Unexplained Weight Loss: What Could It Mean?

Unexplained weight loss could be due to dangerous underlying causes, from infections, to disorders, to conditions as serious as congestive heart failure and cancer. 

Under normal circumstances, people have to work hard to control their weight, whether they’re trying to slim down or bulk up. Sudden, noticeable, weight loss is often a symptom of an underlying health concern, and unexplained weight loss is even more worrying, as it could be an indication that something is wrong with your body, but is currently undiagnosed. This article will detail some of the usual suspects behind unintentional weight loss, so you can better understand how important it is to identify the underlying cause.

How Much Weight Loss Is Concerning?

It’s common to fluctuate between 1-3 pounds per day according to your scale; those are just the vagaries of water weight. However, a loss of 10 pounds or more (or 5% of your body weight) over a 6-12 month period with no known reason warrants concern. If you’ve changed your habits, changed your diet, or undergone a change in life that could explain the reduction in weight, then it may not be that unusual, but you may benefit from asking yourself some questions.

  • Did you start a new job?
  • Did you move to a new area?
  • Are you under some known form of stress (whether happy or unfortunate—i.e. planning a wedding or caring for a sick loved one).
  • Has there been a change in your relationship status?

It’s important to know, because while this sort of steady weight loss would be welcome if you’d changed your diet with the intention to lose weight (by transitioning from processed to whole foods for example), if no alterations to your diet or lifestyle have been made and your weight has still gone down this dramatically, there may be some serious underlying reasons.

Losing Weight Without Trying: Am I Sick?

Unexplained weight loss could be the first sign of sickness, yes. You should contact a doctor or health care professional right away to seek evaluation, as the causes for unexplained weight loss can be quite serious, from infections, to thyroid issues, to the terrifying prospect of cancer (but please don’t go to the extreme scenario…just go to a doctor!).

The good news is that doctors quickly find the cause of abnormal weight loss in over 75% of cases. In fact, even if you think you know the cause, something like general stress and anxiety could be masking a physical health problem, and you should make an appointment to be sure this weight loss isn’t caused by a combination of issues or that it isn’t taxing your health in other ways.

If the first examination isn’t thorough enough, seek a second opinion to rule out other causes. Blood tests, a urinalysis, a thyroid panel, liver and kidney function tests, a blood sugar test, or imaging studies may need to be done to make sure there are no red flags in your health profile.

Your doctor may ask:

  • Have you made any changes in your exercise or diet recently?
  • Has this sort of weight loss ever happened to you before?
  • Do you have any dental problems or mouth sores that could impede your ability to eat normally?
  • Is there a history of any particular illness that runs in your family?
  • Do you have any other concerning symptoms (palpitations, excessive thirst, sensitivity to heat or cold, a persistent cough, shortness of breath)?

Consider your overall health as you prepare for your appointment, so you can make sure your doctor is informed of any symptom that might be relevant to your condition.

Why Diagnosis Is Important

There are many medical conditions that might lead to unintentional weight loss. The American Cancer Society points out that 50% of all cancer patients have a form of cancer cachexia, a wasting syndrome that involves unintentional weight loss and brings on the death of about 20% of cancer patients.

It is the same with cardiac events. One study explicitly states, “Unintentional weight loss was an independent predictor of poor outcomes.” Unintentional weight loss brings about higher morbidity, mortality, and bodes ill for anyone already battling a disease. That is why identifying and treating unexplained weight loss is so important, especially in older adults (above age 65), who are all the more at risk of serious consequences from any sudden change in health.

Possible Causes of Unexplained Weight Loss

We’ll now run down some of the common causes of unintentional or abnormal weight loss.

Unexplained weight loss: possible underlying causes.

Endocrine Conditions

Endocrine conditions include hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), diabetes, and Addison’s disease (wherein the adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones). The thyroid gland is located in your neck, is somewhat butterfly-shaped, and controls your metabolism. An issue with the thyroid gland could be accompanied by heart palpitations, and if type 2 diabetes is at play, you’re likely to experience increased thirst and excessive urination as your body tries to expel all the glucose it can’t absorb.

Infections

Infections include anything from parasites, bacterial infections, and viruses (which HIV/AIDS patients are more susceptible to), along with conditions like endocarditis (an infection of the heart valves), or tuberculosis (an infection of the lungs). In these instances, your body is losing weight because it is using all of its resources to fight off an invasion.

Cancer

Weight loss can sometimes be one of the earliest symptoms of cancer, such as from lung cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, or blood-related cancers like lymphomas and leukemias. About 40% of cancer patients report having experienced weight loss around the time of their diagnosis, and studies have shown that unintentional weight loss is the second highest predictor for certain cancers. Weight loss often occurs as a result of cancer due to the body’s nourishing efforts being hijacked to support an abnormal tumor growth. Doctors will often check first for tumors in the bowels, colon, and esophagus, which can impede swallowing and quickly contribute to unintentional weight loss.

Intestinal Conditions

Conditions like celiac disease, peptic ulcer disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and pancreatitis can lead to unexplained weight loss in those who have yet to be diagnosed.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder wherein the small intestine is damaged by gluten intake, leading to GI symptoms like diarrhea and bloating. According to the Mayo Clinic, when the immune system sees gluten as a threat, it reacts, and that reaction means your body doesn’t have a chance to absorb its nutrients properly. Likewise, in an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s, the body’s reaction leads to malabsorption and unexplained loss of weight.

Those with chronic pancreatitis lose weight due to the fact that their body cannot produce enough digestive enzymes to properly break down food (and this may come with nausea, particularly from eating fatty foods).

Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure may cause weight loss due to a lack of sufficient blood flow to the GI tract. In a 2014 study researchers observed that those who had the most dramatic unintentional weight loss were indeed those who had the lowest blood flow to their intestines. Inadequate blood flow makes it harder to absorb nutrients, and the nausea and fatigue associated with congestive heart failure could lead to a loss of appetite.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa can cause dangerous weight loss, and while it might not be a completely unknown cause to the person suffering from the condition, it can be an indicator to a loved one or parent that something is wrong. Moreover, because of the nature of body dysmorphia, those coping with these eating disorders may not fully realize just how significant their weight loss is until it starts causing other health symptoms due to malnutrition.

Psychological Conditions

Depression and anxiety disorders often come with loss of appetite as a side effect, and can be an underlying cause of unexplained weight loss. It often goes unnoticed until the weight loss is significant enough, and will involve a different sort of diagnosis, as these are not conditions that can be found via imaging scan or blood test.

Drug Abuse

Be they extralegally obtained drugs or prescription medications, drug dependence can alter your body’s metabolic and digestive processes, and change your eating habits. Side effects from medications could lead to nausea, loss of appetite, or laxative effects that can contribute to unintentional weight loss as well.

Neurological Conditions

Unintentional weight loss is frequently seen in those with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. This is possibly due to the increased energy expense of rigidity, tremors, or dyskinesia (involuntary movements) associated with Parkinson’s, or the reduced energy intake due to poor health, stress, or the side effects of medication.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

When the immune system causes inflammatory reactions in healthy tissues, as in those with rheumatoid arthritis, it can also lead to a loss of appetite or an inflammation of the gut that interrupts nutrient absorption.

Reproductive Issues

Unexplained weight loss during menopause is unnatural, as it’s more common that menopause cause weight gain in women experiencing the change. Unintentional weight loss surrounding menopause could indicate that the changes in hormones has caused or made you susceptible to some other condition (stress, diabetes).

Likewise, unexplained weight loss during pregnancy is the opposite of the normal course of order. In the first few months, a loss of appetite due to morning sickness could be the culprit behind unintentional weight loss, but excessive weight loss could be a sign of a thyroid dysfunction or hyperemesis, a pregnancy complication that entails vomiting, severe nausea, dehydration, and weight loss. Your obstetrician should be made aware of any such symptoms.

An Explanation Is Necessary

Unknown causes of weight loss include a lot of scary and potentially life-threatening concerns. It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate by a few pounds here or there throughout the course of the year, but if you cannot determine a cause for sudden, steady weight loss, it’s important to consult with a medical professional and investigate: in fact, it could save your life.

Autophagy and Fasting: What Does the Science Say?

Autophagy is the body’s recycling program, which can be triggered by intermittent fasting. Autophagy is key in removing the toxins associated with neurodegenerative diseases, reusing residual proteins for energy and repair, and prompting the regeneration of cells throughout our bodies.

This article will discuss what autophagy fasting is, how it works, and whether or not the science backs up this practice.

What Is Autophagy?

We’ll start with the definition of autophagy: “auto” meaning “self” and “phagy” meaning “eats” tells you that the literal translation of autophagy is “self-eating.” That sounds scarier than the reality—we’re not talking about some flesh-eating bacteria or even the more common sort of self-cannibalization that our bodies do to our muscles when in need of energy, catabolizing.

Autophagy is more like a recycling program, or cutting your hair to keep it healthy and free of split-ends. It’s the body’s process of clearing out damaged cells so that it can regenerate new and healthier cells in their place. It’s almost like the internal equivalent of the exfoliating we do outside to keep our skin healthy.

The Details of Autophagy

Autophagy is a highly regulated process that delivers cellular waste material to lysosomes to be degraded, recycled, and then used to generate molecules to fuel cellular metabolism. For the specifics: scientist and Nobel prize winner Christian de Duve coined the term autophagy in 1962, when researchers discovered an increased amount of lysosomes in rat liver cells after an infusion of glucagon. It was also discovered that autophagy is regulated in part by the kinase mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which promotes or represses autophagy as needed.

Autophagy and fasting: your body's recycling program.

What Does Autophagy Do?

The normal process of autophagy impacts your body and your health in various ways.

Promotes Metabolic Efficiency

The dysregulation of autophagy may contribute to developing metabolic disorders like insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, and atherosclerosis. From the very cellular level, autophagy can be used to improve the efficiency of mitochondria. The mitochondria in cells are the energy-makers, and the process of autophagy feeds them proteins from damaged cells that would otherwise either go to waste, or clog up other processes in the body.

Assists Against Neurodegenerative Disorders

In cases of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Huntington’s disease, selective autophagy can help clean up the specific proteins that form in and around the brain’s neurons and result in neurodegenerative symptoms. While autophagy was previously thought of as a nonselective process of digestion, it’s now understood that autophagy receptors make this a selective process, involving a cellular form of quality control.

Fights Infectious Disease

One of the central functions of autophagy is to control infections. It removes the toxins that create infections and helps your immune system adapt its response to infection. Viruses as well as intracellular microorganisms and bacteria can be removed via autophagy.

Improves Muscle Performance

The oxidative stress placed on our cells during exercise can trigger instances of autophagy to help remove some of the damaged cellular debris and support our energy needs. Autophagy is necessary for exercise-induced muscle adaptation and the improvement of physical performance.

Prevents Cancer Growth

This is a double-edged sword, because while autophagy can clean up the damaged DNA and chronic inflammatory aspects of cancer development, some forms of cancer will attempt to usurp the process and use it to a detrimental advantage. Regulating the autophagy pathway is important for inhibiting cancer growth.

What Is Autophagy from Fasting?

Autophagy via fasting occurs when you take the reins of autophagy by carefully controlling your dietary intake. This is usually done in an attempt to trigger safe yet fast weight loss. Here are two types of dieting that can bring about targeted autophagy.

Autophagy via Intermittent Fasting

Stressing your cells is a quick way to turn on the autophagy process in your body, but you don’t want to overly stress your body for too long lest the cure be worse than the cold. Intermittent fasting can create a useful nutrient deprivation in your cells, just as exercising will create a certain amount of oxidative stress to purposefully trigger your repair mechanisms into building muscle.

Intermittent fasting is not so much a diet as a pattern of eating, with daily short-term fasting of 16 hours, or longer fasts of 24 hours twice a week. How long until autophagy from fasting begins? It begins whenever your liver glycogen depletes, which occurs between 12-16 hours into a fast. This isn’t a deprivation so much as a return to the eating pattern humans evolved to survive under when we didn’t have supermarkets open 24/7. Intermittent fasting in that sense is more natural than eating three square meals a day, and can lead to long-term, sustainable weight loss, as well as better overall health when practiced…well, intermittently.

