The benefit of protein and eating a variety of protein foods are not just for building muscles! Protein has been a bit glorified over the other macronutrients throughout the years while no one really knows how it benefits us on the cellular level. The body-building community has amplified the need for excessive protein in your diet but is that necessary? Maybe the vegans are onto something about this whole protein thing!
Was protein ever that important or was it just played up by the body-building community? Protein is one of the 3 key macronutrients, and the benefits of protein remain unchanged as the studies prove its importance to men’s and women’s health. However, the amount of protein one needs in a day is still in question. In this post, I will clear the water between protein fanatics and plant-based people to narrow down the facts:
- Why it is important for men and women
- Amino acid breakdowns of protein foods
- plant-based vs animal-based
- and some bonus recipes you can try!
but first! a little update
I have recently enrolled in the NASM nutrition coach and CPT course to better support my growing community through fitness coaching! I have been in the fitness space for many years, so a level-up was in order!
Protein is the superstar of the current chapter I am reading and I’m so humbled by how much I did not know. My blog is a way of sharing my knowledge of health and fitness so that is why this post is dedicated to this special macronutrient!
What is Protein and how is it processed by the body
Protein is one of the 3 macronutrients your body needs to function optimally. It is found in many parts of the body including your hair, skin, bones, muscles, and organs. It is the building block of every cell and is involved in biochemical functions in the body. The reason it is put on a pedestal in the fitness community is that it is also the building block of muscle tissue.
These muscle-building blocks are called amino acids, you may have heard of them or seen a powdered form of EAAs (essential amino acids) on the shelf of the health store. The body can make many amino acids on its own, however, there are some amino acids that we need to obtain from food called essential amino acids.
Essential amino acids (EAAs)
Essential amino acids are needed by the body and are only obtained through the food we consume. There are 9 essential amino acids you need to obtain from food each day, the 9 EAAs are:
EAAs are essential for a reason, they are used in necessary body processes such as digestion, brain function, metabolism, mood, exercise recovery, and muscle building. Therefore, it is crucial to get enough good quality complete protein in throughout your day.
Some good quality sources of EAAs include:
- red meat
- fish and seafood
- chia seeds
Essential amino acids mainly come from animal-based foods, however, you can also find them in plant-based protein foods such as chia seeds, tofu, and quinoa.
The problem with plant-based
I believe plant-based is an amazing way to live! I personally would not be vegan because vegans (if not monitored) can miss a lot of essential nutrients. As I mentioned above, essential amino acids are not produced by the body and must be consumed through food. Most of the foods that contain complete proteins are animal products.
some plant foods that lack complete proteins such as:
- nuts and seeds
- fruits and vegetables
For health and disease prevention, the protein “package” has been shown to be more important than the amount within a food. However, it is possible to get a variety of different “packages” through plant sources.
How to get essential amino acids from plants
To get a variety of foods through plants, It is important to mix up your sources so you are not missing out on essential amino. for example, Mixing beans and rice will make a complete protein source as beans contain lysine (one of the essential amino acids). On its own, it does not make a complete protein as it is missing methionine. Rice contains methionine, therefore, together they make a complete protein. Another example of complementary protein sources is wheat and peanut butter.
how much do you need per day?
The amount you need per day will depend on your gender, weight, age, and activity levels. USDA guidelines for adults are 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men per day. Keep in mind, this is for sedentary people, adding exercise into your routine bumps your required protein intake up to about 0.8-1 gram per lb of body weight. Even if you do not track your protein intake, it is relatively easy to hit these targets if you are mindful of the protein in each meal.
For the general population who go to the gym regularly and are trying to build lean muscle tissue should aim for about 0.8-1 gram per lb of body weight. Additionally, if you are in a calorie deficit protein is the most important macro to hit. This is because when you are expending more energy than you are consuming your body will take energy from your fat stores AND muscle tissue. Getting enough protein will prevent the breakdown of lean muscle when you are in a calorie deficit. Aim for the 1 gram/lb – 1.5 grams/lb.
Can you eat too much protein?
Like any good thing in life, too much can be a bad thing. The same goes for the benefits of protein intake. It is undecided specifically how much protein will cause issues, however, it is recommended not to go over 2 grams per kg of body weight. Consuming too much protein has been linked to the development of kidney stones. Additionally, high protein diets are commonly also diets high in saturated fats (red meats) that are linked to heart disease and colon cancer. Other high protein diets that are higher in plant protein have not been shown to carry as much risk.
- Chickpea + lentil stew
- Pesto spaghetti + chickpea “meatballs”
- Vegan sloppy joes
- Stuffed acorn squash
- Tofu fajitas
non plant-based recipes
Wrapping it all up
In conclusion, protein Is an essential macronutrient everyone should aim to get at least the recommended daily amount per day. For athletes and athletic people, aim to get about 1 gram per lb of body weight. Choose from different protein sources especially if you are vegetarian or vegan as many plant-based proteins are incomplete on their own but complementary when paired.
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