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Protein 101 | what is it, why do we need it, and how much do we need?

We can say proteins are complex molecules that are composed of long chains of amino acids, but what does that really mean? Let's simplify this down so anyone can understand.

Protein itself is an essential macronutrient that is the building block for our entire bodies. Protein is responsible for the structure, function, and regulation of our tissues and organs so, not surprisingly, it's found in muscle, bone, skin, and every other body part. Protein helps power chemical reactions that sustain life and without it, we would not survive. So basically, when you consume protein in your diet, it's broken down within our bodies and absorbed, where it's used to create new proteins that fulfill our body's needs.

Amino Acids = building blocks of a protein.

There are 9 essential amino acids (meaning our bodies cannot synthesize/make them within the body) and 12 non-essential amino acids (meaning our bodies can synthesize/make these within the body). Essential amino acids must be acquired through diet or supplementation. This is one reason why it's important that we eat a diverse diet. We should strive to eat variety in both plant-based protein sources and animal-based protein sources. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy tend to be complete proteins, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids.

Protein & Building Muscle

Protein is a vital part in building muscle because it helps repair and maintain muscle tissue. Lifting weights is a stress on the body that causes micro-tears in muscle fibers. Rest and adequate protein (and nutrients in general) allows your muscles to not only repair, but also adapt in order to handle the stress that caused the damage, so that next time, the same stress won't cause as much damage to the muscle fibers.

How much protein does one need?

The FDA's recommendation is 50g of protein per day for adults. This is baseline for the average person. Most adults would benefit from consuming more protein than this, especially in the pursuit of building muscle. If you're not overweight or obese, 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is a good goal. If you're overweight or obese, 1 gram of protein per lean pound of body weight is a good goal.

Protein Sources:

  • Meats (beef, pork)

  • Poultry (chicken, turkey)

  • Fish (salmon, tuna, cod, shrimp)

  • Eggs

  • Dairy (cottage cheese, milk, yogurt)

  • Beans & Legumes (soy beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.)

  • Nuts & Seeds (hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, pistachios, flax seeds, etc.)

*NOTE: many of the animal products come along with additional fat and many of the plant-based products are protein with carbohydrates and fats. Rarely is something a straight source of protein.

Other Considerations:

  • A high-protein diet could also help with weight and appetite control, as protein tends to be a satiating macronutrient.

  • Too much protein consumption has negative health consequences such as kidney disease

  • Strive for variety. For example, consuming high amounts of protein sources that contain saturated fats could lead to heart disease.

  • Where you get your protein makes a difference. Not all protein is created equal.

  • There are certain diseases, conditions, and medications that make a high-protein diet dangerous. Please consult with your physician before making dietary changes.

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