Autophagy via Ketosis

The ketogenic diet (or keto diet) is another way to get the benefits of fasting without actually fasting. This high-fat, low-carb diet breaks down to about 75% of your daily calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates.

By putting a caloric restriction on carbs, you end up shifting your body’s go-to source of energy from quick glucose to fat. That fat burning starts first with the fat you eat, and then quickly turns to burning the fat stores already on your body for a reliable energy source. This produces ketone bodies that bring protective effects, and research suggests that ketosis can also bring about periods of autophagy, which has its own health benefits for the body.

Autophagy via Exercise

Exercise is a non-diet-related way of inducing autophagy. An animal study suggests that physical exercise may bring about autophagy in specific organs that are involved in metabolic regulation, namely the pancreas, liver, adipose tissue, and muscles.

Adding intermittent fasting and regular exercise to your lifestyle is an excellent way to stimulate autophagy in your body. To make sure you have the ability to build muscle while fasting or utilizing calorie restrictions, you may want to supplement with a full host of the amino acids necessary for protein synthesis. That way the required ingredients for new muscle are never out of balance.

The Potential Benefits of Autophagy

Autophagy is the body’s way of replacing old cells with new and younger ones, a regeneration effect that can help optimize our lifespans. As with any process in the body, autophagy declines as we age—waste accumulates and the regeneration rate decreases. This invariably leads to many symptoms of aging, which is why targeted autophagy fasting is so appealing.

Autophagy and Anti-Aging Potential

The benefits of autophagy are still being explored by scientists for its anti-aging potential, from the cellular level of the brain to the surface level of the skin. Those looking to employ autophagy via fasting to the loose skin left over after dramatic weight loss can find hope in studies suggesting that the slowing of natural autophagy is associated with a deterioration of dermal integrity, and that the fibroblasts that produce collagen (which keeps our skin youthful and pliable) suffer when autophagy decreases as we age. It stands to reason that if our collagen-producing fibroblasts get clogged due to a lack of autophagy, a targeted increase in autophagy frequency can free them up again, thus preventing and counteracting the aging of our skin.

Autophagy and Anti-Cancer Potential

The buildup of cellular waste affects our bodies from surface to core, as discussed previously with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. Fasting and autophagy applied to cancer treatment have been shown to inhibit tumor growth. Autophagy fasting is still being fully explored by researchers hoping to prevent cancers from forming via the clean-up efforts of autophagy.

Some studies indicate that cancerous cells can be detected and destroyed through autophagy, before they can proliferate and start using the body’s processes against itself. Targeted use of autophagy, and keeping that process from being hijacked by cancers, may lead to new therapies for cancer treatment.

Fasting for Autophagy

Autophagy is our body’s recycling program, beneficial in removing the toxins associated with neurodegenerative diseases, reusing residual proteins for energy and repair, and prompting the regeneration of new and healthy cells throughout our bodies. On a cellular level, it’s like a regeneration episode of Doctor Who, but instead of science fiction, this process is science fact, and you have the ability to use it to your health’s advantage via targeted fasting.

When Is the Best Time to Take Protein?

The best time to take protein supplements depends on your activity level, your personal goals, and the types of workouts you engage in. This article will provide you with specific, scientifically backed recommendations, and the reasoning behind that advice.

When taking protein supplements, people often wonder when exactly is the best time of day to consume them. Pre-workout? Post-workout? Is it okay to drink a protein shake before bed? Protein supplements can help people lose weight, build muscle, and recover from tissue damage due to injury or surgery. Because they’re so effective, most people want to be sure they’re utilizing protein the right way. So when is the best time to take protein? Short answer is: that depends on your health goals and the kinds of workouts you’re doing. For the longer answer and more detail, read on.

The Different Types of Protein Supplements

Protein is a source of energy for the body, essential for muscle growth, repairing damaged tissue, and preventing certain infections and diseases. Normal dietary protein comes from foods like meats, eggs, fish, dairy, grains, legumes, and seeds. Though animal products contain the most amount of protein, vegetables are sources of protein too, a fact well-known by those living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Of the most popular protein powders on the market in fact, a significant portion are plant-based.

Plant-based proteins include:

  • Soy protein containing all nine essential amino acids.
  • Rice protein, which is lower in the essential amino acid lysine.
  • Pea protein, which has lower levels of the essential amino acid methionine and nonessential amino acid cysteine.
  • Hemp protein, which is low in lysine but high in fiber, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are essential, meaning your body can’t make them on its own, and needs to gain them from the foods you eat.

Dairy-based proteins include:

  • Whey protein, which is absorbed relatively quickly and contains all nine essential amino acids.
  • Casein protein from milk curds, also containing the essential amino acids, and with a slower digestion rate than whey (which is why people often take casein before they sleep, so it will digest throughout the night… more on that timing below).

Animal-based proteins include:

  • Egg protein powder made from pure egg white protein.
  • Creatine, which is not found in plants but can be synthetically created. Though it is an animal protein, depending on its origin source, it may nevertheless be possible for vegans to use creatine as a supplement.

These are among the most commonly known protein powders available to buy, but we here at the Amino Co. have also developed an essential amino acid (EAA) blend that isn’t lacking or low on any of the amino acids required for protein synthesis and new muscle growth. It also blends free-form amino acids with whey protein and creatine, a nonessential protein that nevertheless has great value as a supplement. These forms of protein are used to help those who want to build muscle rapidly, and can even benefit those with muscle, neurological, or neuromuscular diseases.

The Varied Uses of Protein Supplementation

From muscle building to weight loss, here’s a quick look at all that supplemental protein can do to benefit your body.

Exercise Performance and Recovery

Added protein has been shown to increase endurance during training and workouts, as well as reduce soreness and speed up post-workout recovery. The timing of your protein intake matters here, whether you’re eating high-protein foods or taking supplements. Read on to learn about workout-specific timing recommendations.

Muscle Building

Muscles can only be built when you have the proper amount of amino acids for protein synthesis, and when you’re consuming more protein than your body breaks down during workouts. Taking a protein supplement, especially one that contains all the necessary EAAs for muscle growth, can make a huge difference. Finding the right anabolic window, the period of time when the protein you take in will go directly to your muscles, is something the International Society of Sports Nutrition has done extensive research on, and we, too, will provide specific scientific reasoning below.

Muscle Loss Prevention

Muscle mass is lost not only during intensive workouts, but also naturally as we age. Each decade you live after the age of 30 brings with it a higher risk of losing muscle (anywhere between 3-8% per decade). Proper protein intake is not only valuable to athletes, bodybuilders, and anyone who works out regularly, but it’s also important for each and every one of us as we age. Most Americans reserve their protein more for dinner than breakfast (3 times the amount on average is the difference between the two meals), and could use a supplemental boost of protein first thing in the morning to shore up their protein stores and help prevent the loss of muscle mass due to aging.

Fat Loss Facilitation

Protein is filling enough to help curb hunger pangs and chemically contributes to appetite suppression by reducing the “hunger hormone” ghrelin. A high-protein diet raises your metabolism and increases levels of appetite-reducing hormones like peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). More satiety means fewer calories consumed throughout the day, which quickly leads to safe, maintainable weight loss and the reduction of dangerous body fat.

The Enduring Power of Protein

Popular because they’re convenient and effective, protein powders and supplements are here to stay and can offer you a wide variety of options, from self-mix formulas and powders to ready-to-drink protein shakes. If you’ve got your preferred protein supplement ready to go, then it’s time to wonder: when should you drink protein?

The Best Time to Take Protein Depending on Your Workout

Depending on your goals and activities, there are recommended times to take protein for the greatest effectiveness for your energy levels and muscle-building needs. Here are specific recommendations based on different types of workout activity.

The best time to take protein supplements.

Aerobic/Cardiovascular Exercise

Best time to take protein: Pre-workout and post-workout

The amino acid leucine is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and it promotes muscle recovery after workouts. Not only that, it activates protein synthesis, prompting new muscle to be built. One might think that due to leucine’s ability to boost endurance and stamina, one should take a BCAA supplement before a workout, but the science contradicts that idea. Not only are BCAAs only three of the nine essential amino acids needed to construct new muscle, leucine and the other BCAAs (isoleucine and valine) experience oxidative degradation during aerobic activity.

BCAAs are Insufficient Pre-Workout

Adding these limited amino acids before your workout, especially in the unbalanced form of BCAAs instead of a complete EAA formula, means that a greater percentage will be oxidized and used for energy instead of muscle building. Your body does not want to be out of balance, so a sudden overabundance of a few amino acids will cause the body to clean up and reduce them in order to maintain equilibrium.

Rather than risk burning off the protein you put in because your body is only looking for energy sources, it’s better to take a full measure of EAAs within the hour after your aerobic workout, when your body is looking for supplies to rebuild. Leucine will be there to prompt muscle protein synthesis, and the rest of the essential amino acids will all be included in the ideal ratio for generating new muscle growth.

EAAs are Effective Pre- and Post-Workout

That being said, taking a complete amino acid protein supplement before an aerobic cardiovascular workout (like a high-intensity interval training or HIIT class), not only provides the necessary ingredients for muscle building, but also helps fight fatigue in a way that only taking BCAAs can’t, by fueling your body with the amino acids that help produce dopamine and serotonin in the brain.

Whether you’re walking, cycling, running stairs, or jumping rope, start by taking your EAA supplement 30 minutes before your workout session. The biggest benefit comes when you take your EAA supplement within an hour after your workout, when your blood flow is strong and active. Not only will the amino acids rush in to replace damaged muscle fibers with new muscle, EAAs can also help calm unnecessary inflammation. That will help quicken your recovery, allowing you to feel only the good side effects of working out, like increased energy and light euphoria, instead of soreness and fatigue.

Resistance Exercise

Best time to take protein: Pre-workout, during, and post-workout

Research has shown that EAAs given 30 minutes before a resistance exercise workout prompt muscle protein synthesis much more effectively than consuming EAAs afterwards does. Taking a protein supplement before this type of workout helps prevent the breakdown of muscle protein during the activity, and also increases blood flow to the muscles, thus getting the amino acids quickly into the muscle where they’re needed.

Consuming EAAs after a resistance workout is not harmful by any means, as that method, too, will prompt the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis, but it’s not ideal to leave the consumption of EAAs until after your resistance training is complete. Our recommendation is to first and foremost take a complete protein supplement before a resistance workout, and if possible take them throughout and/or after as well to get the most benefit.

Bodybuilding

Best time to take protein: Pre- and post-workout, and also before bed.

Immediately before and after a weight-lifting workout, we recommend that you take 15 grams of EAAs each. An EAA supplement has been shown to have a faster effect on muscle protein synthesis than either whey or casein protein alone. However, our Amino Co. blend of free-form EAAs with whey and creatine support ensures that you get a fast dose of EAAs and that the EAAs from whey will digest more slowly as you work out, offering a steady supply to help prevent muscle breakdown. Creatine helps prevent catabolism by supplying faster energy than your body can naturally generate from muscle cell mitochondria. This means more energy for more reps, which ultimately means more work put in and more muscle gained.

An hour after your post-workout dose of EAAs, we recommend another 15-gram dose. On off days, continue taking these same doses, measured between meals instead of surrounding your workout. Lastly, it’s also recommended you take another 15-gram dose before bed to keep your muscles fed as you sleep and to help prevent muscle breakdown as much as possible. You work hard to gain your muscles, and we encourage you to protect those gains at every opportunity. Set your alarm to take one more dose around 4 am if you know you won’t have a problem falling back to sleep, that way your muscles never go hungry for fuel.

It should be noted here that bodybuilders aren’t the only ones who benefit from taking extra protein before bed. One study of 16 elderly men showed that those who consumed casein protein (which digests slowly) before bed had increased muscle growth over those who took a placebo, despite being less active individuals. When you’re sleeping, it’s the protein that counts, and not the activity.

Is There Any Downside to Taking Protein Supplements?

The majority of scientific studies into how our bodies process high amounts of protein show that you can safely consume plenty of protein without risk of harmful side effects. Unless your doctor advises against protein supplements or you have a known kidney issue like rhabdomyolysis, there is no need to worry about excessive protein intake; merely take your products as recommended and spread them throughout your day.

