by Aimee Wojtowecz
This is part 2 of our intro to macronutrients series and this week we’re here to talk about protein. Everyone agrees we need “enough” protein, but what does that even mean?
First let’s talk about what protein is. Protein is considered an essential nutrient, made from amino acids and present in every cell of the body. There are over 20 various amino acids that work kind of like puzzle pieces that compliment each other to form complete proteins. Protein is involved in growing and maintaining bodily tissues as well as synthesizing and maintaining hormones (Teaching Dietary Protein Basics, 2021). It also helps with our immune system and appetite regulation.
There are three classifications of amino acids; essential, non-essential, and conditional; or more simply one’s the body cannot produce itself, one’s that it can, and some that are usually not essential except in times of extreme stress or illness. There are 9 essential amino acids that must come from the food we eat whether that’s plant based or animal based; histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. The great part about amino acids is that you don’t have to worry about getting all of them in every meal, just strive to have a variety over the course of the day (Amino Acids, 2021).
So how much do we need? The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) suggests a minimum of 0.8 grams for every kilogram of body weight per day, or roughly 7 grams per 20 pounds.
- 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 NAM also sets a wide standard for an acceptable range, anywhere from 10%-35% of total daily caloric intake (Boston & Ma 02115 +1495‑1000, 2012). Maryland University of Integrative Health advises 0.8-1.0 g/kg for adult maintenance and up to 1.2-2.0 for adult athletes. With ranges all over the place how do you decide how much you need? Goals. More importantly your very specific goals; are you training for endurance or for strength gains; to maintain your body composition or to change it; what stage of life are you in right now? There’s a lot of factors to consider other than just some article you read in a magazine telling you to eat that much (or that little).
There’s also several health factors to consider when trying to decide the best protein sources for you. You have to take into consideration the whole package, the other nutrients that you’re getting when consuming that protein source; fat, sodium, fiber, carbohydrates, B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids. Some common examples:
- A 4-ounce broiled sirloin steak is a great source of protein—about 33 grams worth, but it also delivers about 5 grams of saturated fat.
- A 4-ounce ham steak with 22 grams of protein has only 1.6 grams of saturated fat, but it’s loaded with 1,500 milligrams worth of sodium.
- 4 ounces of grilled sockeye salmon has about 30 grams of protein, naturally low in sodium, and contains just over 1 gram of saturated fat. Salmon and other fatty fish are also excellent sources of omega-3 fats, a type of fat that’s especially good for the heart.
- A cup of cooked lentils provides about 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber, and it has virtually no saturated fat or sodium (Boston & Ma 02115 +1495‑1000, 2012).
Finally let’s talk about protein supplements. Do you need a protein shake after you workout? Well again the answer is yes and no. It comes back to your goals and what your normal daily intake is like, your exercise routine, age, and overall health. It is considered a supplement and therefore is not regulated the same way that foods and medicines are (LDN, 2020). I suggest talking to a qualified professional if you’re looking to add a protein supplement to your diet.
Nutrition can be simple, it can also be as complex as you want to make it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about how to eat to support the lifestyle you want, schedule your FREE nutrition intro and ask us anything you want!!
Amino acids: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (2021). Retrieved August 31, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002222.htm
Boston, 677 Huntington Avenue, & Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. (2012, September 18). Protein. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/
LDN, E. G., MLA, RD. (2020, March 9). The scoop on protein powder. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-scoop-on-protein-powder-2020030918986
Teaching Dietary Protein Basics. (2021). Retrieved August 31, 2021, from https://www.eatrightpro.org/practice/practice-resources/international-nutrition-pilot-project/teaching-dietary-protein-basics