As you might expect, all calories are not created equal--it really does matter which of your favorite neverfoods you're eating--yams, mamee apples, banana squash? In the same way, protein is not protein "no matter where it comes from." The "trace" proteins in starches, nuts and dairy are not exactly the same as the proteins from chicken, eggs, beef, pork, and seafood. While avoiding these proteins is not necessary, or even advisable, it should still be noted that they are not direct substitutes for "real" protein. So while some attention to detail is necessary in ensuring that inordinate amounts of trace proteins are not consumed, thereby altering the total daily intake value, trace proteins can still be a balancing force in the diet and help maintain a positive nitrogen balance, when not relied on for protein alone.
In ideal circumstances, the majority of protein needs should be met with whole foods: chicken, beef, fish, and eggs. Complete proteins such as these ensure proper essential fatty acid content and bio-availability of the proteins they contain. Although dairy, specifically milk, does carry a larger proportion of protein than most other "crossover" foods, it should be noted that the quantity required to sufficiently meet protein needs would then also heavily contribute to the carbohydrate and fat quotas for that meal--I personally think milk is a great crossover food for intentionally restricted meals, i.e. pre-workout or before bed, but otherwise I stick to whole food proteins as well.
Protein supplementation can be useful in many situations. Shakes are highly digestible, highly portable, highly bioavailable, and usually relatively edible over longer periods of time. They're easy to add to regular meals if you're concerned that you didn't get enough quality protein. But even protein powders are not created equal. A few guidelines for getting quality protein into your system:
1. Keep It Simple
Sticking to whole foods and simple "staples" that can be cooked en masse, then assembled easily, greatly aids clean eating AND ensuring that your muscles are getting enough protein to grow. I know it sometimes sucks to put so much time into food prep each week/day/fortnight, but it really does make a difference--put on your big boy pants and an apron, fool!
2. Purity Matters
If you do decide to supplement your diet with a protein powder, look for the highest purity level you can find. This is an easy rule-of-thumb calculation that you can use for all mixes: Divide the protein content in the serving (grams) by the size of the serving (also grams), multiply by 100, or just move the decimal mentally (we're all smart enough for that, right?) and you've got the percentage of the blend/mix/powder that is actually protein. Obviously you want the absolute highest value you can find. Yes, I can hear you furiously calculating the percentage on your precious Animal/ON/Gold Standard Whey's and arguing that the rest is useful "fortifiers and vitamins" to aid digestion, absorption, gains, and whatnot. But really, all it is is filler. Your body is always happier when it's getting the good shit instead of the cut stuff. The highest purity we've been able to find is available at www.truenutrition.com and is 95% purity o.O
3. Whey Over All (See #2!)
As far as protein powders go, whey is by far the only sensible choice. Soy should be avoided at all costs because it activates certain estrogen receptors (why hippies always have moobs). Milk proteins are longer chain proteins (which can be an advantage), however they are considerably less pure and higher in fat than whey. Casein is slow digesting and can be useful before bed, but realistically, any food you consume will be gone in two hours anyway, and even casein would only stick around slightly longer than that, so there's no need to sacrifice purity for such a small bonus period. Beef protein powders are also crippled by low purity (70%ish), and if you're going to eat cow, it is SO much better when it's not powdered!
4. Consider Frequency
A constant flow of protein is crucial for muscle growth, so eating frequently enough to maintain a positive nitrogen balance is as important and as fundamental as making sure you get protein with every meal. Three meals won't cut it, four meals is really pushing your luck, and five meals will only be enough for people consuming fewer total daily calories. Usually when fewer than 6 meals are being consumed, too much time is being spent without food at some point during the day. It could be in the morning if you're a breakfast-skipper, it could be at night if you're one of those who buys into food not digesting after 6, it could be between meals. Whatever the case, too much time without food is in every situation, that is, for every goal set, more steps back than forward. Whether you want to get huge or get ripped, get skinny or get fat, an interruption in external energy resources (food), results in an acute blood sugar drop, resulting in an acute slow of the metabolism and brief entry into "starvation mode"--holding onto ALL resources for, literally, dear life. Even if you are dieting ridiculously hardcore for the Olympia, a missed meal is the worst thing you could do. So all you skinny girls wanting to be skinnier eating on a food curfew, I'm srs, missing meals is not helping. At. All. Keeping the metabolism high should be the ultimate side-goal of every diet--it helps muscle growth, fat burning, everything!
That is all.
P.S. Who knew Skrillex actually made music at some point??