Timing Is Everything

At the end of the day, it’s true that people who work out need more protein, but even those with a less active lifestyle benefit from consuming extra protein for strength, for maintaining healthy weight levels, and for preventing the loss of muscle mass we all experience as we age.

Make a protein shake for breakfast, have another to curb your appetite between meals, and make another as a beneficial treat before bed. Know that the more regularly you take in balanced forms of protein like Amino Co.’s complete EAA blend, the more good you can do for your body. Whether you’re working out or not, upping your daily protein intake is safe and smart. Bulk up, slim down, and stay strong with protein!

What are Amino Acid Functional Groups?

What is an amino acid functional group? This article will answer that question with information on amino acid classification and how proteins (and possibly all life on Earth) are formed.

What are Amino Acid Functional Groups?

So you’ve heard of amino acid functional groups and you want to understand them better. This article will help to clarify the structure of amino acids, their functional groups, and what it all has to do with the creation of protein.

Some Basic Reference Definitions

Below are the names of the 20 common amino acids in the body, nine of which are essential amino acids, meaning humans must eat or otherwise consume them to get what we need to function. The essential aminos are designated with an asterisk (*). There are their names, their three-letter codes, their one-letter codes (as used in drawing models of molecular bonds), plus their bond type and properties. Polar vs. nonpolar bond types refers to their covalent bonds. We will start with those definitions for the bond type category—get ready for some high school clique metaphors to help you visualize all this organic chemistry.

Covalent Bonds

Covalent bonds form the base of the chemical reactions between atoms of different elements. The bonds form in only one way: when an electron becomes shared by two elements. That creates the connection that then results in a new substance. Covalent bonds can exist as polar or nonpolar compounds, and all bonds that are polar or nonpolar in nature are by definition covalent.

To visualize: think of these bonds like the bonds of friendship. Two students (atoms) come close to one another and share their lunch (electrons). This sharing means there is a bond of friendship (the covalent bond). Whereas before they had been two separate elements, strangers, now a new substance has formed: a friendship.

Polar Bonds

Polar bonds are bonds where the electrons are not shared equally between two atoms. These types of bonds are what designates polar molecules from nonpolar ones. This occurs when the two atoms bonding are from two different elements; atoms from the same element do not form polar bonds.

Just as bigger planets can hold bigger moons in their orbits, so it is with atoms: they pull electrons to the best of their ability, but when they come into the orbit of a better puller (a bigger planet), that atom will pull more electrons into its orbit (and steal the lesser planet’s moons).

When two atoms of the same element meet, neither is stronger than the other, and thus neither one is more attractive than the other regarding electrons, and so neither side exhibits the polar pull, and the bond is considered nonpolar. The negative charge end of the bond is the more attractive atom, because it can draw more negative (-) electrons.

To put this back into the context of our high school friends, let’s say the two atoms meeting and bonding are a vivacious theater student and a more reserved math student. In sharing lunch, somehow the theater student always gets more to eat because the math student is so transfixed and feels the need to be overly generous. This is true whenever the theater student meets someone with less personal magnetism, which means the theater student gets an overabundance of food (electrons), which is negative because the increased calories may cause the theater student to gain weight, or get a bad complexion from eating too much processed lunch food. Eventually the theater student will fill up to the brim with extra food, and won’t be able to accept any more.

Nonpolar Bonds

A nonpolar bond is formed when two atoms from the same element meet and share electrons equally and evenly with one another. Neither atom is a better electron puller than the other, and so there is no one side more polar than the other.

In our friendship metaphor, this is a bond between two theater students, or two math students, who pool all of their lunch food together in the middle of the table, and pull from the pile equally and in unison.

Hydrophobic vs. Hydrophilic

For the properties category, hydrophobic and hydrophilic refer to molecules and their reactions to water. Molecules that repel water, or are phobic of hydration, are hydrophobic. The molecules that can form an ionic or hydrogen bond with a water molecule are hydrophilic, they have a philia for water, they like the feel of it.

If atoms are students once again, the hydrophilic ones are either on the swim team itself, or part of a group that likes to swim and heads out to the beach or the lake every weekend. The hydrophobic ones either can’t swim or simply do not like it. Hydrophobic students will tell you that their friends and the community pool go together like oil and water: they don’t mix.

Your Amino Acids: Names and Designations

Amino-acid name: Alanine Amino-acid name: Arginine
Three-letter code: Ala

One-letter code: A

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Three-letter code: Arg

One-letter code: R

Bond type: Polar, positively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Asparagine Amino-acid name: Aspartate
Three-letter code: Asn

One-letter code: N

Bond type: Polar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Asp

One-letter code: D

Bond type: Polar, negatively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Cysteine Amino-acid name: Glutamate
Three-letter code: Cys

One-letter code: C

Bond type: Nonpolar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Glu

One-letter code: E

Bond type: Polar, negatively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Glutamine Amino-acid name: Glycine
Three-letter code: Gln

One-letter code: Q

Bond type: Polar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Gly

One-letter code: G

Bond type: Nonpolar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Histidine* Amino-acid name: Isoleucine*
Three-letter code: His

One-letter code: H

Bond type: Polar, positively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Ile

One-letter code: I

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Amino-acid name: Leucine* Amino-acid name: Lysine*
Three-letter code: Leu

One-letter code: L

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Three-letter code: Lys

One-letter code: K

Bond type: Polar, positively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Methionine* Amino-acid name: Phenylalanine
Three-letter code: Met

One-letter code: M

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Three-letter code: Phe

One-letter code: F

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Amino-acid name: Proline Amino-acid name: Serine
Three-letter code: Pro

One-letter code: P

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Three-letter code: Ser

One-letter code: S

Bond type: Polar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Threonine* Amino-acid name: Tryptophan*
Three-letter code: Thr

One-letter code: T

Bond type: Polar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Trp

One-letter code: W

Bond type: Nonpolar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophobic

Amino-acid name: Tyrosine Amino-acid name: Valine*
Three-letter code: Tyr

One-letter code: Y

Bond type: Polar, no charge
Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Val

One-letter code: V

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

It’s a lot of information, to be sure, but it’s provided as a reference point to help facilitate the following explanations.

What Are Amino Acid Functional Groups?

Amino acids are all made up of groups of atoms, and the functional groups are the important ones in each amino, it’s what makes them different and unique, deciding whether the amino overall is polar or nonpolar, acidic or basic.

Each of the above standard 20 aminos have one hydrogen atom, and two groups attached to its alpha carbon atom: an amino or amine group (~NH3+) and a carboxyl group (~COOH). They are each then distinguished from other types of amino acids by their third attached functional group: side chains referred to as R groups. When you ask what are amino acid functional groups, here they are, with the R group being the one with the most diversity. When you think of R groups, think R for radical, as it’s the variable part that makes each amino acid different from the rest.

What is the amino acid functional group?

About R Groups

Of the 20 standard amino acids that make up the building blocks of protein:

  • 6 of them have hydrocarbon R groups
  • 7 of them have neutral R groups
  • 6 of them have acid or base R groups

The simplest of the amino acids is glycine, which has just one hydrogen atom in the position of the side chain group (no R group at all, just an attached loner).

Some Quite Interesting Relevant Facts

  • In chemistry, organic compounds are generally thought of as any chemical compound that contains carbon, which includes amino acids.
  • All amino acids are soluble in an aqueous solution (water), even the hydrophobic ones (counterintuitive but true).
  • All naturally occurring amino acids are in the L-form; L for levorotatory, referring to the way you’d turn the amino acid to read the order of its attached groups (the opposite of is dextrorotatory or D-form).
  • As you can see in the above list, 50% of the amino acids have nonpolar side chains. The other half is designated polar, five of which have side chains that are not only polar, but charged.
  • Because the carboxyl group is an acid, it can form peptide bonds with the base amino groups of other amino acids, causing chemical reactions that create polypeptide chains and amino acid residues.
  • When two amino acids react and form a peptide bond, and that process goes on to be repeated, many amino acids may string together, which forms a protein structure.
  • This protein synthesis (though a little more complicated than just linking acid to base over and over again like links of a chain) is among the most fundamental of biological processes, an invaluable component of every cell. Proteins make our nails and hair, protein builds and repairs our tissues, protein is needed to make our hormones, our enzymes, and many other chemicals in the human body.
  • In 1953, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey conducted a simulation, to test a hypothesis about how life originally formed on Earth. They built a closed system that contained a heated pool of water under a mixture of gases that were thought to be present in the early atmosphere of Earth. They delivered an electric current to simulate lightning, and after a week analyzed the contents of the liquid pool. In there they discovered that several organic amino acids had spontaneously formed from inorganic raw materials. This leant support to the theory that the first life on Earth arose out of the primordial ooze through naturally occurring chemical reactions like a little flash of lightning.

Conclusion

The functional or R groups of amino acids are the groups that define the chemistry of proteins. They are the basis on which amino acids are classified, and according to the Miller-Urey experiment, possibly the start of all organic life on Earth. Not only is “What are amino acid functional groups?” a stimulating question to ask, but the answer to that question comes awfully close to revealing the true answers behind life, the universe, and…well…everything.

Most Popular Supplements for Muscle Growth

Learn the chemistry behind the traditional top supplements for muscle growth, and find out about the newest and most comprehensive supplement that’s about to revolutionize muscle building.

If you’re looking for supplements for muscle growth, you’ve probably already noticed that it’s a pretty crowded field. Different proteins and combinations and timing strategies get discussed, and before you know it you feel like you need about half a degree in chemistry just to build muscle at the gym! We’re streamlining the relevant information on muscle-building supplements, their pros and cons, so you can decide on the best supplements for your own fitness goals. If you’re in a rush, skip to the end, because there’s a new supplemental option that combines the best muscle growth nutrients you’ve ever known, all in one complete, balanced formula that will best all the rest. Read through to learn about the ideal muscle-building combo, a powerful protein trinity.

The First Steps Towards Muscle Building

Getting the most out of your workout involves taking a few first steps before you can start targeting muscle gain specifically. The first steps after taking up regular exercise are:

While supplements are not mandatory to reach these goals, they can be excellent aids to quicken your progress and maximize your protein intake without bringing unpredictable calories to your diet. Next up we’ll discuss the top supplements for muscle growth that you can choose from when attempting to gain muscle mass, and reveal a cutting-edge, scientifically-backed newcomer to the muscle-building supplement world.

Traditional Top Supplements for Muscle Growth

Over and above eating well and lifting weights, here are some protein and muscle-building supplements you can use to augment your workout goals, some of them more effective than others.

Top supplements for muscle growth and bodybuilding.

Carnitine

Carnitine is the general term for a group of amino acid compounds that include L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine, and propionyl-L-carnitine. Carnitine is a transporter that moves long-chain fatty acids into mitochondria, where they’re oxidized or burned for energy.

A popular supplement for fat-loss, carnitine can also aid muscle growth by increasing blood flow to muscles, lessening muscle soreness, and increasing nitric oxide production, all of which improve your post-workout recovery. The combination of these benefits makes carnitine a strong asset for energy-boosting while you’re building muscles through exercise, especially when utilized in pre-workout and post-workout shakes. Though it doesn’t directly contribute to muscle building, it does provide valuable energy assistance, and improves performance during endurance athletics.

Pros

  • Aids athletic endurance by providing energy transport.
  • Helps ease muscle soreness and improve post-workout recovery.

Cons

  • Does not directly increase muscle, but instead aids in workout energy.
  • Carnitine is only a peripheral aid to individuals working to build muscle via exercise.
  • Carnitine would need to be taken alongside direct protein or amino acid supplements to be most effective.

Whey Protein Powder

A milk protein derived from whey, which is the watery part of milk that separates from the curd, whey protein is an excellent supplement affecting protein synthesis. With a high level of branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, and including some amount of all nine essential amino acids (EAAs), this protein supplement digests relatively quickly and can help with rapid muscle building.

Whey protein can help increase blood flow due to its content of peptides, and is regularly consumed by bodybuilders immediately after their training sessions (within the hour). When choosing a whey protein, it’s recommended that you find a powder containing whey protein hydrolysates, which are proteins broken down for faster digestion.

