You are looking at protein all wrong!

You are looking at protein all wrong!

First of all, if you strive to have balanced nutrition you must become a utilitarian.  Food needs to be inserted into your day in a useful and practical manner.  Not every meal or snack is intended to bring you pure savory enjoyment.  If you are a Crossfitters, fighter, pro-athlete, hardcore fitness enthusiast, I assume you get the concept that food is most often just fuel – nothing more.  Protein bars and shakes comprise a large portion of the snacks and mini-meals for the highly active.  For those of you that have not jumped on the wellness-wagon yet, understand that without a pragmatic approach to nutrition, you are unlikely to achieve the physique and body mass index you desire.

Even if you consider yourself fairly nutrition savvy, I am going to state that you are probably looking at protein all wrong.  I am sure you understand the fundamentals: protein is a critical nutrient that is essential for growth. And, protein is in all the cells of your body.  I believe in a healthy balance of animal and plant-based protein.  But regardless of your ‘diet religion,’ diversifying your sources of protein is ideal.   Meat-eaters, intermittent fasters, vegans, pescatarians and vegetarians alike generally eat supplements of some kind.  It is very difficult to live a life where you hustle to work, train and play and prepare fresh food for every meal.  Therefore, you need to learn how to calculate the pCal score or ‘Protein as a Percentage of Calories.’

Protein as a Percentage of Calories or the pCal will help you look at protein the right way.  It is not enough to just look at the % of protein listed on the back of a package.  This is a newer term that is being propelled by many supplement companies, in particular Quest Nutrition.  Daniel Orrego, an R & D guy at Quest Nutrition and Quest Training claims that this term is mostly used in food manufacturing.  Orrego wants to see food packages marked with a pCal score and treated like the G.I. score or glycemic index of a carbohydrate.

pCal is the right way to look at protein because you can better evaluate the macronutrient profile of a food or supplement.  The mere pCal score on a package would tell consumers immediately if the product they are about to consume is indeed high in protein.  So how do you figure it out on your own, since packages do not use this nutritional ranking system?

Example: Dymatize ISO 100 Whey Protein

  • There are 25 grams of protein / 29.5 gram scoop
  • There are 110 calories per serving
  • Multiply 25 grams X 4, which is the number of calories per gram of protein
  • This equals 100 calories of protein
  • Simple divide the 100 calories of protein / 110 calories per serving
  • The Answer is – 90.9%.  This is the pCal score for this particular brand of protein powder.  In otherwords, 90% of the calories come from protein.

Here is a great example of a product that claims to be ‘high in protein.’  Special K™ Double Chocolate Protein- has a pCal score of 23.5%, offering the body only 10 grams of protein for the 170 calories worth of bar.

Anything above 80% is ideal. I qualify this by saying it is ideal, if you seek specifically protein for the purpose of lean muscle gains and recovery, verse a meal replacement which needs low glycemic carbs and fiber.   If you think about the timing of your protein intake and monitor the grams based on the intensity of your workout, then you need to learn how to calculate the pCal score of your protein supplements.  If you just want to increase your healthy snacks and do not care, then anything above 60% is fine.

So obviously, this poses some tricky math in the mind, when hustling through the grocery store aisles.  The truths is, most of us living our life on the wellness wagon buy the same 3-5 protein bars and shakes (and various sources) every week.  Run this calculation on your top 5 products and see the pCal scores.  This will help you to better evaluate how you get your supplemental protein calories.   The utilitarian way requires some basic framework- the pCal , like the glycemic index offers the right structure to get your body the right fuel it needs which leads to faster results.

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