Have you ever felt overwhelmed looking for protein supplements after weight loss surgery at the store or online? You’re not alone! The protein supplement industry is huge. According to Euromonitor International, a trends monitoring organization, consumers spend 16 billion dollars per year on protein products.
It’s nice to have options but ultimately you need to make a decision that’s best for you as a bariatric patient. Where to begin? Let’s take it step by step.
Protein matters when it comes to weight loss.
Protein is a nutrient that comes from your diet. It is made up of smaller units called amino acids. More on those later. When you think of protein, you might think of animal sources such as meat, milk, and eggs. Milk actually contains two types of protein: whey and casein. However, protein also comes from many plant sources such as brown rice, yellow peas, chia seeds, flax seeds, grains, hemp, and soybeans.
Protein contains calories that provide your body with energy but it also has several other important jobs. It helps you to feel fuller for longer, keeps blood sugar stable, and builds and maintains muscle. Protein supports all the muscles in the body – not just the obvious muscles we see in our arms, legs, and abdomen but also the muscles in our heart, digestive organs, and blood vessels.
When you lose weight, whether or not you have had bariatric surgery, you will also lose some muscle. It can’t be avoided. However, eating a diet with plenty of protein can help to minimize the amount of muscle that is lost.
What are Amino Acids?
Now back to those smaller units that make up protein. The human body needs 20 different amino acids. Nine of these are called ‘essential amino acids’ because they must come from the food you eat and you have to get them from your diet every day. Your body can make the other 11 amino acids. When many amino acids are linked together in a chain, they make a protein.
|AMINO ACIDS (ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS BOLDED)|
Amino Acids Become a Protein
If you have been looking at protein supplements, you have probably heard of the amino acid called leucine. Leucine is an essential amino acid naturally found in many protein sources. Leucine is especially important for maintaining muscle mass while losing weight. Research shows that leucine helps to protect muscles even when people are very sedentary and not able to use their muscle. Having protein that includes leucine within 30 minutes after exercise stimulates the body to build muscle.
Not all proteins are created equally. We use the term ‘protein quality’ to specify how well the protein nourishes your body based on the amino acids it contains. A high-quality protein contains all of the essential amino acids and is called a ‘complete protein’. Examples of complete proteins are whey, casein, soy, and egg. A protein that is not complete is not bad; it just means that you need to include a variety of protein sources in your diet so you get all of the essential amino acids.
Whey protein is one of the most popular sources for protein supplements, but some people prefer plant-based protein sources, especially if they follow a vegan diet or have allergies to milk. Besides soy, other common plant sources in protein supplements are peas, brown rice, hemp, and chia seeds. The most nutritious plant-based protein supplements combine a variety of plant proteins to provide all of the essential amino acids. This makes the supplement a complete protein.
You might see collagen as a protein source. Collagen is an animal-based protein but it lacks tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids. For this reason, you may want to avoid a collagen-based protein supplement unless it has been fortified with an adequate amount of tryptophan.
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