Pros

  • Whey protein is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.
  • Whey protein is high in the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

Cons

  • While whey protein is a fast-absorbing whole protein, free-form amino acids can be absorbed much more quickly.
  • Whey protein’s amino acid content is not optimally balanced, and a properly formulated essential amino acid supplement can have 3 times the effectiveness rate as a whey protein powder supplement alone.

Glutamine

Glutamine is an amino acid that not only helps build muscles by increasing the levels of the essential amino acid leucine in muscle fibers, but it also helps fight against muscle breakdown, and has been shown to play a significant role in protein synthesis.

Incidentally, glutamine can also be recommended for those with digestion issues (diarrhea or constipation), anxiety, cravings for sugar and/or alcohol, and those with poor wound healing.

Pros

  • Valuable as a precursor to the essential amino acid leucine.

Cons

  • Glutamine aids only one of the nine essential amino acids needed for muscle building, and so is far from being the most effective muscle-building supplement.
  • Glutamine is unnecessary if you’re taking a complete blend of essential amino acids.

Casein Protein Powder

Casein is the other milk protein that is derived from the curd of the milk and not the whey. Casein has a slower digestion rate than whey protein does, which makes it an excellent protein to take before bed, as it digests while you sleep and helps to prevent catabolism (which is to say destructive metabolism, a kind of self-cannibalism the body sometimes resorts to for energy).

Because increased calorie intake is also needed to build muscle, casein can help by being less filling than whey, allowing you to consume more alongside it. However, it’s also suggested that taking a combination of whey (or better yet free-form essential amino acids…read on!) and casein after a workout can help with muscle protein synthesis better than taking either one of them alone. Be advised that a casein protein product with micellar casein is the slowest-digesting form of casein readily available, and is your best bet when buying it as a supplement.

Pros

  • Casein protein has a slower digestion rate than whey, which can help prevent catabolism during sleep.

Cons

  • Works best when combined with stronger protein supplements like whey protein or free-form essential amino acids.

Beta-Alanine and Carnosine

Beta-alanine, an amino acid and key component of the dipeptide carnosine, aids in increasing carnosine levels and thus heightening muscle strength and muscle endurance. Higher levels of carnosine also increase the force of muscle contractions, and combining it with creatine (next on the list) has the greatest effect on losing body fat and gaining lean tissue, as was seen when the two were studied during a 10-week resistance training program conducted with collegiate football players.

Pros

  • Carnosine contributes to muscle endurance, leading to more powerful workouts, which can then translate to increased muscle.

Cons

  • Carnosine does not directly build muscle, but instead helps aid in workout endurance.
  • Carnosine is most effective in combination with proteins like creatine or free-form amino acids, and so is best as peripheral support for muscle building.

Creatine

Popularized as a workout supplement in the 1970s, creatine is made up of three amino acids—glycine, arginine, and methionine—and is vital for supplying the energy for muscular contraction. Creatine can be found in the forms reatine alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG), creatine monohydrate, and creatine malate. Creatine has been shown to increase the levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in resistance-exercise training, which is essential for stimulating muscle growth.

Creatine is converted to phosphocreatine (CP) in the body, which then provides energy for explosive exertions like heavy weight lifting or sprinting. The creatine-phosphocreatine system provides an increase in energy supplied to muscle cells when your body is using more ATP (adenosine triphosphate) than is being regenerated in the cells’ mitochondria. This increases your athletic endurance.

Pros

  • Provides energy for increased exercise performance, especially when you’re using more ATP than the mitochondria of your muscle cells can regenerate.
  • Creatine helps stimulate muscle growth.

Cons

  • Creatine is not most effective when taken alone, but is instead at its best when paired with an essential amino acid (EAA) supplement, where it will help provide the energy needed for increased muscle protein synthesis.

Nitric Oxide Boosters (Arginine)

Nitric oxide (NO) in the body serves to dilate blood vessels, thus allowing better blood flow to muscles, providing them with energy, nutrients, water, anabolic hormones, and oxygen—everything your muscles need to function, grow, and thrive. Nitric oxide boosters do not contain nitric oxide, but instead provide it via the amino acid arginine, which the body converts into nitric oxide.

Arginine supplements are often marketed based on their association with muscle growth, increased muscle strength, and loss of bodyweight. However, we recommend supplementing with citrulline to increase arginine, as arginine supplements don’t produce significant increases in blood arginine concentrations due to the liver’s effectiveness at clearing absorbed arginine. Citrulline, on the other hand, is converted into arginine by the kidneys, and the arginine is then released into the bloodstream; this more effectively increases your arginine levels. Additionally, there are no adverse effects associated with citrulline supplementation, while arginine consumption can sometimes lead to gastrointestinal discomfort.

Pros

  • Arginine in the bloodstream leads to more readily available amounts of nitric oxide, essential for muscle functioning.

Cons

  • Counterintuitively, arginine supplements are often ineffective at supplying useable arginine to the bloodstream.
  • Instead citrulline is recommended to supplement for an effective increase in arginine, and can be taken alongside or included in EAA and protein supplements for optimal muscle performance.

ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium Aspartate, Vitamin B6)

Supplementing the minerals zinc and magnesium aspartate along with vitamin B6 is sometimes important to bodybuilders because they become depleted during intense training and need to be specifically replaced. These nutrients are necessary for maintaining proper sleep and hormone levels, as testosterone particularly can be compromised by intensive training.

Athletes who take ZMA have been shown to have increased levels of IGF-1 and testosterone, both of which have an influence on muscle gains. ZMA is recommended to be taken before bed on an empty stomach, to allow for better uptake and to help improve sleep quality and the muscle recovery that sleep provides.

Pros

  • Can help correct vitamin and mineral deficiency caused by intensive weight training.

Cons

  • ZMA supplementation does not lead to direct muscle growth, but can be taken as needed alongside free-form amino acids or traditional protein contributions like whey or creatine, depending on your workout style and your body’s needs.
  • Not everyone will need the extra supplementation of ZMA.

HMB (Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate)

Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate or HMB is a molecule derived from the processing of the essential amino acid leucine, and helps protect against muscle protein breakdown. HMB is often recommended only for those who are beginning weight-training exercises, as the scientific results seen in those who are more experienced with muscle training are less significant. This is due to the fact that HMB is heavily reliant on a steady and abundant supply of EAAs to be effective. When the EAA supply dips down, so does the effectiveness of HMB; it cannot work alone.

Pros

  • HMB supplementation can be good for resisting extreme catabolic states, such as in individuals with critical wasting illnesses.

Cons

  • HMB without an excess supply of EAAs is only marginally effective.
  • EAA supplementation is also needed to derive maximum benefits from HMB supplementation.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

The branched-chain amino acids are a subcategory of essential amino acids, and are designated by the molecular structure of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs make up 14% of the amino acids that reside in your muscles, and it’s been shown that taking a supplement of BCAAs during resistance-training exercise increases muscle strength, fat loss, and lean mass.

However, while research shows that leucine in particular stimulates muscle protein synthesis, and that together these three amino acids diminish cortisol (a catabolic hormone), increase energy, and reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness, BCAAs when consumed alone are not fully effective. All nine essential amino acids are needed to make new muscle, and in fact, the the rate of muscle protein synthesis is directly affected by the availability of all your essential amino acids—the more you have, the faster your rate of muscle synthesis, and the fewer you have, the slower the rate. Because of this, research actually shows that BCAAs when taken alone have little to no effect on the rate of muscle protein synthesis in humans.

Pros

  • BCAAs are valuable amino acids that can be taken to help some aspects of muscle building.

Cons

  • BCAAs are only three of the nine essential amino acids, and all essentials are needed to create new muscle.
  • BCAAs have little to no effect on muscle protein synthesis when taken alone.

An Essential Amino Acid (EAA) Blend: The New Top Muscle Growth Supplement

If BCAAs ever sounded good, you’ll probably be more interested in a complete EAA supplement. Our unique EAA supplement is an ideally proportioned blend that combines the strengths of whey protein, creatine, and the eight essential amino acids that contribute directly to muscle growth. With our EAA blend, you’ll not only get the BCAAs mentioned above, but also a full cocktail essential amino acid supplement. It contains the key factors that make whey protein and creatine effective too, giving you the best of every top effective traditional supplement on the market.

EAAs and Muscle Protein Synthesis

The human body is made up of about 20% protein, and amino acids are used to form our muscles, tissues, and organs (not to mention the hormones needed for cognitive and physiological function). The key to our muscle-building product that helps make it more effective than other supplements, and even some dietary sources of essential amino acids, is its absorption rate and digestibility.

The EAAs derived from dietary proteins have to be digested first and then absorbed, while free-form amino acids are absorbed more quickly and completely. With eight of the nine essential amino acids (minus tryptophan which is not necessary to supplement for muscle protein synthesis), the amounts of EAAs are maximized more than any naturally occurring protein can deliver.

EAAs with Whey Protein’s Support

While free-form EAAs provide faster absorption, an intact protein like whey provides for a longer absorption period, sustaining the supply of EAAs after the rapid absorption of the free-form EAAs. Designed to work in concert with one another, our muscle-growth supplement combines its EAA profile with a balanced inclusion of whey protein for steady, ongoing support of muscle protein synthesis.

EAAs and Creatine’s Energy

Because creatine-phosphate provides the energy for sudden bursts of physical activity like lifting heavy weights or sprinting, it’s included in the Amino Co.’s technology to provide the energy needed to convert EAAs into muscle via muscle protein synthesis. Instead of waiting for the mitochondria of muscle cells to metabolize ATP for energy, creatine covers the time gap when needed, completing the full circle required for ideal muscle building: the rapid essential ingredients, the long-haul supply, and the energy to put them to use.

The Amino Company Advantage

Our product is a unique, patent-pending blend of essential amino acids, whey protein, and creatine that outperforms all other supplements in increasing muscle mass. Good for increasing strength in the elderly and easy to include in drinks or smoothies, Amino Co. supplements are scientifically proven to be effective in muscle protein synthesis over any other supplement, food, or protein choice currently available.

The ABCs of Muscle Growth

On a first glance at muscle growth supplements, it looks like an alphabet soup of vitamins and molecules and chemistry notes, but the more knowledgeable you become about your own body’s strengths and needs, the closer you’ll approach a PhD’s level of understanding when it comes to which supplements best support your goals. Effectiveness is key, bolstered by practical results that can be not only felt, but also scientifically proven. In the end, you can see which supplement brings you the greatest value.

The strongest performers from the traditional list of muscle growth supplements have been brought forward to the new frontier: an EAA blend that brings the best of everything essential to building and maintaining new muscle. The Amino Company provides the full circle of quick, long-lasting, and energized EAAs for muscle building. When you take our unique blend, you’re guaranteed to have an optimally balanced formula designed specifically for human muscle growth (and not lab animals). With the Amino Co. on your team, you can reach higher heights of strength faster and more effectively than ever before!

What Are the Best Muscle Recovery Foods?

Wondering what muscle recovery foods are good for prevention and relief of delayed onset muscle soreness? This comprehensive list of foods full of healthy fats, amino acids, and natural sugars will support your workout and recovery goals.

After starting a new workout, you’re in for some growing pains. Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS can affect anyone, from those new to working out to elite athletes incorporating different exercises into their routines. Whenever you push your muscles, either with unfamiliar exercises or longer durations, you’re creating microscopic tears to the muscles, which then cause stiffness, soreness, and pain. Are sore muscles a good sign? Yes, in a sense, because it means you’re using your muscles in new ways that will eventually lead to a better fitness profile. But don’t fret! Eating muscle recovery foods can help ease the discomfort and may even help decrease muscle soreness in the first place.

Using food as your method of recovery and prevention may truly be the best road to take. The other suggestions to help muscle recovery either take extra time or come with other risks, and none of them can get in front of DOMS before it starts. Getting a massage after every workout would be great, but do you have the time, the money? Rest and ice packs are perfectly reasonable options too, but it’s the rest that might bother you if you’re really excited about a new workout and seeing results. Do you really want to take a couple of days off after every workout to let your muscles recover? It might not be a bad idea, but with the right foods pre- and post-workout, it might not be necessary either.

