Protein is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of macronutrients – it builds muscle. Protein is made up of amino acids and are the building blocks for our muscles, tendons, organs, and skin. They are also essential for our neurotransmitters, hormones and enzymes within our bodies.
We can produce some amino acids in our bodies, but the nine essential ones (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine) we must get from our food. Complete proteins come from meat and dairy products, soy, chia and hemp seeds, and quinoa.
Many plant-based proteins are incomplete; however you can combine them to make a complete protein. For example, peanut butter and whole grain bread or beans and rice are examples of combining to make a complete protein.
It is recommended that adults get 20 grams of protein at each meal. The different protein powders to choose from are whey, soy, and hemp. Just make sure the serving size provides that 20 grams if you are using as a meal replacement.
I use a pea protein powder to make my morning smoothie, peas being legumes (also known as pulses). Some studies indicate that women are not getting enough protein at breakfast and this could effect the hormones, metabolism and muscle mass. That’s why I often have a protein powder breakfast to start my day.
To figure out your individual requirement follow this formula:
To determine your protein needs in grams (g), first, calculate your weight in kilograms (kg) by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2. Next, decide how many grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is appropriate for you. Use the low end of the range if you are in good health and are sedentary: 0.8g per kg. That would mean 56 grams for a sedentary man, and 46 grams for a sedentary woman. Please note that the amount of protein you may need is dependent on your activity level, age, muscle mass and overall health.
Most people, however, are not getting sufficient protein throughout the day and have found that by increasing high-quality protein by a small percentage can have profound effects on your body.
It has been found that having a high protein snack, such as yogurt, can provide more satiety than a piece of chocolate or some crackers. Some studies indicate that weight loss is optimized by a protein intake of 30% of your daily calories.
Surprisingly, as we age, our need for protein increases, because our body composition is changing. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults increases from 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight to 1.0 grams, especially after age 70. Making sure you get enough protein promotes wound healing, skin elasticity, and immunity, all of which naturally decrease with age. Eggs, by which all other proteins are measured, are a great choice as well as inexpensive.
Some good choices for high-protein animal products are:
Top or round steak
Lean ground beef
Skinless chicken breast
However, if you are vegetarian or vegan, don’t despair. There are some great choices out there including the following:
Seitan - made from gluten, known as wheat meat
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame – all soy
Chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans
Nutritional yeast – cheese-like seasoning
Spelt and teff – ancient grains
Hempseeds - no THC, promise
The bottom line is there are many choices and the best way to ensure you get enough protein in your diet is to eat a variety of whole foods.
And like Arnie says, I’ll be back – next week, with the final macronutrient you require daily – fat.