Protein is another very important macronutrient vital for the body and an essential component of all living cells. Macronutrients are substances that you need in major amounts, which provide energy and allow you to survive and develop. In addition to proteins, carbohydrates and fats should be components of your diet in order to allow your body to thrive. Proteins provide as much energy density as carbohydrates (4 kcal per gram) and less than fats (9 kcal per gram).
Proteins are composed of amino acids. There are twenty amino acids. Nine of them can’t be fabricated in the body so must be obtained from the diet to prevent malnutrition; these amino acids are called essential amino acids (phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine). There are five amino acids that the body can synthesize (alanine, aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, and serine) and six conditionally essential amino acids whose synthesis can be affected by pathologies (arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamine, proline, and tyrosine).
The Role of Protein in the Body
Protein is the building block of muscle and tissue but it can, also, form enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and structures within the body. Proteins are multifaceted compounds that have multiple and diverse roles:
- Muscle / Tissue Development & Maintenance: Protein is essential to muscle and tissue building, growth, and maintenance
- Accelerate Chemical Reactions: Some proteins are enzymes that increase the rate of biochemical reactions necessary for metabolism and DNA processes.
- Signaling: Other proteins are hormones, which transmit signals to organs and regulate physiology and behavior
- Immunity: Some proteins form antibodies and immunoglobulins. Being part of the immune system, they bind and destroy antigens, and fight disease, viruses, and pathogens
- Oxygenation: Hemoglobin is a molecule binding protein that transports oxygen through the body
- pH Balance: Proteins can become a buffering tool to change and equilibrate pH levels
- System Regulation: Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins that remove glycoproteins from the circulatory system, modulate cell adhesion and recognition, as well as inflammatory and reactive processes in the immune system
- Structure: Structural proteins give rigidity and elasticity to diverse internal structures. For instance, collagen, cartilage, and elastin are connective tissues. Keratin is a part of hair, nails, feathers, and shells. Actin and tubulin make up cytoskeletons
- Movement: Motor proteins, such as myosin, kinesin, and dynein, generate mechanical forces and convert chemical energy into mechanical work
- Nutrient Transportation: Transport proteins carry vitamins, minerals, blood sugar, and cholesterol throughout your bloodstream into cells, out of cells, or within cells
- Energy: Protein is not usually used for energy but if there are not enough calories available from food or fat storage in the body, protein can be used for energy. If more protein is consumed than is needed, the body breaks it down and stores it as fat
Benefits of Protein
Protein is not only essential to the body but it can also help you achieve your fitness goals. The following are some of the benefits associated with regular protein consumption.
MORE MUSCLE & LESS FAT: You can train as hard as you want but if you don’t eat enough protein, you won’t be able to build much muscle mass. To gain muscle, your body must synthesize more muscle protein than it breaks down. There needs to be a net positive protein balance in your body or nitrogen balance. Protein also helps you preserve muscle, which in turn, helps you burn more calories just to maintain your composition.
SATIATION: Eating protein throughout the day makes you feel fuller longer since it affects satiety hormones (GLP-1, peptide YY, cholecystokinin) and appetite-related hormones (ghrelin). This decreases your appetite, helping reduce your overall caloric consumption.
HIGHER CALORIC BURNED BY EATING PROTEIN: You may not know but you burn a certain amount of calories by eating food (digesting, absorbing, and processing nutrients) – this is the thermic effect of food (TEF). Different macronutrients burn calories at different rates and protein produces the largest rise in TEF, increasing your metabolic rate by 15–30%, compared to 5–10% for carbs and 0–3% for fats.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Your protein intake depends on your biometrics (sex, age, height, weight, activity patterns, and even genetic traits). In order to keep things simple, you can use the weight-based recommended daily allowances (RDA) below.
- If you are sedentary, you should consume 0.8 – 1.3 grams per kilogram of body weight (divide your body weight in pounds by 2.2 in order to convert your weight to kilograms).
➡️ If you are 130 lbs => 59 kg
59 x 0.8 = 47 to 59 x 1.3 = 77
So 47 to 77 grams of protein are your recommended amount of protein per day.
