We heard it over a thousand times and it’s highly praised in all kinds of diets: increase your protein intake.
But only a few people know about the bigger picture and why an adequate protein intake is important. However, it’s pretty easy to understand the excitement about protein, since it’s such an important component of every cell in our bodies. It doesn’t matter if you want to lose body fat, build muscle or just be healthy.
Now tell me what is a protein!
Protein is one of the three macronutrients, besides carbohydrates and dietary fat. It’s crucial for building, repairing and maintaining tissues among other things.
Basically, protein is a bunch of organic molecules made up of amino acids. Amino acids are joined together by chemical bonds and then folded in different ways. Hence, they create three-dimensional structures, which are important to the body’s function.
Maybe you heard of some of them before, such as leucine, arginine, glutamine and alanine.
Why is protein vital?
Unlike carbs we need protein to live, it’s an essential nutrient.
The body’s structural components, such as skin, muscles, bones and organs are made up mostly by protein. Many hormones and enzymes, which regulate body processes and chemical reactions are related to protein. Since we need protein to make antibodies to fight diseases, an adequate intake in your diet is important.
Furthermore, it’s vital for optimal functioning, including a good immune system and metabolism as well as satiety, weight management and performance.
Consuming enough protein can also increase the levels of the hormone glucagon, which is the opponent to insulin, and helps control body fat. Glucagon is released when blood sugar levels are low. The liver break down stored glycogen into glucose for the body to use as energy.
How much protein do I need?
That’s a pretty interesting question. It depends on several factors, such as your weight, goals, activity level, gender and age.
According to the RDA, the recommended daily intake of protein for adults, who are at an average weight and activity level, is 56g per day for men and 46g per day for women.
Well, note that this amount is only to prevent any deficiencies. It’s definitely not optimal, especially if you are an athlete who trains regularly and hard.
If you train several times per week your protein need might go up to 1.4–2g/kg of body weight. That means a 68 kg person would need about 95–135g of protein per day. Older adults need a minimum of 1.2g/kg of body weight.
Also, recent studies show that the RDA recommendation may be as much as 100% off and we actually need twice as much as currently recommended to be healthy — especially when we’re older and the body has a harder time repairing it’s cells. Aiming for 2g/kg or 1g/lbs is a good focal point and easy to remember. So start with that.
An adequate amount of protein intake with each meal is important to promote protein anabolism and to maintain muscle mass. This is key, since the biggest challenge when dieting is to keep as much muscle mass as possible. Even if you haven’t trained before. That’s why 800kcal diets are worthless und unhealthy.
Plus, as mentioned before, protein is more satiating per g of food than fat and a whole lot more than carbs. Increasing your protein intake during a fat loss diet will help you feel fuller and have less cravings.
In a sentence, you need a small amount to survive, but a lot more to thrive.
The different types of protein
There are two different types of protein: Complete and incomplete proteins.
Protein foods, which contain all nine essential amino acids in high-ish amounts are complete or ideal proteins. High-quality protein include meat, dairy products, quinoa, tofu/soy and eggs.
Many plant-based protein are incomplete proteins, such as grains and vegetables. But that’s not an issue, since every food has different amounts of the aforementioned amino acids. Our bodies have an amino acid pool, which means the body will automatically combine dietary protein with protein from the pool, to form the necessary amino acid ratios it needs.
Therefore, the myth that you have to combine several different plant-based sources in one meal to form the complete protein is nonsense. Your body will take care of it over the course of the whole day.
Basically, as long as you eat a wide variety of whole foods, you can easily ‘make’ complete proteins. Doesn’t matter if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
There are differences in bioavailability between different sources of protein, but you’ll not notice it in the end, since those differences are just too meaningless to effect our bodies and muscles.
Best sources of protein
A medium egg has around 6g of protein in an easily digestible form. Therefore, an omelette is a pretty good way to start the day. Keep the high amount of fat in mind though!
Soya is perfect if you are vegetarian, vegan or suffer from a dairy intolerance. Eating soya, such as tofu, will also lower your LDL. And no, men will not become women because they consume soya!
Chicken and turkey breast
Those two are the best options when it comes to lean animal protein.
They are also a good source of iron and fiber. Feeling hungry after a meal? Add them to your diet, they will keep you satiated longer! By the way, did you know that lentils have more protein per 100g than chicken breast?
Fish and seafood
They are a perfect source of protein and essential, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
As you can see protein has many important roles. You may understand the hype a little bit better now.
It’s not just some random bodybuilding-crap to get as big as possible, it’s essential for a healthy and balanced lifestyle.