We eat protein every day. This macronutrient is necessary to build muscles and body tissue. People require more protein during infancy and childhood than they do as adults.
Protein helps keep your nails skin and hair looking healthy. It helps women maintain proper hormonal balance and stabilize men’s libidos. Practically all Americans get enough protein from their food. Protein deficiency is rare in developed countries.
Here are five things you need to know about protein and why it’s so important for health.
1. Protein from Food Supplies Your Body with the Nine Essential Amino Acids
Protein exists in every cell of your body. When you eat eggs, meat, cottage cheese, or any other protein-filled food, your body turns the protein into amino acids, the building blocks of life. Amino acids build muscle and help your body metabolize fats.
There are nine essential amino acids you get from food since your body can’t manufacture them on its own. These amino acids are:
The Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) valine, leucine, and isoleucine help prevent muscles from breaking down when you exercise, and they may also release human growth hormone. Weightlifters and bodybuilders often take supplements containing BCAAs during training to support muscle growth.
Beef, fish, turkey, and pork are just a few protein-rich foods containing BCAAs. When you eat these foods, you’re working to keep your muscles strong even when you’re not exercising. The USDA’s Choose My Plate program contains more information about protein and foods that provide essential amino acids.
2. Most People Get More than Enough Protein From Their Regular Diet
That means most Americans get twice as much protein as they need. It’s easy to see why. Most people consume milk, yogurt, meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts and other diet staples several times a day.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein for adult men is 56 grams. Women need 46 grams, and pregnant or breastfeeding women need 71 grams. Children need 19 to 34 grams a day.
Consume 10% of your daily calories from protein, but not more than 35%. You should eat 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, according to the Food and Nutrition Board. Competitive athletes need 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilograms of body weight, and recreational athletes need 1.1 to 1.4 grams.
Research by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES) shows many Americans get twice the amount of protein they need. Men 20 and over get 101.9 grams of protein a day, with women getting 70.1 grams per day.
Cut back on protein if you’re in this group. Consider replacing the excess protein with magnesium-rich spinach or kale. (About 70% of Americans lack the proper amount of magnesium in their diets.)
It’s not known how consuming too much protein will affect you, since it depends on the type and amount of protein consumed and the individual’s medical history. However, it’s best to avoid high-protein diets and refrain from consuming 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Overeating protein may cause dehydration, weight gain, constipation, and in rare cases kidney stones.
- Weight gain
- Kidney stones
Eating 200 to 400 grams of protein in a day may make it difficult for the liver to create urea, a waste product made from excess nitrogen.
3. Vegetarians Can Get Enough Protein from Plant Sources
With all the focus on meat, dairy products, and poultry, we sometimes forget that non-animal foods have protein as well. Soy, peanut butter, beans, and almond milk are just a few vegetarian sources of protein.
Check out these sources of plant-based protein if you’re a vegetarian or vegan. (Meat-eaters can save calories by including some of these foods in meal plans instead of meat or dairy.)
One cup cooked lentils = 18 grams protein
One cup split green peas = 8 grams protein
Three tablespoons hemp seeds = 10 grams protein
One-quarter cup nuts = 7 to 9 grams protein
One cup black beans = 15 grams protein
A study conducted on over 80,000 women showed that women who consumed protein mainly from vegetable sources had a 30% lower risk of heart disease than women who ate high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets.
4. Post-workout Protein Contributes to Muscle Growth
Bodybuilders and others who engage in intense workouts should consume 10 to 20 grams of protein within 60 minutes after exercising. Weightlifting and other vigorous exercise break down muscles. That’s why drinking whey protein shake after a workout can help protein better adhere to muscles.
Consuming more protein (via food and protein powders) will not increase muscle mass unless it’s combined with strength training and an all-around balanced diet.
Protein powders offer an easy way to get high-quality protein, especially for athletes and people who want to lose weight. However, athletes and dieters can get enough protein from their food, so protein powder is only necessary for a few situations. Here are a few people who can benefit from using protein powder:
- Teen new to working out
- People recovering from injuries
- Vegans and vegetarians
- Athletes increasing their workout schedule
5. High-protein diets can cause high cholesterol and heart disease
Eating a large steak for dinner and a bacon cheeseburger for lunch, with peanut butter parfait for dessert, may do more than pack on muscle. For example, hot dogs and sausage contain protein, but they’re also heavy in sodium, which can raise your blood pressure. Certain cuts of meat contain saturated fat, which can cause heart disease if you overeat these foods over a long period.
Be mindful of the type of foods supplying the protein in your diet and how much of it you eat. Choose tuna, salmon, beans, eggs and other healthy sources of protein over fatty meats.
Eat an assortment of high-protein foods daily (along with other healthy foods) to feel satiated and avoid overeating the rest of the day. Protein also increases your metabolism, causing you to burn more fat. Lastly, make sure you eat a combination of plant protein and lean meat protein. A healthy mix will make your body run more efficiently, helping you acheive your fitness and weight lose goals.
Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see “TFT Team” this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.