Why Do We Need Protein

What Is Protein How Much You Need Benefits Sources More

Why Do We Need Protein

Moira LawlerKelly Kennedy, RDShuttertstock

Protein needs no introduction. You likely already know it as one of the three major macronutrients that make up your diet .

There are hundreds of products from supplements to energy bars designed to make it easy to get your protein fix. There are even entire diets based on upping your protein intake, such as the Atkins diet or the paleo diet.

But what is protein all about anyway? And what benefits does it offer the body?

Dig in here.

We Need To Maintain Our Muscle Mass As We Age Because We Become Less Active And Frail

Most experts agree with Tipton that protein is best consumed in food instead of supplements. But there are some exceptions, such as athletes who find it difficult to hit their daily protein targets, points out Graeme Close, professor of human physiology at Liverpool John Moores University. I believe most need more than the recommended daily allowance, and theres good evidence to support this, he says. In this case, he says, a shake can be useful.

Another demographic who can benefit from extra protein? The elderly. Thats because as we age, we need more protein to retain muscle mass. But we also tend to eat less protein as we get older because our taste-buds begin to prefer sweet over savoury.

Emma Stevenson, professor of sport and exercise science at Newcastle University, is working with food companies to get more protein into snacks that the elderly are known to regularly buy, such as biscuits. We need to maintain our muscle mass as we age, because we become less active and frail, she says.

Close says the elderly should increase protein intake to around 1.2g per kg body weight.

Most people get more than their daily recommended allowance of protein from their diet

What Do Proteins Do For The Body

Our bodies are made up of thousands of different proteins, each with a specific function. They make up the structural components of our cells and tissues as well as many enzymes, hormones and the active proteins secreted from immune cells .

These body proteins are continually being repaired and replaced throughout our lives. This process requires a continuous supply of amino acids. Although some amino acids can be recycled from the breakdown of old body proteins, this process is imperfect. This means we must eat dietary protein to keep up with our bodys amino acid demand.

As protein is essential for cell and tissue growth, adequate intake of protein is particularly important during periods of rapid growth or increased demand, such as childhood, adolescence, pregnancy, and breastfeeding.1

Figure 1. Functions of proteins in the body.

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Protein Supports A Healthy Immune System

The immune system uses specialized proteins called antibodies or immunoglobulins to protect against infections. Antibodies are specifically created and released in response to an invasion from harmful pathogens like bacteria and viruses.

As this process repeats itself, the immune response becomes more efficient at producing pathogen-specific antibodies, thus making it easier for the body to fight infections.

Additionally, certain amino acids may have an immuno-preserving effect. For example, the amino acid arginine can help promote the healthy function of T-cells, an essential part of the immune system. Arginine can also protect against low protein levels, which may compromise the immune system.

Protein Maintaining Muscle Mass As You Age


From around 50 years of age, humans begin to gradually lose skeletal muscle. This is known as sarcopenia and is common in older people. Loss of muscle mass is worsened by chronic illness, poor diet and inactivity.

Meeting the daily recommended protein intake may help you maintain muscle mass and strength. This is important for maintaining your ability to walk and reducing your risk of injury from falls.

To maintain muscle mass, its important for older people to eat protein effectively. This means consuming high-quality protein foods, such as lean meats.

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How Much Protein Do We Need

The truth is, you dont need that much protein for your body to function properly. In order for your body to support its basic needs, you need 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight. Hang on to your calculator! Stats suggest that most people easily achieve this target, and in fact, the average adult consumes about 90 grams of protein per day.

The recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, of 0.8 g per kilogram may be a low bar, says Douglas Paddon-Jones, PhD, FACSM, Sheridan Lorenz Distinguished Professor in Aging and Health, Department of Nutrition and Metabolism, The University of Texas Medical Branch. To offset some of the muscle decline that occurs as we age and to get the feel-full benefits, he recommends more. However, whats just as important is how youre spreading out your protein throughout the day and ensuring youre making smart protein picks.

How Much Protein Do I Need

The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day, or just over 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight.

  • For a 140-pound person, that means about 50 grams of protein each day.
  • For a 200-pound person, that means about 70 grams of protein each day.

