What Protein Actually Is
Protein is one of the three macronutrients . Unlike carbs and fat, protein is not usually a major energy source, although we definitely get some of that from itprotein provides four calories per gram. But protein is often referred to as a building block in the body because of its central role in growth and development.
Almost all animal-derived productsmeat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fishcontain a significant amount of protein, so they get labeled as protein sources when were talking about our diets and nutrition. But protein is also present in a lot of plant-based foods. Theres a good amount in beans, peas, nuts, and seeds, for instance, while vegetables and grains generally contain smaller amounts, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration . Whole grains will have more protein than refined grains, though, which are missing the part of the grain that often supplies a lot of the protein content, as SELF previously reported.
Proteins are made of small units called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids in total, which can be broken down into two main groups, per the FDA. Nine of the 20 are what are referred to as essential amino acids, meaning that the body is unable to produce them itself and so we must get them from food. The other 11 are nonessential because the body is able to synthesize them out of the essential amino acids or the normal process of breaking down proteins, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Protein And Food Allergies: What To Know
Food allergies occur when the bodys immune system attacks certain food proteins. Your body will fight back by making its own proteins, called IgE antibodies, or immunoglobulin E. If you have an allergy to a certain protein, the next time you eat or drink something containing that protein, youll experience an allergic reaction, such as itchiness or trouble breathing.
Many of the most common food allergies are associated with foods that are high in protein, such as eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and fish.
Optimal Daily Protein Intake For Athletes
If youre physically active regularly, you need more protein daily than if you were sedentary. The American College of Sports Medicine, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the Dietitians of Canada recommend 1.22.0 g/kg to optimize recovery from training and to promote the growth and maintenance of lean mass when caloric intake is sufficient. This recommendation is similar to that of the International Society of Sports Nutrition : 1.42.0 g/kg.
Importantly, it may be better to aim for the higher end of the above ranges. According to the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date on the effects of protein supplementation on muscle mass and strength, the average amount of protein required to maximize lean mass is about 1.6 g/kg, and some people need upwards of 2.2 g/kg. Those of you interested in a comprehensive breakdown of this study will find one in NERD #34 .
However, only 4 of the 49 included studies were conducted in people with resistance training experience . IAAO studies in athletes found different numbers: on training days, female athletes required 1.41.7 g/kg the day following a regular training session, male endurance athletes required 2.12.7 g/kg two days after their last resistance-training session, amateur male bodybuilders required 1.72.2 g/kg.
Since higher protein intakes seem to have no negative effects in healthy people, one may want to err toward the higher amounts. For most athletes , the ISSN range will work well:
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Protein Requirements How Much Do We Need
Kids require approximately 1-1.5 grams of protein for every TWO pounds of body weight, or more precisely, 1-gram protein per kg . Thus, a 40-lb child needs approximately 18 grams protein per day! Thats not as much as I thought, you say? Lets see how quickly protein adds up!
Breakfast: 6 oz fat-free yogurt, ½ cup berries, ½ cup dry cereal, 4 oz skim milkSnack: ½ appleLunch: 2 oz turkey breast, ½ cup baby tomatoes, 10 whole grain pretzels, 5 strawberries, 4 oz skim milkSnack: ½ cup edamameDinner: 4 bites chicken breast, ½ cup pasta, ½ cup broccoli, 4 oz skim milkTOTAL : 76 g protein
This example actually provides sufficient protein for an average adult woman! Seem unrealistic? Look how it breaks down. Milk and other dairy products, provide a large quantity of protein, approximately 1g/oz. Additionally, whole grains provide a considerable amount of protein, particularly those enriched with bean/legume flours. Then, of course, lean meats are touted for their protein content, typically provide about 7 g protein per 1 oz portion.
How To Get Enough Protein
Now that you have an estimate of the amount of protein you need, the last question to answer is: how do I eat all this protein?
Our #1 recommendation is to get protein from whole foods whenever possible. This will ensure you get plenty of vitamins and minerals.
A serving of protein is about the size and thickness of your palm:
Protein can come from any number of sources, including:
- Meat .
- Fish and shellfish .
- Legumes .
Not a meat-eater? Read our massive plant-based guide!
However, if youâre aiming for the higher ranges of protein intake you might need to supplement.
Personally, I drink a protein shake daily to help me reach my goals.
Some protein supplements to consider:
Check out The Ultimate Protein Shake Guide for more protein powder recommendations and recipes on how to make delicious smoothies.
Whether through whole foods or supplements, protein should be a main part of every meal you eat. Itâs one of our top recommendations for being a healthy nerd.
You can always adjust up or down based on your results.
If you need any help along the way, we got you.
Here are three ways to continue your journey with Nerd Fitness.
