier to remove. Range-fed beef is generally lower in total fat and higher in omega-3 fats, which are important for health.
Pork, sometimes called “the other white meat,” is generally lower in iron and zinc than red meat and may be lower or higher in saturated fat, depending on how lean the cut is.
Chicken and Duck
Chicken and other fowl meats like duck vary in composition, but are generally lower in iron and zinc than red meat. Lean cuts like breast fillets can be very lean and make excellent low-fat eating.
Fish and Seafood
Fish has similar protein qualities to chicken, with one important exception: Fish, especially cold-water fish, provide useful quantities of the long-chain omega-3 fats, DOHA and EPA. These fats are important for their anti-inflammatory actions and for promoting good cardiovascular health. Fish high in omega-3 include sardines, salmon, tuna and herring. On the other hand, shellfish like prawns and crabs contain more cholesterol than fish. Large fish like shark, large tuna, swordfish and others also carry higher levels of mercury and dioxin contaminants. These sources are best eaten only sparingly, especially during pregnancy.
Cheese is available with various fat percentages – from full-fat to no-fat. Full-fat cheese is high in saturated fat, with lower percentages in the various grades of low- and reduced-fat brands. Cottage cheese, low-fat ricotta and various other low-fat varieties are generally available. Check the labels for fat percentages. Lower-fat varieties generally have more protein than the high-fat varieties. Cheese is also a source of calcium.
Milk and Yogurt
Milks and yogurts have similar constituents to cheese, varying in fat and protein, with the low-fat varieties providing the most protein. It’s best to check labels for amounts of fat, protein and calcium. Milk proteins are either casein or whey protein. Opinions abound on what is the best protein for weight training – casein or whey. Casein is reported to be a “slow protein” and whey a “fast protein.” That means they can produce a slower or faster anabolic (muscle building) response. The differences are likely to be too small to measure; getting sufficient complete protein for your activity is likely all you need to be concerned about.
Beans, especially soya beans, are good sources of protein, iron, fiber, good fats and minerals. Soy protein is complete protein like meat proteins. Concern about the phytoestrogens in soy is generally unfounded as long as moderate amounts are consumed. But even in high-soy diets, it’s difficult to show any adverse effects on male hormonal profiles, and soy may improve heart disease risk factors.
Nuts contain less (but not insignificant) protein than the other sources listed above, but they do provide a range of other important dietary constituents. Good mono- and polyunsaturated fats, omega-3, fiber, magnesium, iron, zinc, vitamin E and important minerals such as selenium are available in useful quantities in various nut varieties.