The National Academy of Medicine also sets a wide range for acceptable protein intakeanywhere from 10% to 35% of calories each day. Beyond that, theres relatively little solid information on the ideal amount of protein in the diet or the healthiest target for calories contributed by protein. In an analysis conducted at Harvard among more than 130,000 men and women who were followed for up to 32 years, the percentage of calories from total protein intake was not related to overall mortality or to specific causes of death. However, the source of protein was important.

Its important to note that millions of people worldwide, especially young children, dont get enough protein due to food insecurity. The effects of protein deficiency and malnutrition range in severity from growth failure and loss of muscle mass to decreased immunity, weakening of the heart and respiratory system, and death.

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Consuming More Protein Than Need Is Wasteful In Terms Of Money And Its Paid Down The Toilet

Why Do We Need Protein? Why Is Protein Important

There are, though, healthy proteins which are not meat, such as mycoprotein, which is derived from fungi. Quorn, for example, contains this type of protein, and is high in fibre too.

Researchers now are looking into how this unique composition can affect satiety and insulin levels, which are linked to type two diabetes. One team compared a mycoprotein diet to a chicken diet and found that the insulin levels in those who ate quorn achieved the same sugar control, but needed less insulin to be produced by the pancreas.

The risk of consuming too much protein is small, but the bigger risk might just be falling for overpriced products offering us more protein than we need. Some products labelled as high protein arent, and theyre quite expensive. Anyway, consuming more protein than need is wasteful in terms of money, and its paid down the toilet, says Johnstone.

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Very High Protein Diets Are Dangerous

Some fad diets promote very high protein intakes of between 200 and 400g per day. This is more than five times the amount recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. The protein recommendations in the Guidelines provide enough protein to build and repair muscles, even for body builders and athletes. A very high-protein diet can strain the kidneys and liver. It can also prompt excessive loss of the mineral calcium, which can increase your risk of osteoporosis.

Can I Eat Too Much Protein

If you overeat protein, this extra protein can be converted into sugar or fat in the body. However, protein isnt as easily or quickly converted as carbohydrates or fat, because the thermic effect is a lot higher than that of carbohydrates and fat.

While 30% of the proteins energy goes toward digestion, absorption, and assimilation, only 8% of carbohydrates energy and 3% of fats energy do the same.

You might have heard the statement that a high protein intake harms the kidneys. This is a myth. In healthy people, normal protein intakes pose little to no health risk. Indeed, even a fairly high protein intake up to 2.8 g/kg does not seem to impair kidney status and renal function in people with healthy kidneys.6 In particular, plant proteins appear to be especially safe.7

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How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day

Protein is essential to good health. The very origin of the word from the Greek protos, meaning “first” reflects proteins top-shelf status in human nutrition. You need it to put meat on your bones and to make hair, blood, connective tissue, antibodies, enzymes, and more. Its common for athletes and bodybuilders to wolf down extra protein to bulk up. But the message the rest of us often get is that our daily protein intake is too high.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements. In a sense, its the minimum amount you need to keep from getting sick not the specific amount you are supposed to eat every day.

To determine your daily protein intake, you can multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36, or use this online protein calculator. For a 50-year-old woman who weighs 140 pounds woman and who is sedentary , that translates into 53 grams of protein a day.

But use of the RDA to determine how much protein you need daily has actually caused a lot of confusion. “Theres a misunderstanding not only among the public, but also somewhat in our profession about the RDA,” says Nancy Rodriguez, a registered dietitian and professor of nutritional science at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. “People in general think we all eat too much protein.”

Reduces Cravings And Desire For Late


A food craving is different from normal hunger.

It is not just about your body needing energy or nutrients but your brain needing a reward .

Yet, cravings can be incredibly hard to control. The best way to overcome them may be to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

One of the best prevention methods is to increase your protein intake.

One study in overweight men showed that increasing protein to 25% of calories reduced cravings by 60% and the desire to snack at night by half .

Likewise, a study in overweight adolescent girls found that eating a high-protein breakfast reduced cravings and late-night snacking.

This may be mediated by an improvement in the function of dopamine, one of the main brain hormones involved in cravings and addiction (

more protein may reduce cravings and desire for late-night snacking. Merely having a high-protein breakfast may have a powerful effect.

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What Are The Best Sources Of Protein

Many people look to supplements to increase the amount of protein they consume, but most people can get the protein they need each day from foods. The foods you eat also provide other essential nutrients.