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Protein Requirements For People Over 70
If you’re over 70 and typically have just toast and jam for breakfast, you might want to add protein to your meal. While protein at breakfast is a good idea at any age, research suggests that eating the right amount daily is even more important for maintaining optimal health when you’re over 70.
How Do You Calculate How Much Protein You Need A Day
Your daily protein requirements are mainly determined by factors, such as your weight, age, gender, height, and physical activity.
According to the National Academy of Medicine
- All adults must consume at least 0.8 grams of protein daily per 2.2 pounds of their body weight.
- This is the amount of protein required for a sedentary lifestyle .
- Thus, for an adult who weighs 132 pounds and has a sedentary lifestyle, their protein requirement will be equal to 48 grams of protein a day .
The requirement will fluctuate if you are an athlete, pregnant, recovering from an illness, attempting weight loss, or a teenager. Certain conditions, such as kidney disease, may require you to lower your protein intake, while others may require a high protein intake.
Calculate protein requirement by weight
Another way to calculate your minimum daily protein requirement is by:
- Dividing your weight into pounds by 20 and multiplying it by seven.
- You need just a little more than seven grams of protein for every 20 pounds of your body weight.
- Thus, for someone weighing 200 pounds, the protein requirement will be 70 grams each day.
Calculate protein requirement by calorie intake
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How To Eat More Protein
Knowing your protein goals is only half the battle, you still ended to figure out how that translates into food choices.
Start by learning where the best sources of protein can be found and identify high protein foods you enjoy eating. You can enjoy quality protein sources from a variety of foods including animal-based options like meat, fish, and dairy, or plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
Here are some resources to help you find the most protein dense foods:
When To Eat Protein
Timing your protein hits is vital to optimise your gains. Your body cant process more than 25 to 35g of protein per serving, so scoffing six steaks at dinner is a waste. Its not about having shedloads all at once, say Reid. And anyway, your most important protein hit is the one after your gym session.
You want that immediate stimulus, says Reid. Within the 30-minute window post-workout youre looking to optimise the repair and regeneration process. Thats when you want rapidly-absorbed whey protein, either by chugging a shake or a pint of milk. Reid also recommends a skinny latte for a pre-gym boost: Youve got the caffeine kick, the protein in the milk and if you try a banana with it, a bit of carbohydrate.Pairing your protein with carbs is good sense. After exercise your body produces the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which break down proteins, fats and sugars. When theyre coursing through you, youre not building muscle. When you get some recovery nutrition in it counters those stress hormones, says Reid, switching your body back into repair mode and kickstarting growth.
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Unless Youre Going Really Hard On Protein You Probably Dont Have To Worry
The potential negative side effects of protein likely only happen if youre eating too much protein regularly and for an extended period of time. Going over the recommended daily amount every once in a while isnt something to worry about.
If youre eating a balance of protein, carbs, and fat at every meal, youre likely getting the protein that you need.
How Much Protein Per Day To Lose Weight
If you want to lose weight, aim for a daily protein intake between 1.6 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight . Athletes and heavy exercisers should consume 2.2-3.4 grams of protein per kilogram if aiming for weight loss.
My practical recommendation to people is that if you carry a BMI of over 30 or a body fat percentage above 25-30% it makes more sense to base your protein recommendations off of your goal weight.
For the correct amount of protein to gain muscle, check this resource out.
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Calculating Your Protein Intake
As every individual is built differently, you can tailor your daily protein intake based on your weight. Better yet, knowing your body-fat percentage will allow you to calculate the protein needed per kg of lean body mass, which is a more accurate measurement.
There are many body-fat percentage calculators to help you do this. After calculating your body-fat percentage, you will need to subtract this number from your overall weight to work out your lean body mass percentage. If your aim is to build lean muscle, then it is recommended that you aim to consume around 2 g of protein per kg of lean body mass. Using a body mass index calculator is also a useful tool for checking that you are at a healthy weight in relation to your height.
This said, for the most personalised and expert advice, Patel recommends booking a consultation with a registered dietitian who specialises in sports nutrition.
How much protein do you need to build muscle?
- Plant-based meat alternatives such as tofu and tempeh.
Protein supplements have also been proven to support muscle-building. However, they should be taken in addition to – and not as a substitute for – a protein-rich diet. While some studies have found that whey protein is absorbed faster than food protein, muscles can only handle around 25-35 g of protein at a time. In reality, any excess protein from an overload in protein shakes will be used by the body, but not for muscle tissue.
High Protein Dairy And Eggs
Dairy and eggs both provide high-quality protein and are popular breakfast foods. Dairy also contains calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium, which are essential for bone health. Fermented dairy options also provide a dose of gut-loving probiotics which can aid in improving gut microbiota balance.
