Some people get concerned about juicing and protein content.
Whilst juicing provides a super hit of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients how much protein does a typical juice actually contain?
Let’s take a step back a moment. What is protein and why is it important?
Juicing and Protein Basics
Protein is the building block of body muscle tissue and comprises of 20 amino acids.
These can be split into ‘essential’ and ‘non- essential’ amino acids that perform many different beneficial actions in our bodies.
Non-essential amino acids can be manufactured by the liver adequately when dietary nutrition is good however essential amino acids must be supplied by the diet.
Protein is vital to the growth and repair of our bodies and contributes to many bodily functions such as hair and skin growth, our immune systems and the production of hormones.
When undergoing regular exercise and or large volumes of weightlifting the body is placed under a large volume of stress. This results in an increased demand for nutrients especially protein for growth and repair.
This is one of the reasons juicing is so great for our bodies especially when exercising.
60-70% of protein in the human body is found in muscle tissue and ideally an athlete or active person is looking to create a positive nitrogen balance. This means a greater availability of nitrogen from protein is available than is being excreted by the body.
The body is said to be in an anabolic or ‘muscle building’ state which is the optimum condition to be in for growth, repair and recovery. This occurs when our protein intake is higher than what leaves our body or is being used up.
A negative nitrogen balance is when protein requirements are not met by the diet and protein is drawn from the muscles to be used for other bodily functions-often referred to in health and fitness circles as a ‘catabolic state.’
Think about people who suddenly stop eating for days or starve themselves to lose weight.
Quite often they end up with the dread ‘skinny-fat’ look. This occurs when the body goes into starvation mode and starts to use muscle for fuel when protein is not high enough to maintain muscle mass.
What are My Daily Protein Requirements?
This is a hotly debated topic.
Just how much protein do we require and how much more do we need if we are undergoing a heavy exercise or weight training program?
Just a quick glance online will reveal varying suggestions and amounts and it can get confusing.
People who do very little exercise and sit for more than 8 hours a day (sedentary) are said to need at least 56 grams per day, with women needing 46. Already this seems wrong though-we are all different sizes weights, heights etc so there is no one size fits all category.
These figures are based on average people but again what are average activity levels?
It gets even more confusing when looking at highly active individuals. The table below shows a rough guide to average protein requirements per pound of body weight in grams across a varying cross section of individuals:
Sedentary adult 0.4 grams
Active adult 0.4-0.6 grams
Growing athlete 0.6-0.9 grams
Adult building muscle mass 0.6-0.9 grams
So taking myself as an example, i weigh around 15 Stone last time i checked which is 210 pounds.
210 x 0.9 (im looking to build muscle mass) = 189 grams per day! That’s a lot of protein to get from meals alone hence why i always include a whey protein supplement into my daily diet.
For someone who’s dieting or looking to drop body fat percentage i would recommend airing on the side of caution and trying to hit at least 0.6 grams/lb of protein to try and remain in a state of positive nitrogen balance.
Protein Health Benefits
The benefits of protein include:
Helping the immune system
Muscle strength increases
Performance & endurance
By increasing your protein intake alongside your juicing regime you can further supercharge your health and get fitter. I tend to add a protein supplement with my juice each day to bump up the protein levels, however this may not be necessary depending on how much protein you need (take a look at the table above for some guidelines.)
Protein is great when dieting as you feel fuller for longer. It also has a muscle sparing effect due to its high amino acid profile so helping to preserve lean body mass when on a low calorie diet. This is good news for athletes and bodybuilders who are trying to keep lean muscle mass at a high level but restricting calories to aid fat loss.
Upping your protein while juicing during a weight loss program is great due to the low carbohydrate and fat content, excellent nutritional profile and appetite suppressing effects.
Cancer & Surgery
Due to proteins muscle sparing and immune boosting effects it can be particularly useful for people with health conditions such as cancer who may struggle to obtain high quality nutrition from their diet. Liquids such as juices are often easier to consume when undergoing treatment such as chemotherapy or after surgery and are often recommended by doctors to boost health.
High quality protein has been attributed to lowering LDL cholesterol as part of a healthy diet during research. Research conducted at the University of Connecticut published in January 2011 showed that a supplement in whey protein could help fend off cardiovascular problems. During the study 41 adults consumed whey protein or a placebo for two weeks. Blood tests revealed that whey protein lowered the heart disease markers significantly two hours after meals. Limited studies have also linked whey protein with improved blood pressure levels, which can help guard against heart disease
General health and immunity
Essential nutrients such as immunoglobulins, BCAAs, cysteine, glutathione, and lactoferrin are present in large quantities that help in strengthening the immune system to fight off diseases. Lactoferrin activates the innate immune system cells like macrophages and T-cells. These are the first line of defence against harmful pathogens including cancer cells.
When doing a juice fast for more than two days i would recommend a protein supplement alongside the fast. During a juice only fast you will be looking at around 30 grams of protein per day. This is a little low, especially if you are exercising. Whilst this shouldn’t be a problem for a day or so, it’s sensible to maximise your exercise results and help to preserve muscle.
Whole Food Protein Sources
If you want to stick to whole food protein sources when juicing we’ve outlined a few option for you below.
- Ground flax seeds. 30 grams of flaxseed equals roughly 5 grams of natural protein. They also contain essential fats for an added health boost.
- Chia Seeds. These should ideally be soaked in water first before adding to your juice. 30 grams will yield about 4 grams of protein.
- Hemp seeds. A little higher in protein, 30 grams will give about 10 grams of extra protein. These have a slightly nutty flavor which can be nice with some more bitter juices to balance out the taste.
Take a look at the recommendations further up the page and work out what you’ll need for your daily dose of protein. I personally go for a flavourless powder supplement as it’s quick, mixes well and is high in amino acids. There’s no harm in adding some whole food sources as well, and i’d recommend this during a longer juice fast or cleanse due to the added fiber.