The last refuge to treat the ache and pain of muscle soreness is to use painkillers. Whether it’s over the counter fare you’d take for any pains (a wincing headache for example, or to relieve menstrual cramps), or prescription painkillers meant for more serious pains (a wrenched back or dental surgery). And these pain killers come with health-compromising side effects that are best avoided.

So what can you eat that will make a difference? Here are some foods you might want to include on the menu on gym days.

 Muscle recovery foods for prevention and relief.

Muscle Recovery Foods

Whether for their protein content, iron content, anti-inflammatory properties, or amino acids, these foods can help your muscles heal faster.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese has around 27 grams of protein per cup, and is often a regular food in the fitness community for those without any dietary restrictions surrounding milk products. In fact, the casein protein found in cottage cheese curds (as opposed to the whey protein found in watery milk) are often isolated and used as a workout protein supplement. As a slow-digesting protein, casein can help build and rebuild muscle while you sleep if it’s your last snack before bed.

The essential amino acid leucine is also present in cottage cheese, and comprises around 23% of the essential amino acids in muscle protein (the most abundant percentage of them all). Foods with leucine can help you build muscle by activating protein synthesis, and the faster you rebuild your muscle, the faster your muscle repair and workout recovery!

Eat it plain, or combine cottage cheese with some of the other recovery foods on this list to stack the benefits. Cottage cheese can even be used in baked goods and pancakes or included in protein shakes—don’t be afraid to get creative.

Sweet Potatoes

Adding sweet potatoes to your post-workout meal can help replenish your glycogen stores after a tough workout. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin C and beta-carotene as well, and are loaded with fiber which helps to control appetite and maintain healthy digestion and build muscle.

Sweet potatoes can be baked whole in the oven or on a grill, cut into fries, spiced with cinnamon, or made savory with garlic powder and pepper. Enjoy them at the dinner table or on the go: a baked potato wrapped in foil can join you just about anywhere.

Baking Spices

Speaking of what you can put on sweet potatoes, it turns out some baking spices are good for post-workout recovery as well. Not so much in the form of gingerbread cookies or cinnamon rolls, but a study showed that cinnamon or ginger given to 60 trained young women (between the ages of 13 and 25) significantly reduced their muscle soreness post-exercise. If you’re already having a sweet potato, make it a little sweeter with some cinnamon, add it to oatmeal, or put some in your coffee for the extra boost.

Coffee

Did we just mention coffee? Good news: coffee’s on the list too. Research suggests that about 2 cups of caffeinated coffee can reduce post-workout pain by 48%, and another study showed that pairing caffeine with painkilling pharmaceuticals resulted in a 40% reduction of the drugs taken. If you do need pharmaceutical pain relief, maybe coffee can help you minimize just how much you take—caffeine is a much less dangerous stimulant than pain pills.

Turmeric

Another spice on the list, turmeric contains the compound curcumin, which is an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and has been shown to be a proven and reliable pain reliever. Whether it’s helping you with delayed onset muscle soreness or pain from an injury (workout-related or otherwise), turmeric eases both pain and swelling by blocking chemical pain messengers and pro-inflammatory enzymes.

As with the other spices, it can be easily added to baked goods, to coffee, and to oatmeal. With its beautiful golden color, you can even make what’s called “golden milk” or a turmeric latte by combining 2 cups of warm cow’s or almond milk with 1 teaspoon of turmeric and another teaspoon of ginger, and then sip your muscle soreness away.

Oatmeal

Speaking of oatmeal (and isn’t it nice that so many of these ingredients can be easily combined?), it, too, can help relieve muscle soreness. This complex carb gives you a slow and steady release of sugar, along with iron needed to carry oxygen through your blood, and vitamin B1 (thiamin), which can reduce stress and improve alertness. This is why oatmeal is a great way to start the day, but since it also includes selenium, a mineral that protects cells from free-radical damage and lowers the potential for joint inflammation, it’s a great food for those in high-intensity workout training as well (like, up to Olympic level training).

Use oatmeal as a daily vehicle for other healthy ingredients, including the spices on this list, and enjoy its reliable benefits.

Bananas

Easily sliced into oatmeal, included in smoothies, or eaten alone, not only are bananas a healthy way to replace sweets (frozen and blended they can even make a delicious ice cream alternative), bananas are also a great way to get much-needed potassium. Research suggests potassium helps reduce muscle soreness and muscle cramps like the dreaded “Charley horse” spasm that contracts your muscle against your will and might not let up until it causes enough damage to last for days. A banana a day could keep the Charley horse away, and is particularly delicious (and helpful) when paired with its classic mate: peanut butter.

Peanut Butter

The healthy fats and protein found in nut butters like peanut or almond butter can help repair sore muscles. A reliable source of protein for muscle building, with fiber for blood pressure aid, vitamin E for antioxidant properties, and phytosterols for heart health, peanut butter offers up a ton of benefit and is easy to eat anywhere. Make a sandwich, use it to help bind together portable protein balls filled with other ingredients, add it into smoothies, or just eat it from the jar with a spoon (no one’s judging).

Nuts and Seeds

If you’re a fan of protein balls, then you’re well acquainted with nuts and seeds, which are great additions to these protein-rich foods. While providing essential omega-3 fatty acids to fight inflammation, various nuts and seeds can provide you protein for muscle protein synthesis, electrolytes for hydration, and zinc for an immune system boost. Something as simple as a baggie full of almonds, walnuts, pumpkin, and cashews can help maximize your muscles. Mixing in seeds (sunflower, chia, pumpkin) adds a healthy density that can curb your hunger and satisfy your appetite for longer. They’re small but powerful assets in quick muscle recovery.

Manuka Honey

This is not your grocery store honey in its little bear- or hive-shaped bottle. Manuka honey comes from the Manuka bush in New Zealand, with a milder flavor than that of bee honey and a much thicker texture. It’s anti-inflammatory and rich in the carbs needed to replenish glycogen stores and deliver protein to your muscles. Drizzle it over yogurt or stir it into tea to gain its benefits.

Green Tea

Green tea is particularly helpful for muscle recovery purposes. With anti-inflammatory antioxidants, it makes an excellent pre- or post-workout drink to prevent muscle damage related to exercise, and also helps you stay hydrated.

Cacao

Cacao has high levels of magnesium, antioxidants, and B-vitamins, which reduce exercise stress, balance electrolytes, and boost immunity and energy levels. The antioxidant flavanols in cacao also help up the production of nitric oxide in your body, which allows your blood vessel walls to relax, lowering blood pressure and promoting healthy blood flow. Adding cacao powder to your high-quality protein shakes or a glass of cow/almond/coconut milk post-workout will bring you its benefits.

Tart Cherries

Tart cherry juice has been shown to minimize post-run muscle pain, reduce muscle damage, and improve recovery time in professional athletes like lifters, according to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Enjoy tart cherry juice as a drink, or include the dried fruit as a part of your own muscle-building trail mix with the nuts and seeds discussed above. It’s not the only fruit or fruit juice you might include either. The nutrients in fruits like oranges, pineapples, and raspberries can also help speed up your recovery.

Salmon

Rich with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, muscle-building protein, and antioxidants, salmon is an extremely efficient post-workout food. Not an option if you are vegan or vegetarian, of course, but for the meat eaters among us, or those on the Paleo diet, salmon can specifically help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness, reduce inflammation, and provide you with an abundance of the protein needed for muscle growth. Eat this protein within 45 minutes after working out for maximum effect, either grilled, cooked up in salmon cakes, or raw in the form of sushi or sashimi. All of the above goes for tuna as well, by the way—reasons you might become a pescatarian.

Eggs

If you are an omnivore or ovo-vegetarian, eggs are great way to gain protein first thing in the morning, and an even more effective food to have immediately post-workout to help prevent DOMS. Like cottage cheese, eggs are a rich provider of leucine, and like salmon, eggs contain vitamin D (in their yolks). For your convenience, eggs can be boiled and brought along for immediate consumption after your training. Boil a dozen at the start of each week during your meal prep, and have an easy protein source in the palm of your hand every other day of the week.

Spinach

Did we really get all the way to the end of the list without a vegetable? So sorry! Let’s fix that with spinach. A powerhouse of antioxidants, not only can spinach help prevent diseases like heart disease and various cancers, but it also helps you recover quickly from intense exercise. Spinach’s nitrates help to strengthen your muscles, and its magnesium content helps maintain nerve function. Spinach helps to regulate your blood sugar (in case you worry about the spikes you might get from the sweeter items on this list), and can be added to many dinners, snuck into smoothies, or eaten on its own either raw or sautéed in olive oil.

Resist Damage and Recovery Quickly

These foods help with recovery from DOMS and reduce the amount of soreness you get in the first place by providing your body with the proteins and nutrients it craves when you’re working out to the best of your ability.

A quick note before you go. In your quest for pain-free muscles, you’ll want to avoid:

  • Refined sugar: Just one sugary soda a day can increase your inflammatory markers, as can white bread and other products with refined sugar. Natural sugars don’t bring that kind of adverse effect, so get your sugar from whole foods instead.
  • Alcohol: The dehydration caused by alcohol requires its own special recovery, and will deplete many of your vitamins (especially B vitamins). Some research suggests that alcohol can interfere with how your body breaks down lactic acid, which would increase muscle soreness. If you’re on a mission to build muscle, it’s best to avoid alcohol.

If you’re eating pretty well and avoiding what you shouldn’t eat, but still find muscle soreness a burden after working out, there is always the option to supplement.

What is the best supplement for muscle recovery? Evidence shows that getting all your body’s essential amino acids in balance will help specifically with muscle sprains and pulls, so when supplementing, just make sure you cover the waterfront (rather than choosing one or two essentials and neglecting the rest). Other than that, a diverse diet can be had in choosing natural preventions and remedies for healthy muscle recovery.

What Are Nonpolar Amino Acids?

What are nonpolar amino acids? This article will help explain how these amino acids are designated and what purpose they serve in the body.

Of the 20 common amino acids in the human body that build protein structures, 9 of them are essential (meaning we must eat or otherwise consume them to get them), and half of them are nonpolar. What are nonpolar amino acids? Which are they, and what does “nonpolar” mean? The review of the topic in this article will help explain.

The Definition of a Nonpolar Molecule

The nonpolar molecules we’ll be talking about are hydrophobic amino acids, meaning “water fearing” because they don’t mix with water molecules. You know how oil and water don’t mix? That’s because oil is hydrophobic.

The opposite of a nonpolar molecule is, as you might guess, polar. Polar molecules are hydrophilic, meaning “water loving.” If you’d like to visualize: polar molecules are like puppy dogs who love water so much that they’ll go barreling straight into muddy or smelly water after a tennis ball, with no hesitation at all. That would make nonpolar molecules like cats, better known for avoiding water, no thank you, and cleaning themselves without it.

Molecules are classified this way based on the charges on the atoms bonded together to form the molecule. If you remember your first taste of high school chemistry, you may remember that atoms have a nucleus of neutral neutrons and positive protons in the middle, and negative electrons swirling all around. Protons have a positive charge that draws electrons to it, like how opposites attract.

When two atoms bond together, they share electrons. Two atoms of the same element have equal positivity, so don’t have the power to steal electrons from the other. These molecules are nonpolar because they have no resulting charge. When atoms of two different elements connect together, invariably one of them will have the higher charge and attract the most electrons to its end of the joint molecule. That means the molecule is polar, or charged, and that charge will then be identified as either a positive or negative charge.

Examples of Nonpolar Molecules

Methane gas is an example of a nonpolar molecule that is created during the breakdown of food and released as a gas (or more colloquially, a fart). Methane is made up of one carbon atom that is bound to four hydrogen atoms: this hydrogen bonding allows the atoms to all share electrons equally, so this smelly molecule has no charge and is nonpolar.

Inside our body, we have both polar and nonpolar molecules, which includes those 20 amino acids mentioned above.

Nonpolar Amino Acids

The chemical properties of amino acids are largely determined by one group of molecules, what’s known as the R group: a side chain that differs on each amino acid. To visualize the amino acid groups, picture a pizza with four toppings, and a little support table in the middle that’s there to keep the cheese from sticking to the lid. That table is the alpha carbon to which all the groups or toppings are attached.