Eggs also are very nutrient-dense and provide highly bioavailable protein, that is easily digested and used throughout the body. They also pair well with whole-grain toast, meat protein sources, nutritious fats like avocado, and vegetables such as pepper, spinach, and mushrooms. Meanwhile, yogurt and cottage cheese pair well with foods like nuts, apples, berries, and melons.
Cottage cheese can also be dished up as a savory option, seasoned with pepper, paprika, and cucumber slices. It’s also excellent tucked into eggs, stirred into high-fiber oatmeal, or served on top of avocado toast.
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Why We Even Need Protein
That building block nickname is no exaggeration. The stuff is an integral component of every cell in your body, including, yes, your muscles.
If we don’t get enough protein, our bodies actually wont be able to rebuild properly and well start to lose muscle mass, Colleen Tewksbury, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., senior research investigator and bariatric program manager at Penn Medicine and president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF.
Protein helps repair the microtears that occur in your muscle fibers when theyre strained during exercise, the American College of Exercise explains. That process of damage and repair is what maintains and grows your muscle mass.
But protein is not just important for people who work out: In addition to muscle growth and repair, protein is essential to the growth and repair of virtually all cells and body tissuesfrom your skin, hair, and nails to your bones, organs, and bodily fluids, according to the FDA. Thats why its especially important to get enough of it during developmental periods like childhood and adolescence.
Protein also plays a role in crucial bodily functions like blood clotting, immune system response, vision, fluid balance, and the production of various enzymes and hormones, per the FDA. And because it contains calories, it can provide the body energy for storage or use.
Here’s Exactly How Much Protein You Should Eat For Muscle Gain And Weight Loss
Regardless of your goal the answer is simple: 30 grams of protein at every meal.
A 180-pound guy who wants to maintain his current weight would need 100 to 130 grams, or six palm-sized portions of protein-rich foods, every day. Thats about 30 grams at each meal and an additional 10 to 20 grams in two snacks. Chicken breast is great, but so are chicken thighs, tofu, salmon, pork, shellfish, whitefish, lamb, tempeh, and much more.
And don’t forget that a heaping scoop of most protein powders will net you around 30 grams of the nutrient.
Within the larger picture of your daily diet, that means youll want to consume 30 percent of your daily 2,600 calories from protein.
And, yes, that includes plant proteins.
If you’re trying to reduce the amount of meat youre eating, you need to swap in a high-protein plant food.
Some plant foods that are high in protein: soybeans , quinoa, chickpeas, lentils, any kind of nut, peas, any kind of bean, and seitan. You can use an app to track your nutrient intake, or you can simply aim for a palm-sized portion of whatever protein youre including in your meal.
Also, be careful with snacking. Youll find some protein products on the market that contain a measly four grams per serving, along with an abundance of added sugars.
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Will You Gain Muscle With Protein
If you have whey protein shakes in your diet without doing any physical training, you will not be able to gain muscle tissue. Protein shakes only work when your muscles are under stress from working out. Otherwise, it can cause damage to muscle fibres.
After a workout, your body needs high-quality protein to repair the muscles. After this process, the body needs rest to allow the muscles to rebuild stronger and healthier.
So, if you think that you can take protein shakes without any physical training, it is like taking medicine when you are not sick. There is no point in having it then. Therefore, a protein shake with more than a normal quantity of protein, without any physical training or workout can cause damage to your health.
How Much Protein To Build Muscle
When it comes to building muscle, your gym routine is only part of the puzzle your diet, particularly your protein intake, is the other key factor.
In general, you need between 1.2 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight daily to encourage muscle growth.1
While specific factors can play a role in where you fall on that range, supplying your muscles with quality protein from your diet is the key to promoting muscle growth. Read on to learn about how to make the most of your protein intake.
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Protein: Is More Better
For a relatively active adult, a daily protein intake to meet the RDA would supply as little as 10% of his or her total daily calories. In comparison, the average American consumes around 16% of his or her daily calories in the form of protein, from both plant and animal sources.
The Protein Summit reports in AJCN argue that 16% is anything but excessive. In fact, the reports suggest that Americans may eat too little protein, not too much. The potential benefits of higher daily protein intake, these researchers argue, include preserving muscle strength despite aging and maintaining a lean, fat-burning physique. Some studies described in the summit reports suggest that protein is more effective if you space it out over the days meals and snacks, rather than loading up at dinner like many Americans do.
Based on the totality of the research presented at the summit, Rodriguez estimates that taking in up to twice the RDA of protein “is a safe and good range to aim for.” This equates roughly to 15% to 25% of total daily calories, although it could be above or below this range depending on your age, sex, and activity level.
However, over the last several years, the public health message has shifted away from desired percentages of protein, fats and carbohydrates. For example, the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize the importance of eating healthier protein rich foods rather than concentrating on specific amounts of daily protein.