Most of us are aware that protein is an important part of a healthy diet. But understanding what protein is needed for, and determining if you are getting enough, are often the harder questions. We tried to answer many of your questions below, as well as provide you with a list of some of the best sources of protein.
Why do you need protein?
Protein is the building block of life. Every cell in the human body contains protein. Protein’s main function is to build and repair the body’s tissues, including muscles. However, protein also plays a key role in circulatory health, enzyme and hormone synthesis and the development of a robust immune system.
Since protein is constantly broken down, it is crucial to consume this macronutrient every day, especially after a strenuous workout.
Protein sources can be classified as complete or incomplete. Complete protein sources contain all the nine essential amino acids that your body needs and cannot produce on its own. All animal sources of protein, as well as eggs, dairy, soy and quinoa, are complete proteins. Incomplete proteins are missing one or more of the nine essential amino acids and include beans, rice and nuts. By combining different protein sources, you can ensure that you get all essential amino acids into your diet.
How much do you need?
The Recommended Daily Allowance is 0.83 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for the average woman. That translates into about 53 grams of protein for an 140-pound woman. However, if you are more active, even a recreational athlete, than you should consume between 64 to 127 grams of protein daily.
What if you don’t get enough?
When there is a lack of protein, the body will start to use its own muscle for fuel.
Can protein help you lose weight?
Yes, higher protein foods require more work as your body breaks them down for fuel, so you naturally burn more calories to digest them. Additionally, high protein foods help you feel fuller, longer. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that higher protein intake (30 – 40% of the diet) helps to boost levels of leptin (the hormone that makes you feel satiated) and reduces the levels of the hunger producing hormone, ghrelin.
Can you have too much protein?
Yes. Your body can only absorb about 30 grams of protein (4-5 ounces) at a time. If you take in more than that, and your daily calorie intake is sufficient to meet your energy needs, then it can be stored as fat. There is also some controversy as to whether excess protein over an extended period of time can place a strain on the kidneys.
Where to get your protein?
- Lean Grass-fed Beef: 4-5 ounce has 25 grams of protein.
- Grilled Chicken Breast: 4 ounces has 36 grams of protein.
- Fish: Most 3 ounce servings contain at least 20 grams of protein.
- Eggs: One whole egg contains 7 grams of protein.
- Greek Yogurt: One 8-ounce container has 20 grams of protein.
- Cottage Cheese: One cup has 28 grams of protein.
- Chickpeas: ½ cup has 20 grams of protein.
- Black Beans: ½ cup has 7 grams of protein.
- Lentils: 1 cup has approximately 18 grams of protein.
- Edamame: ½ cup has 8 grams of protein.
- Quinoa: 1 cup has about 8 grams of protein.
- Walnuts: ½ cup has about 9 grams of protein.
- Tofu: 3 ounces has almost 8 grams of protein.
- Peanut Butter: 2 tablespoons has 8 grams of protein
- Part-skim Mozzarella Cheese: 1 ounce has 7 grams of protein.
- Broccoli: 1 cup has 6 grams of protein.
- Protein Powders: When you are in a rush and can’t get what you need from food alone, these powders are an easy way to ensure that you are getting enough protein. Some options include whey, soy, brown rice, pea and casein powders. (Look for a blog post soon to explain these different options.)
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