Every amino acid has three groups/toppings in common: the amino group (-NH2), the carboxyl group (COOH), and a hydrogen atom, which in pizza terms would be three standard toppings, say pepperoni, sausage, and cheese (cheese is hydrogen, which is just one atom and not a group of them, and so it gets the plainest topping). That fourth quarter of the pizza? That is the R group, the functional group that identifies and characterizes different amino acids—when you think of the R group, think R for Radical, because that is a completely different and unique topping, and every R group amino acid side chain has a distinct flavor of its own. To get up to 20 it would have to be pineapple, spinach, olives, Canadian bacon, jalapeño, garlic, anchovies, bell pepper, salami, feta cheese, beef, oregano, bacon, barbecue sauce, chicken, pesto, chorizo, broccoli, eggplant, and mushroom. Some are weirder than others.

The nonpolar amino acids have R groups mostly made up of hydrocarbons, though the amino acids methionine and cysteine also each feature a sulphur atom. The nonpolar amino acids are as follows, with more information on each one.

Glycine

  • Three letter code: gly
  • One letter code: G

The body needs glycine to make compounds like as glutathione, creatine, and collagen, which is the most abundant protein in your body. Collagen is a vital part of your muscles, blood, skin, cartilage, ligaments, and bones. Glycine may also protect your liver from alcohol damage, contribute to heart health, and improve your sleep quality. Glycine might also protect those with type 2 diabetes from muscle-wasting. You can gain more glycine by eating certain meat products or by taking a collagen supplement.

Alanine

  • Three letter code: ala
  • One letter code: A

Alanine is an amino acid that helps convert glucose into energy and helps eliminate excess toxins from your liver. Alanine keeps muscle protein from being cannibalized by the body during intense aerobic exercise or activity, and it’s needed to balance nitrogen and glucose levels in the body, which it does via the alanine cycle.

Alanine is a nonessential amino acid, which means that usually your body can make the substance on its own and doesn’t need you to ingest it from outside. However, people with eating disorders, extremely low-protein diets, diabetes, liver disease, or certain genetic conditions that cause UCDs (urea cycle disorders), may need to take a supplement or adjust their diet to gain this amino acid.

Good sources of alanine are meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, as well as some protein-rich plant foods, like avocado. There are supplements containing alanine on the market, however, taking any one amino acid alone could upset the balance of nitrogen in the body, putting stress on the liver and kidneys as they try to eliminate waste. It is advisable that those with liver or kidney disease should consult a trusted medical professional before taking any amino acid supplement.

Proline

  • Three letter code: pro
  • One letter code: P

Proline is needed for the manufacture of cartilage and collagen, which helps heal cartilage and cushion our joints and vertebrae. It keeps joints flexible, and skin supple when it is affected by sun damage or signs of normal aging. Proline breaks down proteins for cell creation, and is essential at sites of injury where the tissue must be rebuilt to heal. Proline supplementation is sometimes valuable to people with chronic back pain or osteoarthritis.

Proline is also needed for the maintenance of muscle tissue, and is sometimes found low in long-distance runners and other serious athletes. Proline is usually nonessential, as the body naturally derives proline from its supplies of glutamic acid. However, if necessary, proline can be found in natural sources like dairy, meat, and eggs, or can be gained from amino acid supplementation.

Valine

  • Three letter code: val
  • One letter code: V

Valine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) that works with the other two BCAAs (isoleucine and leucine) to regulate blood sugar, repair tissues, and provide the body with energy. Valine assists in stimulating the central nervous system and is necessary for mental functioning. Valine helps provide muscles with extra glucose energy during intense physical activity, which prevents muscle breakdown, and helps remove toxic excess nitrogen from the liver. Valine may help the liver and gallbladder recover from damage due to alcoholism or drug abuse, as well as help possibly reverse alcohol-related brain damage, or hepatic encephalopathy.

Valine is an essential amino acid, and must be obtained through a diet including meats, mushrooms, dairy products, peanuts, and/or soy protein. Most people have no problem getting enough valine, however maple syrup urine disease or MSUD is caused by an inability to metabolize leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Supplementation is sometimes warranted in those with low-protein diets or who are trying to build muscle mass, but be advised that too much valine intake will make one’s skin feel like it is crawling, and may cause hallucinations. Supplements should always be taken responsibly.

Leucine

  • Three letter code: leu
  • One letter code: L

Leucine helps with blood sugar regulation, muscle repair, and energy production. It also helps burn fat located deep inside the body that is hard to reach through diet and exercise alone.

Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) along with valine and isoleucine, all of which help to promote post-exercise muscle recovery, leucine being particularly effective, as it converts to glucose the fastest of the three. That is also why leucine is closely linked with the regulation of blood sugar, and why a leucine deficiency causes symptoms like hypoglycemia: headaches, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, depression, and irritability.

Leucine promotes the recovery of skin, bones, and muscle tissue after injury or surgery. Natural sources of this essential amino acid are meat, nuts, soy flour, brown rice, beans, and whole wheat.

Isoleucine

  • Three letter code: ile
  • One letter code: I

An isolated form of leucine, isoleucine is prized by bodybuilders for its ability to increase endurance, help repair muscle tissue, and encourage clotting at sites of injury. Isoleucine is broken down for energy inside muscle tissue, and helps stabilize energy levels by aiding in blood sugar regulation. An isoleucine deficiency also produces symptoms that mimic hypoglycemia.

Isoleucine is an essential amino acid, and food sources include high-protein options like nuts, peas, lentils, seeds, meat, eggs, fish, and soy protein.

Methionine

  • Three letter code: met
  • One letter code: M

An essential amino acid that helps the body process and eliminate fat, methionine contains sulfur, a substance required for the production of the body’s natural antioxidant, glutathione. The body also needs methionine to produce two other sulfur-containing amino acids, cysteine and taurine, which help the body eliminate toxins, build tissues, and promote cardiovascular health.

Methionine helps the liver process fats (lipids), preventing accumulation of too much fat in the liver, which is essential for the elimination of toxins to stay functional. Methionine is needed to make creatine, a nutrient found mainly in muscle tissue and often taken as a supplement to boost athletic performance. Methionine is also needed for collagen formation, which is then used to make skin, nails, and connective tissue. One study suggested that taking 6 grams of methionine a day can improve memory recall in AIDS patients who otherwise show a marked methionine deficiency. Methionine may also help treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Methionine is an essential amino acid, and can be gained from eating garlic, beans, seeds, eggs, fish, lentils (in lower levels), meat, onions, soybeans, and yogurt.

Tryptophan

  • Three letter code: trp
  • One letter code: W

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps balance nitrogen in adults and growth in infants. It also creates niacin, which is needed to create the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin. In this way, tryptophan helps influence relief from depression and anxiety, managing pain tolerance and increased emotional well-being. Tryptophan is also associated with promoting deeper sleep.

You can get tryptophan through certain foods or a supplement in powder form. Natural food sources include cheese, milk, fish, turkey (famously), chicken, eggs, pumpkin and sesame seeds, chocolate, as well as tofu and soy.

Phenylalanine

  • Three letter code: phe
  • One letter code: F

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that is needed for the functioning of the central nervous system. It has been successfully used to help control feelings of depression and chronic pain, and other diseases linked to a malfunctioning central nervous system. Especially effective for treating brain disorders, phenylalanine is able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, and only chemicals that are able to cross that barrier can directly influence brain function.

Phenylalanine is used to make epinephrine, dopamine, and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that control how you perceive and interact with the world around you. Phenylalanine supplementation can help you feel happier and more alert, and it also has been used to treat chronic pain and improve cognitive function. An essential amino acid, phenylalanine is normally obtained from high-protein foods like meat, fish, chicken, eggs, milk, dairy products, beans, and nuts.

Cysteine

  • Three letter code: cys
  • One letter code: C

Cysteine is an amino acid containing a sulfur atom, and is used to form healthy bones, skin, hair, and connective tissue. It is also needed to make glutathione, one of the body’s natural antioxidants that fight free-radical damage. Cysteine and glutathione work together to remove toxins from the liver, and cysteine is often used in emergency rooms to treat acetaminophen overdoses before they can cause liver damage. It also protects the brain and liver against toxins from alcohol and cigarettes, and may be useful in preventing hangovers.

Cysteine is a nonessential amino acid, which means the body manufactures it in-house, but foods such as meat, eggs, dairy products, and whole grains are also good sources of cysteine.

Nonpolar Knowledge

There you have the rundown of the amino acid nonpolar side chains, the nonpolar aminos that variously help form protein molecules in our bodies, and do so much to keep us alive and functioning at top form.

Best Amino Acids for the Ketogenic Diet: Which Ketogenic Amino Acids Should You Be Eating?

The value of a ketogenic diet? To burn fat rather than just lose weight on the scale. The core question: in what foods can the six essential ketogenic amino acids be found?

The value of a ketogenic diet? To burn fat rather than just lose weight on the scale. Beginners at dieting often attempt to lose weight with short-term crash diets, which put the body in starvation mode and cause it to stockpile more fat as soon as possible (an evolutionary protection against times of famine). Conversely, the ketogenic diet puts the body into more of a sustainability mode, a stable way to reduce and optimize calorie intake, while focusing on foods that provide the essential amino acids for the ketogenic conversion of fat into energy.

So which ketogenic amino acids should you be eating, and where can you find them?

Amino Acids: the Fat Burning, the Sugar Forming, and the Switch Hitters

The building blocks of protein, amino acids can be categorized as exclusively ketogenic, exclusively glucogenic, or like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: radically both. This is based on the end products produced during amino acid metabolism.

Essential amino acids for the ketogenic diet.

As you can see, the predominant category is the glucogenic group, with 13 amino acids. The carbon skeletons that result from the breakdown of glucogenic amino acids can be used via gluconeogenesis to synthesize glucose, simple sugar and an important energy source found in many carbohydrates. These are not the amino acids that will derive energy from your body’s pre-existing fat stores.

The second largest category contains five amino acids, the switch hitters that when catabolized can yield both glucogenic and ketogenic products.

Exclusively ketogenic amino acids are just that: exclusive. Lysine and leucine are the only two amino acids that produce Acetyl CoA or Acetoacetyl CoA without any glucogenic byproducts.

Acetyl CoA (the precursor of ketone bodies) and Acetoacetyl CoA are the first steps of the Krebs Cycle of energy production, which combines glycolysis and pyruvate oxidation with the citric acid cycle (which itself includes α-ketoglutarate, succinyl CoA, fumarate, and oxaloacetate—all byproducts of glucogenic amino acids). To access citrate synthase, the catalyst of this cycle, without glucose or carbohydrates is the value of ketogenic amino acids: it’s like buying the product you need without bringing home any unnecessary or harmful packaging around it.

Acid Eater: the Amino Acids Essential to a Ketogenic Diet

Classes of amino acids can be further categorized as essential vs. nonessential, essential being the ones you must eat to obtain, and nonessential being those that naturally occur in the body, and are not reliant on the food you eat.

Nonessential amino acids:

  • Asparagine
  • Alanine
  • Glutamic acid
  • Aspartic acid

Essential amino acids:

  • Histidine
  • Valine
  • Methionine
  • Isoleucine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Leucine
  • Lysine

You may have noticed those last two are the exclusively ketogenic amino acids, meaning they only come from sources outside the body. Likewise, four out of five of the switch hitter or versatile amino acids are on this essential list as well, excluding only tyrosine, a conditional essential, as it’s derived from phenylalanine (which is itself essential). Regardless of that particular debate, the core question remains: in what foods can the six essential ketogenic amino acids be found?

The Key Ingredients to Ketogenesis

Intro 101 of the keto diet is to go deeper when dieting, to the cellular level of biological sciences. This is more advanced than the grocery aisle surface choices people often make between low-carb and no-sugar-added options. It’s important to remember that the colorful labeling on the front of food packages can often be subjective. It’s better to know how to read the nutrition label with a keen (keto) eye.

Better yet, know what basic foods have the ketogenic keys to turn fatty acids into ketone bodies. These ketone bodies will then provide energy from your fat stores, without adding carbohydrates, and without impacting insulin or blood sugar levels. Here are where the six essential ketogenic amino acids reside.

