Macro Basics: Protein

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Protein is a vital nutrient for overall well-being. It plays a crucial role in supporting various functions throughout the body.  Let’s get a quick overview of it.

Whether you are a omnivore, carnivore, or herbivore, protein is vital to all and available in foods in some shape or form. Proteins are made from combinations of amino acids. There are 9 essential amino acids we have to eat in order to have them (our body doesn’t make these) and 11 others considered non-essential or conditional (based on use and the fact our body may make them).

Importance of Protein:

  • Muscle Maintenance, Building and Repair:
    Protein is crucial for the repair and growth of tissues. Athletes and regular fitness enthusiasts benefit from increased protein intake for muscle recovery.  Scientists are also discovering the importance of it when it comes to aging well and reducing muscle loss.
  • Weight Management:
    Protein promotes a sense of fullness, reducing overall calorie intake and aiding in weight management. High-protein diets contribute to fat loss while preserving lean muscle mass.  It also helps stabilize blood sugar levels if eaten regularly and is at the center of a meal or snack.
  • Immune Function:
    Antibodies, integral components of the immune system, are made of proteins. A protein-rich diet supports a robust immune response, aiding the body in defending against infections among other things.
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  • Enzyme Function:
    Many enzymes responsible for biochemical reactions in the body are also proteins. These enzymes play a crucial role in digestion, metabolism, and other essential processes within your body.
  • Healthy Hair and Skin:
    Proteins, as building blocks of keratin, contribute to the strength and structure of hair and nails. Collagen, another protein, supports skin elasticity and hydration.

Protein intake recommendations play a pivotal role in maintaining optimal health and well-being. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a guideline established by health authorities to ensure individuals receive sufficient protein to meet their nutritional needs (i.e. baseline to not be deficient). For adults, the general RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. However, specific factors such as age, sex, physical activity level, and overall health can influence individual protein requirements. Athletes and those engaged in regular strenuous exercise may require higher protein intake to support muscle growth and repair, often ranging from 1.2 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight for example. Higher is also recommended for adults as we age!

Meeting the RDA for protein is a minimum and crucial for maintaining muscle mass, supporting immune function, and promoting overall health. Inadequate protein intake can lead to muscle wasting, impaired immune response, and a compromised ability to recover from injuries or illnesses. On the other hand, exceeding protein needs significantly without proper balance in macronutrients may contribute to an overconsumption of calories. Therefore, it is essential to strike a balance and tailor protein intake to individual requirements, ensuring that it aligns with overall dietary goals and contributes to a well-rounded and nourishing lifestyle.  Everyone is different.

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Fact: Calories provided by proteins per gram = 4 calories

Nitty Gritty
Your body doesn’t really have a storage source for protein, like glucose and fat, other than its direct use and needs.  So, if you don’t take in adequate amounts, your body will take from itself and repurpose proteins for basic needs – which can lead to deficiency, immune problems, muscle depletion, and more. 
A nutrition coach, dietician, or other specialist can help you figure out your needs based on circumstances if you need help getting on the path of figuring out your needs.

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There are many whole food protein sources, although not all are created equal.

  • Lean Meats: Chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of beef and game are excellent sources of high-quality protein. Opt for skinless poultry, and trim visible fats, for a leaner protein intake.
  • Fish and Seafood: Fish such as salmon, tuna, and cod are rich in protein and provide essential omega-3 fatty acids. Shellfish, like shrimp and mussels, are low in fat and high in protein.  Be aware of any allergies to shellfish you may have though.
  • Plant-Based Proteins: Legumes, including beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas, are just a few plant-based protein sources. Tofu and tempeh serve as versatile meat replacement.  Quinoa is the only plant source that includes all 9 essential amino acids in one plant.  To get other plant sources to complete those essential ones, you will need to eat a variety of plants and combine things (like beans and rice, but you don’t necessarily need to make it happen each meal).
  • Dairy Products: Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk are rich in protein and offer additional vitamins and minerals.
  • Eggs: Eggs, a complete protein source containing all essential amino acids, are nutritional powerhouses. They can be incorporated into various dishes for added protein if not just eaten on their own. Don’t be afraid of the yolk!  It is a great source of Choline in your diet.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, peanuts, chia seeds, and hemp seeds are nutrient-dense snacks providing a protein boost, omegas, and healthy fats. Nut butters, like almond, are tasty additions to smoothies or whole-grain toast.
  • Other Sources: Protein shakes, bars, and snacks. These are generally made from whey, soy, pea, or other protein sources. Just be aware of other ingredients in these products that may or may not be of benefit too.

I encourage you to find what works for your body. Some people do great on dairy, others do not, for example. Some have allergies to things and some do not.
We are all unique individuals at a chemical/biological level and need to figure our own body out.

Incorporating a variety of protein sources into your diet is essential to reap the numerous benefits this nutrient offers. Regardless of dietary preferences, be it carnivorous, vegetarian, or vegan, there are ample options to ensure you meet your daily protein requirements. Prioritize protein intake to support your overall health, from muscle strength to immune function, and embrace the power of this indispensable nutrient in your life.

If you are interested in talking with a certified nutrition coach, reach out to me! CONTACT ME