How much protein per day to keep the doctor away!? I am sure you have probably heard of protein and it’s popularity in the fitness world. But do you know just how important it is for your overall health? In this article, I touch on the importance and benefits of protein, best times to take protein, safety, and of course, how much you should take!
THE IMPORTANCE OF PROTEIN
Protein is an essential macro-nutrient that helps build muscle, repair tissue, and make hormones and enzymes. When we take protein in our body through the foods we eat, it gets broken down into smaller compounds called amino acids. Of the 20 amino acids found in the foods we eat, 9 of these are essential. An essential amino acid is one that must be provided from your diet as our body does not naturally produce it on it’s own. Failing to obtain enough of even 1 of the 11 essential amino acids, results in the breaking down of the body’s proteins (i.e. muscles!) to obtain the one amino acid that is needed.
The Essential Amino Acids Include:
- Arginine (only essential in young children, not adults)
BENEFITS OF ADEQUATE PROTEIN INTAKE
When it comes to enhancing health, body composition, and performance, optimizing protein intake may be one of the most important dietary changes that one can make. Optimizing protein intake means you are no longer surviving, but thriving and has many health and fitness benefits such as:
• Increased satiety: Protein-rich foods and protein-dense meals help you feel fuller, longer and may even decrease energy intake in subsequent meals
• Increased thermogenesis: A higher protein intake increases energy expenditure and boosts the metabolism.
• Improved body composition: Optimizing protein intake is crucial to building and maintaining muscle, and it’s critical for performance and recovery. In addition, high-protein diets have consistently been shown to be an effective tool for optimizing fat loss.
• Preservation of metabolic rate: High-protein diets have been shown to preserve lean body mass when dieting for fat loss, and they have also been shown to be necessary for the preservation of metabolic rate, which is frequently compromised as a result of dieting.
BEST SOURCES OF PROTEIN
I always stress getting your nutrients from your diet as best you can. Your diet is the only place you can get protein, so be sure to eat enough protein-rich foods! The two main sources of protein are animal proteins and plant proteins. Keep in mind that animals proteins are complete (i.e. it provides all the needed amino acids to make a complete protein) and plant proteins (except for soy!) are not ON THEIR OWN. So, you would need to make plant protein combinations as a vegan/vegetarian for example to get the adequate complete protein.
Here is a quick reference guide to some of the best foods to derive your protein from:
- Almonds & other nuts + nut butters
- Lean meats
- Cottage Cheese
- Greek Yogurt or Kefir
- Wild Tuna & Wild fish of all types
- Ezekiel Bread
- Pumpkin seeds
- Brussels Sprouts
- Chia seeds
- Bone Brothe
Unfortunately, a traditional american diet lacks quality sources of protein and depending on your age, activity level and your diet – you may or may not be getting adequate amounts of protein. That’s where protein powders come in!
TYPES OF PROTEIN POWDER
There are several different types of protein powder. Whey is the most popular protein supplement, but it is not the only one. Common types of protein powder include:
- Whey protein: A dairy-based protein. It contains all the essential amino acids and is quickly absorbed.
- Casein protein: A dairy-based protein. It contains all the essential amino acids and is slowly absorbed, which is why people often take it before bed.
- Soy protein: A plant-based protein that contains all the essential amino acids. It has also been linked to some impressive health benefits.
- Pea protein: A plant-based protein. It has low levels of the nonessential amino acids cysteine and methionine.
- Rice protein: A plant-based protein with low levels of the essential amino acid lysine.
- Hemp protein: A plant-based protein made from hemp seeds that has high levels of fiber and essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Hemp protein is low in the amino acid lysine
DOES TIMING MATTER?
In the grand scheme of things, timing does not really matter. It’s more important how much quality protein you are getting vs. what time of day you get it. However. you may want to consume it at a particular time of day, depending on whether you want to lose weight, build muscle or preserve muscle. Here are a few tips for each goal:
1. Weight loss – Consuming protein-rich snacks between meals is ideal for fat loss. It may help curb hunger, which could lead you to eat fewer calories later in the day.
2. Building muscle – Aim to consume protein within two hours after working out. People who train in a fasted state, like before breakfast, should ideally take protein right after working out.
3. Preserving muscle – Aim to eat 25–30 grams of protein per meal. Taking a protein supplement at meals during which you consume less protein, such as breakfast, can help spread your intake over the day.
Athlete Tips: Endurance athletes may see improved performance and recovery from taking protein with a source of carbs during and after exercise. Resistance-training athletes can benefit from taking protein either immediately before or after a workout.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN PER DAY?
Now that you know the importance of protein and it’s quality – on to the main topic at hand! How much protein you should consume daily.
Ultimately, this can vary based on your activity/fitness levels and current diet. However, most adults can benefit from consuming 0.6–0.9 grams of protein per pound (1.4–2.0 grams per kg) of body weight daily. If you are more physically active like athletes, weight trainers and outdoor enthusiasts – consuming a higher amount like 1-2 grams per lb of body weight is more ideal. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, staying at the low end is probably sufficient.
The best way to determine how much protein you are getting in your diet to determine if you need supplementation is to check the labels on your foods and log their protein content. Another way to do this is by using a nutritional tracker.
SAFETY AND SIDE EFFECTS
*Protein powders and drinks may cause gastrointestinal distress such as gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation in some people.
*If you take more than the recommended serving size of protein, you may also experience an upset stomach, cramps or other digestive discomfort. Headaches, fatigue, dehydration and a reduced appetite are also possible. Other more serious health problems that have been associated with consuming too much protein include, kidney disease, kidney stones, osteoporosis and cancer. This is largely overblown and not supported by enough evidence, however – here is a great article that looks deeper into these claims and clears up the confusion and fear.
*Remember, it’s always best to consult your physician or dietitian if you have any questions or concerns and remember, always listen to your body!
THE TAKE AWAY
Protein is a building block of our bodies and essential to our health. Getting the adequate amount is pertinent! However, not everyone needs extra protein supplementation. People who eat a diet that is rich in meat, fish, dairy, and eggs and do not do intense weight training are unlikely to need to take protein supplements. But if you think you do need more protein – eat more protein-rich foods and/or supplement with protein powders as needed.
In the end, it’s safe to say – we all need protein! I pray this article brings that to your attention and helps you in getting the adequate amount in your diet :). If you have any questions, tips or just want to share your experiences, please comment below!