1. Isoleucine

Along with leucine and valine (glucogenic), isoleucine is an isomer (isolated form) of leucine that is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), all of which help to promote post-exercise muscle recovery. Involved in hemoglobin production, isoleucine can be found in:

  • Protein sources like meat, fish, and eggs
  • Dairy, particularly cottage cheese
  • Seeds, grains, nuts, and beans including almonds, brown rice, cashews, lentils, and chia seeds

2. Phenylalanine

The source of tyrosine and one of the aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine is used in the biosynthesis of norepinephrine, dopamine, and thyroid hormones (huge players when it comes to mental health). Possibly effective in treating mood disorders, phenylalanine is contained in:

  • Olives, figs, raisins, avocados, pumpkins, and most berries
  • Meat, chicken, fish, and eggs
  • Rice, beans, quinoa, and seeds
  • Spirulina, seaweed, and leafy greens

3. Threonine

An essential nutrient in the diet of vertebrates, threonine supports the central nervous system, along with the heart, liver, and immune system. A key component in the production of collagen, elastin, and muscle tissue, threonine can be gained from:

  • Beans, nuts, lentils, and quinoa
  • Lean beef, lamb, pork, and chicken/turkey
  • Seafood including shellfish, particularly salmon, whelks, cuttlefish, octopus
  • Seeds, including chia and hemp seeds
  • Raisins, figs, avocados, and pumpkin
  • Spirulina, watercress

4. Tryptophan

Needed for nitrogen balance, tryptophan is also used to produce melatonin (for regulating sleep and wakefulness), niacin, and serotonin, the neurotransmitter known as the “happy” chemical. Tryptophan can be found in:

  • Turkey (rather famously), as well as red meat, rabbit and goat meat, eggs, and fish
  • Milk and cheese, particularly reduced fat mozzarella
  • Pumpkin and squash seeds, along with chia, sesame, and sunflower seeds
  • Almonds, peanuts, bananas, and chocolate (ideal ingredients for a sundae)
  • Spirulina

5. Leucine

Another of the BCAAs, and one of the two exclusively ketogenic amino acids, leucine builds muscle by stimulating protein synthesis. It can be sourced from:

  • Nuts, peas, beans, seeds, and pumpkins
  • Chicken, beef, and pork
  • Seafood including tuna
  • Soybeans, whey protein, and plant proteins
  • Cheese, particularly Parmesan

6. Lysine

Necessary in the formation of collagen, connective tissue, and muscle growth and repair in the body, lysine can be found in:

  • Protein sources like meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
  • Beans, peas, almonds, cashews, and chia seeds
  • Spirulina, parsley
  • Cheese and yogurt
  • Whey protein

The Ketogenic Conclusion

You may have noticed some foods dominating the field; when it comes to essential amino acids for a ketogenic diet, where you find a good source of protein, you often find the ketogenic advantage. Donald K. Layman, Ph.D. along with Nancy R. Rodriguez, Ph.D. penned a paper for Nutrition Today titled “Egg Protein as a Source of Power, Strength, and Energy,” but in it pointed out that egg is not the only food that packs that much value. With so many high-yield proteins, any dietary practice—be it vegetarian, vegan, kosher, or allergy-restrictive—can still gain you the essential amino acids for perfecting your ketogenic journey if you’re diligent about ensuring your protein macros.

Your body is not so much a temple as a laboratory, a series of chemical reactions. Providing your body with the right ketogenic amino acids (instead of an overabundance of glucose precursors) sets you up for the ideal fat-burning catabolic pathways. This leads to healthy protein turnover for muscle growth, weight loss, and the energy to propel you forward.

Taking an essential amino acid supplement (which includes the ketogenic amino acids lysine and leucine) can help protect against any protein insufficiencies you may encounter while following dietary restrictions, such as the high-fat, moderate-protein requirements of the keto diet.

Top 24 Vegetarian Protein Sources

The top 24 vegetarian protein sources, including a list of valuable complete proteins, and information on the unique health benefits each food provides to the human body.

The quest for vegetarian protein sources is an important one. Protein and amino acid deficiency can lead to muscle loss, delayed healing, difficulty concentrating, and increased levels of depression and anxiety. When your body’s lacking what it needs, you won’t feel right, and you’ll know it.

This is why it’s important to make sure you get the protein intake you need from a vegetarian diet. Incomplete proteins like whole grains, produce, and nuts can do the job in concert with one other, but there are some foods that contain all nine essential amino acids required for proper human functioning: complete proteins.

We’ve assembled a list of the best vegetarian proteins below. Any of these foods will help ward off the symptoms of protein deficiency, but the complete protein foods listed at the end are for those who want to do some one-stop shopping when it comes to their amino acids intake.

Top 24 vegetarian protein sources.

Nuts and Seeds

We’ve compiled some of the healthiest and handiest snacks around.

1. Hemp Seeds

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, hemp seeds are a protein source that can aid against obesity, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. Hemp seeds are small sources of fiber that can be easily added to just about any food—stirred into oatmeal, blended into a protein shake or smoothie, or even sprinkled onto a salad. With 3.3 grams of protein per tablespoon, this is an easy ingredient to include in the foods and meals you already eat.

2. Almonds

Full of the amino acid arginine, almonds as a snack can contribute to healthy weight loss and fat burning, reduce the risk of heart disease, and curb hunger. With 6 grams of protein per ounce, almonds are also a source of nutrients that contribute to brain health, like vitamin E, folate, and carnitine, known for its neuroprotective benefits.

3. Cashews

Another conveniently healthy snack, cashews are an excellent resource for minerals like copper, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. With a fair amount of vitamin K, cashews also contain biotin, which is used for hair and nail health, and they have 5 grams of protein per ounce.

4. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds contain magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, antioxidants and 9 grams of protein per ounce. Containing the amino acid arginine, pumpkin seeds can help in situations of hair loss, and can be eaten raw or baked with added flavors like honey (for sweet) or garlic powder (for savory).

Beans and Legumes

Here are some hardy foods to add substantial protein to your diet.

5. Lentils

Lentils are a complete protein, but there’s a catch: they contain all nine essential amino acids, but they don’t contain sufficient methionine to meet ideal amino acid intake. Just 1 cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein, the same amount as three eggs. With a high-fiber content, lentils are filling when eaten and slow down digestion in a way that could help blunt spikes in blood glucose (a contributing factor to the development of type 2 diabetes).

6. Black Beans

With 39 grams of protein per cup, black beans are a heavy hitter in the protein department and a terrific way to meet your copper, manganese, vitamin B1, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron needs. Black beans are a great way to add valuable density to a pot.

7. Chickpeas

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are legumes high in the amino acid lysine as well as fiber, iron, folate, zinc, phosphorus, and B vitamins. Just 1 cup of chickpeas has 39 grams of protein. Extremely popular in the form of hummus, when eaten with pita bread, that combined snack can become a complete protein.

Protein-Rich Grains

These modern and ancient grains are the staff of life.

8. Amaranth

An ancient grain that is naturally gluten free, amaranth offers up digestive fiber and calcium. Porridge-like when cooked, it is a particularly healthy replacement for or addition to morning cereal and oatmeal. It provides 9 grams of protein per cup.

9. Teff

A lesser-known ancient grain from the Ethiopian region, Teff is full of essential amino acids, vitamin C (quite unusual in a grain), and calcium. With 10 grams of protein per cup, again it could replace or enhance a bowl of oatmeal, a helping of grits, or a side of rice.

10. Triticale

Triticale is another whole grain (wheat-rye hybrid) with 24 grams of protein per cup and rich in iron, potassium, magnesium, and fiber. Triticale can be used instead of traditional baking flour in recipes.

Fruits and Veggies

Vitamin-rich vegetables and even some fruit can provide protein.

11. Spinach

With 5 grams of protein per cooked cup, spinach has almost the equivalent amount of protein as a hard-boiled egg (at half the calories). Eating spinach raw or steamed maintains the maximum amount of nutrients, namely high amounts of carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, iron, and calcium.

12. Tomatoes

Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that may reduce your risk of bladder, lung, prostate, skin, and stomach cancers, as well as your risk of coronary artery disease. With 6 grams of protein per cup, tomatoes provide fiber and calcium and make a refreshing addition to many salads, sandwiches, and salsas.

13. Guava

This high-protein fruit has more than 4 grams of protein per cup. Along with fiber, guava has over 600% of your daily recommended vitamin C (about seven oranges worth). A brightly colored and delightfully zesty treat to include in any diet.

14. Artichokes

Artichokes are a good source of niacin, magnesium, potassium, copper, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. With about 10 grams of plant protein per cup, it has one of the highest protein yields among vegetables, and the artichoke has nearly twice the fiber of kale.

15. Peas

A high-protein food with 8 grams of protein per cup and nearly 100% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, peas add a tantalizing texture to salads and mashed potatoes. Of course, they’re also enjoyed as a side dish all on its own. You can even mash them up for baby food, or flavor that mash and use it as a veggie spread for your morning toast.

Complete Proteins

Here’s the good stuff, the protein sources that contain all nine essential amino acids needed in your diet.

16. Quinoa

With 8 grams of protein per cup, quinoa is an ancient grain with wide modern popularity, included in over 1,000 products on the market and regularly showing up in strange places (like wrapped around a sushi roll or pressed into a veggie burger). With a mild flavor, quinoa can be seasoned to a variety of taste preferences and is an excellent source of unsaturated fats and fiber. Along with the nine essential amino acids, quinoa also contains the amino acid L-arginine, shown to promote muscle over fat gain in animal studies (let’s hope that proves true for the most dangerous game animal of all: humans!). In fact, quinoa contains about a dozen amino acids, making it a wonderful alternative to carbs like couscous or rice.

17. Soybeans

Soybeans and soy products like tofu and soy milk all contain protein: steamed soybeans have 8 grams per cup, tofu 20 grams per cup, and soy milk 4 grams per cup. Soy foods offer cardiovascular benefits, help prevent prostate and colon cancer, decrease hot flashes for women in menopause, and guard against osteoporosis. Tofu particularly can be formed and flavored to fit a variety of recipes.

18. Buckwheat

With 6 grams of protein per cup, buckwheat is a gluten-free seed full of fiber (more than the amount found in oatmeal) and magnesium, a mineral that’s important to metabolism. Buckwheat is not a wheat but a versatile cousin of rhubarb that can nevertheless function as a pancake mix, be formed into Japanese soba noodles, or be eaten as porridge.

19. Ezekiel Bread

Sprouted bread or Ezekiel bread has 4 grams of protein per slice and is made with the sprouted grains and legumes wheat, barley, lentils, beans, spelt, and millet. It contains 18 amino acids, including all 9 essential amino acids, which is not even close to true for most bread products. With one sandwich on Ezekiel bread you can gain 8 grams of protein during lunch alone.

Fun fact: Ezekiel bread is named after this passage in the Bible from Ezekiel 4:9: “Take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, put them in one vessel and make them into bread for yourself.” Intended as a last resort to make bread when a besieged Jerusalem was running low on supplies, it turned out to be a fantastic recipe fit for modern times, and an extraordinarily nutritious food.

20. Spirulina

Used as a whole food or dietary supplement, the vibrantly green spirulina is a biomass of cyanobacteria that can be eaten by humans and other animals. With 4 grams of protein per powdered teaspoon, it also provides the B vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), and B3 (niacin), along with copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, and manganese. An odd taste at first, spirulina can nevertheless be added to a variety of foods for the bevy of benefits it provides.

21. Quorn

Developed in the U.K. in the 1980s from a fungus relative of mushrooms and truffles, Quorn is often used as a faux meat in the form of tenders, burgers, and lasagna filling. With over 20 grams of fiber per cup, this product contains all nine essential amino acids.

22. Peanut Butter

With 65 grams of protein per cup, peanut butter is a tasty protein source that can be made into cookies, sandwiches, included in smoothies, and used as a spread on crackers or celery (add some raisins to make the classic “ants on a log” snack). Peanut butter also contains healthy fats and could prevent both cardiovascular and coronary artery disease. Choose the unsalted kind, with no hydrogenated oils or sugars added, and have a guilt-free treat!