Both plants and animals provide good sources of protein. Its important to be aware, however, that while many plants provide protein, most do not provide all of the essential amino acids. According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, quinoa, and soybeans are all source of complete protein which means they provide all nine essential amino acids.

Many different foods that come from plants including fruits, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains, cereals provide protein. However, since plant proteins are not complete proteins, its important to know which amino acids these foods provide, especially if you do not eat meat or dairy. You must make a point to eat a variety of plant protein to ensure that you get all of the essential amino acids.

As a rule of thumb, if you get half your protein from animal sources, those complete proteins mean you can get the rest of your protein from plant sources without worrying about how complete those plant proteins are. Plant protein is lower in saturated fats than animal protein, so theres a health advantage to increasing the proportion of plant sources.

Natural Foods Are The Best Protein Sources


Eggs are a food staple food among bodybuilders, there are so many creative ways to prepare eggs making it an affordable and versatile food that is packed with protein. Eggs are a low carb food that is loaded with BCAA’s and omega 3 fatty acids.


Some say organic chicken is better than regular store bought chicken, however, there are no major nutritional differences between organic and regular chicken except for fat content. Organic chicken has 5-13% less fat than regular chicken.


Lean beef cuts are an excellent source of protein. Beef is loaded with Vitamin B12, B6, Niacin, selenium, and Zinc making it a well-rounded protein source for bodybuilders.

Pork Chops

Boneless Pork Chops contain are an excellent source of protein, potassium, calcium, and iron.

Fresh Salmon

Salmon is a lean food source that is packed with omega 3 fatty acids and B12 vitamins. Salmon also contains Vitamin D, Potassium, and Selenium.

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt has twice the protein of regular yogurt, plus it loaded with calcium. One of the other benefits of Greek Yogurt is that it is rich in probiotics which are essential for gut health and a healthy digestive tract.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is a great source of quality protein. It is loaded with casein making it a slow digesting protein. Cottage cheese is a good post workout choice for ensuring your muscles are getting plenty of protein during the recovery process.


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Why Protein Synthesis Is Important For Bodybuilding

The rate at which the human body can build muscle depends on two things:

  • Catabolism
  • Anabolism

Lifting weights is a catabolic process, many people think that the pump and burn they get during a workout is making the muscle grow. The fact is, the muscles grow after your workout.

When you lift weights, you are tearing down muscle fibers and breaking down protein . Training with more intensity creates a bigger catabolic environment.

The muscle building process begins after you have done all the hard work.

After you train, your muscles quickly start the repair process and begin to heal and grow. That way your muscles are prepared to take on an equal or bigger load the next time you lift weights.

How Much Protein Should We Eat Every Day


EFSA has developed dietary reference values for protein. The DRVs for protein at different life stages are summarised in table 3. For an average adult, the recommendation is to consume at least 0.83 g of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day.1 In other words, a 70 kg adult should aim to eat at least 58 g of protein everyday day. This is the equivalent to the protein found in around 200 g of chicken breast or 240 grams of mixed nuts.

During periods of growth, such as childhood, pregnancy, and breastfeeding, protein requirements are relatively high. In addition, during old age, our protein to energy ratio begins to increase. This means we require the same amount of protein but less energy due to a decrease in metabolic rate and a more sedentary lifestyle.1

Table 3. Dietary reference values for life stages.1BW: body weight.

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How You Should Space Out Your Protein Intake

When you eat your protein is just as important as how much you eat. Its not about simply loading up after exercising or at one meal and skimping on it for the rest of the day. Like we mentioned, the body doesnt have a protein holding tank like it does for carbs, where it can siphon away extras for quick access when we need it.

Thats why the best way to get your protein is split up throughout the day. Eating a good amount of protein at different points in the day helps your body direct protein where its needed, when its needednot to mention, keeps you feeling satisfied and energized. So take a look at your daily amount , and see how you can break that up in your various meals throughout the day.

Spacing out protein intake is also super important for active individuals. Thats because muscle repair and growth are greater when you consume adequate protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Dr. Linsenmeyer explains. Yes, protein is vital after a workout, Yasi Ansari, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and assistant director of Performance Nutrition for UC Berkeley Athletics, has previously told SELF. But it is important for people to know that more is not necessarily better.


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