➡️ If you are 195 lbs => 89 kg
89 x 0.8 = 71 to 89 x 1.3 = 116
So 71 to 116 grams of protein are your recommended amount of protein per day.
CIRCUMSTANCES REQUIRING HIGHER PROTEIN INTAKE
- If you train most days out of the week, want to gain lean muscle, or are into endurance training, you should consume between 1.3 to 2.2 grams per kg of body weight (2.2 g are recommended for elite athletes, those into bodybuilding, or anyone wanting to get serious on the first 12 weeks of a new workout program)
➡️ If you are 130 lbs => 59 kg
59 x 1.3 = 77 to 59 x 2.2 = 130
So 77 to 130 grams of protein are your recommended amount of protein per day.
➡️ If you are 195 lbs => 89 kg
89 x 1.3 = 116 to 89 x 2.2 = 199
So 116 to 199 grams of protein are your recommended amount of protein per day.
- If you are pregnant, you should aim to consume 1.2–1.52 grams per kg of protein daily. During pregnancy, the body needs more protein for tissue development and growth for the mother and baby.
- If you are breastfeeding, aim for 1.3 grams per kg per day, plus 25 additional grams.
- If you have a very physically demanding job, you need to eat more protein than a sedentary person.
- If you are over age 62, your protein needs are higher to help prevent osteoporosis and sarcopenia. You should consume about 1–1.3 grams per kg of body weight.
- If you are recovering from an injury, you need more protein to help you heal and build tissue.
- Children and adolescents need more because they are growing. Children ages 4 – 9 need around 19 grams of protein each day. Those between ages 9 – 13 need 34 grams. Adolescents (ages 14 to 18) boys need around 52 grams and girls need 46 grams.
*️⃣ But the weight is not the only factor to keep in mind. A person carrying a lot of body fat should use his/her lean mass or goal weight – instead of your total body weight – to make the conversion.
If you weigh 90 kilograms with 10% body fat, you have 81 kilograms of lean body mass. Multiplying that by 2.2 gives you 178 grams of protein per day, On the other hand, if you weigh 90kg but have 20% body fat, you have 72kg of lean body mass. Multiplying that number by 2.2 gives you 158g grams of protein per day.
*️⃣ You can also calculate your protein intake by eating 30% of your total daily calories from protein. The problem is that the protein intake will vary according to the number of calories consumed. For example, if you consume 2000 calories one day, you should consume 600 calories of protein which equates to 150g of protein (remember, 1 gm of protein = 4 calories). But if you consume 4000 calories another day, you should consume 1200 calories of protein which equates to 300g of protein. So those are very different amounts of protein to consume – it’s better to make your determination based on your weight or desired weight.
Is a High-Protein or Medium-Protein Diet Healthy?
Protein, just like fat, has been vilified and associated with health conditions. The reality of the matter is that unless you have poor kidney function, research doesn’t support claims that protein is damaging. Even people with reduced kidney function need protein in their diet to decrease their mortality rates. On the contrary, medium and high protein diets have positive effects on people with high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, and sarcopenia
Best Sources of Protein to Consume
- Red Meat: It is, generally, the skeletal muscle of mammals (cattle, bison, and lamb, etc.). Red meat consists roughly of 19 percent protein but is somewhat high in calories. It is a complete protein and contains all essential amino acids, along with zinc, vitamin B, iron, choline, riboflavin, phosphorus, niacin, vitamin K, and selenium. If you eat red meat, try to consume it a few times a week since it is very hard to digest and has been linked to colon cancer. Always buy organic grass-fed meat.
- White Meat: It refers to the meat from poultry and pigs. It has fewer calories and less saturated fat. Yet, white meat has a higher protein value than red meat and is also less costly. Buy antibiotic-free organic pastured chicken, which is antibiotic and arsenic-free. If you eat pork, buy organic antibiotic-free or with Animal Welfare Approved /Certified Humane labels. Eat pork occasionally since the industry is plagued with disease.
- Fish: It is high in protein and very low on carbs. Some fish have an equal ratio of fat and protein, but the fat is highly beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. When buying fish, avoid farm-raised fish, which has more pollutants and high levels of antibiotics and dioxin. Always choose wild-caught, but avoid the regular consumption of large fish such as tuna and shark due to their high levels of mercury. Salmon, sardines, and anchovies are great choices since these fish are closer to the bottom of the food chain, having short life cycles. If you buy canned fish, buy those in BPA-free cans.