23. Chia Seeds

With 2.5 grams of protein per tablespoon, chia seeds don’t contain that much protein, but they can easily make up for it by providing all nine essential amino acids. Chia seeds can absorb moisture and become gel-like, making them a fun addition to pudding and smoothies, and the omega-3s in chia seeds can help reduce the risk of heart disease. They can be sprinkled over soups and salads, made into a chia seed pudding for dessert, and used as an egg replacement in vegan cooking recipes once they are fully hydrated.

24. Eggs

Speaking of eggs, this last item is for the ovo-vegetarians only, but too important to leave off the list entirely. Eggs are one of the most nutrient-filled protein sources around. With 6 grams of protein per egg, they contain the disease-fighting nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin and are a classic breakfast food whether they’re prepared scrambled, sunny side up, baked into a quiche, or separated to make an egg white omelet. Along with being versatile as their own main ingredient (egg salad, deviled eggs, etc.), eggs are also a great binding element for cauliflower pizza dough or egg-washing cookies before baking.

Plentiful Vegetarian Protein Sources

A protein deficiency doesn’t have to be a concern for those keeping to a vegetarian diet, and in fact, since plant-based sources of protein are so abundant, protein deficiency in vegetarian and vegan diets is actually quite rare. There are many ways to add enough protein to your diet that will support healthy weight loss, increase muscle mass, and improve your overall health and well-being.

On a deeper level, choosing complete proteins to include in one’s diet gets down to the cellular level of wellness, providing the nine essential amino acids that only come to humans via dietary intake. The more you know about what your food truly provides to the human body, the more precise your choices (and recipes) will become.

While animal proteins are higher quality in that they contain an adequate balance of the essential amino acids our bodies need, some plant proteins are low in essential amino acids such as methionine, tryptophan, lysine, and isoleucine. If you’re adhering to a plant-based diet, it’s a good idea to supplement with an essential amino acid blend to improve the balance of essential amino acids and nonessential amino acids, especially if you don’t want to have to think so hard about mixing and matching plant-based proteins to make them more complete.

Top 16 Vegan Foods That Are High in Protein

Learn about 16 high-protein vegan foods, including their nutrient content, a few interesting facts about their origins and histories, plus some tasty recipe ideas.

One of the first struggles involved in maintaining a vegan diet is getting enough protein. Significant amounts of casual protein comes from animal sources, and so it takes a fair amount of effort to derive the body’s much-needed protein from plant-based foods. Below are 16 high-protein vegan foods, with their nutrient content, origins, and common recipe uses.

Top 16 vegan foods high in protein.

1. Tofu

One cup of the soy product tofu contains 10 grams of protein. A valuable resource for iron, calcium, the mineral manganese, and vitamin B1, tofu is what’s known as a whole protein, meaning that it contains an adequate amount of the nine essential amino acids necessary in the human diet.

Where It Comes From

Made by pressing soymilk curds into a firm tofu slab, this high-protein source is invaluable. Tempeh and edamame also originate from soybeans, edamame from immature soybeans, which gives them a grassy taste, and tempeh from fermented soybeans, which has a more nutty flavor.

How to Eat It

Formed into cubes or balls, tofu can be grilled, fried, marinated, baked, or thrown into a vegetable stir fry. With a very light nutty flavor, tofu can be easily seasoned with a multitude of flavors, and because it’s such an especially pliable substance (tofu texture can span the range from silken to extra firm), it can be formed into mimicking types of meat like chicken strips, hamburgers, and meatballs.

2. Lentils

One of the great vegan protein sources, lentils are edible legumes, and 1 cup of lentils has approximately 18 grams of protein. Lentils are also high in fiber, folate, and iron.

Where It Comes From

Lentils are widely cultivated throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa but very little is grown in the Western Hemisphere. An annual plant, its seeds grow two to a pod.

How to Eat It

From soups to salads to a wide variety of side dishes, lentils promote gut health, provide a significant source of dietary fiber, and contain important antioxidants.

3. Seitan

Seitan is a high-protein food made from cooked wheat gluten and is a fantastic meat substitute. One cup has over 75 grams of protein, making it one of the richest plant protein sources, and also a good source for the minerals iron, calcium, and phosphorus.

Where It Comes From

Made from gluten, seitan is the main protein of wheat, which is why it’s sometimes called “wheat meat.” Seitan was coined in Japanese, and roughly translated means “made of proteins.”

How to Eat It

Unlike many soy-based products, seitan actually resembles the look and texture of meat when cooked, and makes for a fun pizza topping. It can be sautéed, pan-fried, and grilled, meaning it’s easy to include in a variety of recipes. Though not for those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, this meat-like plant-based protein is a favorite of many vegetarians and vegans.

4. Wild Rice

An aquatic grass with edible grains, wild rice contains nearly 1.5 times the amount of protein of other long-grain rice varieties like basmati and brown rice. A cooked cup of wild rice contains 7 grams of protein, along with B vitamins, fiber, manganese, copper, and phosphorus. Wild rice is not stripped of its bran (unlike white rice).

Where It Comes From

Wild rice is one of only two cereal grains that are native to North America, and it happens to be the state grain of Minnesota.

How to Eat It

In a soup, as a side, or combined with any dish to add a healthy yet filling dimension to a meal. There are many vegan dishes that include a bed of wild rice as a base.

5. Ezekiel Bread

Ezekiel bread can be made from wheat, barley, millet, spelt, soybeans, and lentils. A single slice of Ezekiel bread contains approximately 4 grams of protein.

Where It Comes From

Ezekiel bread is made from sprouted whole grains and legumes. Because it doesn’t contain added sugars, it is an organic, healthy alternative to other commercial breads. Sprouting also appears to increase the bread’s beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate content.

How to Eat It

You can eat Ezekiel bread the same as you would eat any other bread: toast, French toast, sandwiches, and so on. It’s easier to digest for people with a gluten sensitivity due to a slightly reduced gluten content, and sprouted grain breads have an enhanced protein and nutrient profile over traditional breads.

6. Hemp Seeds

One tablespoon of hemp seeds (approximately 30 grams) contains 9.47 grams of protein, 50% more than chia seeds and flax seeds. Hemp seeds also contain calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. They’re even a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Where It Comes From

A variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp seeds do belong to the same family as the marijuana plant but contain only small trace amounts of THC. Hemp seeds may help reduce inflammation, and for women may diminish symptoms of PMS and menopause.

How to Eat It

Hemp seeds can be easily added to a diet by including them in smoothies, oatmeal cookies, homemade salad dressings, and protein bars. This valuable plant-based vegan protein is also highly digestible.

7. Chia Seeds

Speaking of chia seeds, though lower in protein than hemp seeds, chia seeds are quite high in fiber (28 grams of chia seeds delivers 11 grams of fiber). Chia seeds also contain iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants.

Where It Comes From

An important food for the ancient Aztecs and Mayans, chia seeds are an annual herb from the mint family and native to Mexico and Guatemala.

How to Eat It

Chia seeds have a bland taste and are able to absorb water until they reach a gel-like consistency. This makes them easy to include in a variety of recipes, from baked goods to smoothies to their own chia seed pudding.

8. Green Peas

A cup of cooked green peas contains 9 grams of protein (a little bit more than a full cup of milk), and provides more than 25% of your daily fiber requirements.

Where It Comes From

The pea is a small green seed eaten as a vegetable; the field pea was one of the very first crops cultivated by humankind.

How to Eat It

Often served as a side dish, sweet green peas can be stuffed in with ravioli filling, made into pea soup, or added to salads for delightful taste and texture. Mashed peas can be used even more creatively, as part of or an alternative to traditional avocado guacamole, as a spread for bread or crackers, or folded into other dishes for their valuable health content.

9. Pumpkin Seeds

A 100-gram serving of organic pumpkin seeds contains 15 grams of carbohydrates and 5 milligrams of protein.

Where It Comes From

From the pumpkin fruit (named after the Greek word pepon meaning “large melon”), pumpkin seeds have been found in Mexico dating back to the period between 7000-5500 B.C.

How to Eat It

You can flavor and roast pumpkin seeds in your oven, and enjoy them as a quick snack between meals. Whether plain, sweet, or salty, they can help curb your hunger during the day while adding a little extra protein to your stores.

10. Spelt

Spelt is an ancient grain, along with einkorn, barley, teff (also particularly high in fiber and gluten free), sorghum, and farro. One cup of raw spelt has 25 grams of protein and is an excellent source of complex carbs, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.

Where It Comes From

Spelt is a type of wheat that contains gluten. A member of the farro family of grains, it was originally cultivated in what is now present-day Iran.

How to Eat It

Spelt can be prepared and eaten much like rice, but can also be included in a variety of recipes, from baked goods to pizza, from polenta to risotto.

11. Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a legume that contain about 5 grams of protein per cooked cup. They are also an excellent source of complex carbs, iron, fiber, folate, phosphorus, and potassium.

Where It Comes From

An annual plant of the pea family, chickpeas were likely domesticated as a crop in what is currently southeastern Turkey and Syria about 11,000 years ago.

How to Eat It

Chickpeas are a staple of Middle Eastern, African, and Indian cuisines. Often made into hummus, chickpeas can also be added to stews, mashed to form pancakes and fritters, or flavored for taste and eaten on their own.

12. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated form of yeast. Fortified nutritional yeast is a great source for all the B vitamins, as well as the minerals zinc, magnesium, copper, and manganese. It also provides 14 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per ounce.

Where It Comes From

Nutritional yeast is derived from the single-cell organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is grown on molasses before being harvested and heat-dried to deactivate it. Due to its being inactive, unlike baking yeast, nutritional yeast does not froth or grow, and thus has no leavening ability.

How to Eat It

Nutritional yeast can be enjoyed as a savory topping for popcorn thanks to its cheesy flavor, or sprinkled over pasta or pizza in lieu of Parmesan. It is also a popular ingredient for adding into dishes like mashed potatoes or scrambled tofu, both for its taste as well as its health benefits.

13. Quinoa

Another of the ancient grains, quinoa is gluten-free and considered a pseudocereal because it does not grow quite like other cereal grains do. One cup of cooked quinoa has 8.14 grams of protein.

Where It Comes From

A member of the goosefoot family, quinoa was widely cultivated in the Andes for its edible starchy seeds.

How to Eat It

Quinoa can be used in a powder form for adding protein content to baked goods. Otherwise it can be treated much the same as a rice dish: used as a base, a side, or eaten on its own with whatever preferred seasoning you’ve got.

14. Oats

With a good amounts of folate, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus, oats are a cereal plant cultivated in cool climates and used for animal feed as well as human consumption. Although not considered a complete protein, 1 cup of cooked steel-cut oats has 10 grams of plant protein.

Where It Comes From

Originally considered a weed that afflicted wheat and barley, oats have since become a staple food in Western diets.

How to Eat It

Oats can be eaten in oatmeal, of course, and oatmeal cookies, but oats can also be included in veggie burgers, homemade protein bars, and mixed with yogurt for a pleasing and nutritious texture.

15. Edamame

Edamame is a green soy bean, and has 18 grams of protein per cup (a significant amount of protein).

Where It Comes From

Translated from Japanese, edamame literally means “beans on a branch,” and appears regularly in and alongside Japanese cuisine (though edamame’s roots are actually in China).

How to Eat It

You’ll recognize edamame at sushi restaurants, but it doesn’t have to stay there. In their pods, edamame can be boiled or baked and eaten as a snack. Shelled edamame can be added to salads, stews, basically any dish you want.

16. Peanut Butter

There are 65 grams of protein in 1 cup of peanut butter. Nuts and nut butters are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Where It Comes From

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of Kellogg’s cereal) patented a process for creating peanut butter in 1895. He noted that it was a healthy protein substitute for patients without teeth.

How to Eat It

Spread it, blend it, bake it into cookies, roll it into balls with other high-protein ingredients, literally go nuts!

High-Protein Vegan Foods

While it is important to be cognizant of the protein and amino acids often missing from a vegan diet, these vegan sources of protein show that removing animal products from your diet isn’t a loss. Instead, it’s a healthy alternative that leads to a rich variety of plant-based foods.