Protein is an essential nutrient for the human body, providing your body with the building blocks it needs to maintain and repair cells as well as produce hormones, enzymes and other substances. Consuming enough protein is vital for various reasons, from building muscle mass to maintaining healthy skin to preventing diseases and disorders.
Read on to learn more about what protein does in the body, why we need it, the best sources of protein, and how much you should consume each day.
Protein: What it is and what it does
Protein is a macronutrient which means that it is needed in large quantities (macro) as opposed to micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals that are needed in small quantities (micro). It is made up of amino acids, necessary for the growth and repair of tissues, and it plays a role in numerous bodily functions, including metabolism, hormone production, and immune system function.
There are three protein types: animal-based, plant-based, and protein supplements. Animal-based proteins include meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. Plant-based proteins include beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Athletes and bodybuilders often use protein supplements and meal replacements to help maintain and build muscle mass. They are also used in medical situations where a protein deficiency is present.
Animal protein comes from meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. It is a complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids your body needs. Animal proteins are also rich in iron, zinc, and B vitamins.
Vegetable protein comes from beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It is not as complete as animal protein because it lacks one or more essential amino acids. However, it can be a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese.
Protein supplements come in many forms, including powder (isolated whey is the most easily absorbed) and ready-made shakes that are usually a whey, casein or plant-based (pea or soy) blend. There are literally hundreds of brands and flavors so find one you enjoy. However, my favorite whey protein is Dymatize Iso 100. These powdered protein supplements contain all the essential amino acids your body needs. Today there are also many variations of protein bars and snacks readily available at grocery stores, gas stations and online. My personal favorite protein bars are Built Bars and ONE Protein Bars . You can find Quest Protein Chips at your local grocery store or online and they're definitely a better choice than Doritos! There are even protein muffins and I'm sorry but these Mighty Muffin Chocolate muffins are ah-mazing. Desert for breakfast that's actually pretty good for you; I'm all in.
Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats), so it keeps you fuller longer, with the highest thermic effect. The thermic effect of food, or TEF, is the amount of energy it takes for your body to digest, absorb, and metabolize the food you eat. It takes more energy for your body to process protein than any other macronutrient.
How Much Protein Should You Eat?
The amount of protein you need depends on several factors, including your age, activity level, and muscle mass. The original Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is only 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (or about 0.36 grams per pound). This amounts to:
• 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man
• 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman
• 71 grams per day for pregnant women
• 65 grams per day for breastfeeding women
However, these RDA amounts for protein were last updated in 1981, over 40 years ago and were not updated to accommodate the larger athletic population of today. Many experts today agree that older adults and athletes should eat higher amounts of protein than originally recommended. More recent research suggests closer to 1g per lb of body weight to help support essential muscle and hormonal balance.
When to Use Protein Supplements
In situations where you cannot get sufficient protein from food sources or are an athlete or bodybuilder, you may need to take protein supplements to ensure you get enough protein. Protein is essential for building muscle, enzyme function and hormonal balance, so supplements may be the best plan if you are not getting enough from your diet.
Protein supplements can also be helpful if you are trying to lose weight. Protein helps keep you full longer, making you less likely to snack between meals. Taking a supplement can help you reach your weight loss goals if you are not getting enough protein from your diet.
Suppose you have any medical conditions that prevent you from getting enough protein from your diet, such as kidney disease, cancer, or HIV/AIDS. Protein can help to prevent weight loss and muscle wasting in these conditions. In that case, protein supplements can be a literal lifesaver. Talk to your doctor about whether protein supplements are right for you.
Protein is a macronutrient that plays a vital role in the human body. It is essential for the growth and repair of tissues and helps regulate metabolism, balance hormones, maintain and build muscle mass and so much more.
Although protein can be found in many food sources, it is often convenient to get extra protein through supplementation. If you are interested in increasing your protein intake, talk to your doctor or a registered nutritionist to see if protein supplements are right for you. There are choices galore in the grocery store aisles and online, so find something you like that helps you reach your nutrition goals.