- Eggs: Egg protein is one of the highest quality proteins found. It has amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine, lutein, zeaxanthin, choline, and vitamin B12. Eat the whole egg to ingest all the nutrients and heart-healthy omega 3 fats. Buy organic pastured eggs as the hens are free-roaming, raised on organic feeds, which are not exposed to corn, soy, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides.
- Whey Protein: A byproduct of milk, a part that is separated from the curd in the making of cheese. It is an excellent source of protein with numerous health benefits. Whey protein has been linked to healthy insulin secretion, helping balance blood sugar levels. It contains immunoglobulins, which keep your immune system working properly. It maximizes the production of glutathione, the most powerful antioxidant in your body that optimizes other antioxidants and removes toxins and free radicals. Buy organic whey protein from grass-fed hormone-free cows.
VEGETARIAN SOURCES OF PROTEIN
For those following a plant-based diet, there are various foods that can provide the essential amino acids needed by the body.
- Quinoa: Highly nutritious gluten-free pseudo-cereal grain. Quinoa provides all essential amino acids and gives you more than 8g of protein per cup. It is highly digestible, high in manganese, phosphorous, folate, iron, zinc, and magnesium.
- Spirulina: This super-food is a form of blue-green algae with an excellent source of vital amino acids and minerals. Spirulina is around seventy percent complete protein while beef is around twenty percent. It is high in B vitamins, iron, and manganese. It is a powerful immune system booster, that also helps balance blood pressure and cholesterol. However, it is not recommended for those with iodine or severe seafood allergies.
- Hemp: Hemp seeds are not widely used as a food source but are highly nutritious. Hemp comes from the same plant species as marijuana, cannabis Sativa, but does not have any mind-altering effects. As a matter of fact, hemp seeds are an excellent source of protein, providing all of the essential amino acids. Hemp protein has an amino acid profile comparable to meat and eggs, and it is highly digestible. It is rich in B vitamins, fiber, zinc, manganese, and essential fatty acids. It is beneficial for the heart, skin, and immune system.
- Tempeh: This is fermented soy that gives you around 15 grams of protein per half-cup. This form of soy does not have the negative effects associated with regular soy. On the contrary, tempeh is a great source of probiotics. It is, also, high in B vitamins, manganese, and phosphorous.
- Legumes: They are a source of complete protein, providing all essential amino acids. Legumes are high in folate, minerals, as well as carbohydrates. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas are great choices. Peanuts have protein as well; they are actually a legume, not a nut. When preparing legumes, it is recommended to soak them overnight and to throw away the water from the first boil. This process helps get rid of their anti-nutrients and improves their nutritional value. Anti-nutrients (phytates, tannins, lectins, protease inhibitors, and calcium oxalate) are compounds that reduce the absorption of nutrients in the body and are associated with gas and indigestion.
- Nuts: Even though they are great sources of beneficial fat, they can also be a source of protein. They have around 6 grams of protein per serving. Some of the nuts with high protein value are almonds, cashews, and pistachios. Buy them organic and raw, not those with added salt or sugar.
- Chia Seeds: Great source of B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, and zinc. Chia seeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids and provide around 5 grams of protein per oz.
Looking for a Protein Supplement?
If you are looking for a plant-based protein, try Organic Muscle’s proteins, which offer 24 grams of organic plant-based protein, 10g of carbs, and only 150 calories. It contains a full amino acid profile made with pea, rice, hemp, and sacha inchi proteins. The products are certified organic, vegan, and FREE of gluten, dairy, chemicals, hormones, preservatives, and artificial flavors, colors, & sugars. You can also find them on Amazon.
Do not be afraid to eat protein throughout the day. As you can see protein is essential and highly beneficial for the body. Increasing your protein intake not only keeps you healthy but helps to accelerate your metabolism, reduce your appetite, and keep you full longer, helping you to avoid overeating so you burn more fat. Additionally, higher protein intake helps you to gain and maintain precious muscle mass to mold a beautiful physique.
To a Fitter Healthier You,
The Fitness Wellness Mentor