Many of us know that protein is good for us, but why? We’ve been taught that eating 1-2 servings of meat daily and 3-4 servings of grains and beans will provide us with the correct amount of dietary protein needed in order to live a healthy life ‒ but to what extent is this true, and why is protein essential in your diet?
Chances are this is one of the questions you may have found yourself asking your personal trainer on day one. Let’s break down the most important things you need to know about protein and why it’s important in your diet.
What is Protein?
Protein is, in every capacity, an energy compound. Just as carbohydrates and fats provide calories to be turned into working fuel, protein provides amino acids and, through a process known as gluconeogenesis, provides calories for energy.
Protein is also a nutrient needed in your diet in order to allow for proper cell growth. Bodybuilders and strength athletes will supplement large amounts because they are putting their muscles under a large amount of stress and want the muscle cells to grow.
As the average person, you may not need as much, yet dietary protein is required in order to have healthy hair, nails, skin and other soft tissue.
How Much Do You Need?
The question of how much protein is needed in your diet all comes down to your body weight and particular energy expenditure (how active you are). Those that are very active require more protein than those that are not ‒ just as those that are larger in body mass will require more than those that are smaller.
The amount of protein you need can vary greatly. For example:
- A person weighing 220 pounds that is highly active (exercising 4-5 times/week) may need 160 grams of protein each day.
- A person weighing 180 pounds with moderate activity levels may require 105 grams of protein each day.
- Someone weighing 130 pounds that has a low activity level may only need 55 grams of protein each day.
Talk with your doctor or a nutritionist to determine a healthy level of protein for your body.
How Does it Work?
Protein works in a very unique way to other macronutrients like carbohydrates and fats. Carbohydrates and fats are what we call “stored nutrients” ‒ meaning when you eat an excess of what your body needs, your body will store a certain amount to be used again.
Protein, on the other hand, is not stored in the body and an excess of protein is simply removed as waste. The protein that your body needs will go to work to be broken down into various amino acids.
Amino acids have a series of roles in the body. While some amino acids like L-arginine and L-citrulline work as vasodilators to allow for proper blood flow, other amino acids like L-Theanine can help to limit stress and even assist in sleep.
This is why it’s important to get your protein from various sources.
The dietary protein you consume only serves to provide your body with amino acids. If your diet does not contain a wide spectrum of amino acids from foods like fish, beans, whole grains, lean meats, and more, you may be lacking in essential health and recovery tools.
The Protein Balancing Act
Think of protein as a balancing act. Too little and your body will become catabolic. Too much and the excess is excreted as waste. Having the perfect amount from a wide spectrum of foods will allow your body to find balance in performance, strength, weight loss, and overall health.