Protein is one of the three macronutrient food groups – macro meaning big and that you need a lot of them in your diet. The other two macronutrients are carbohydrate and fat. Most people know a little about carbs and fat; they know that cutting carbs to lose weight works really well and that too much fat may sometimes be unhealthy. However, when it comes to protein, many people are in the dark!
In this article, I want to explain a little but about the power of protein and why this nutrient is just as important as carbs and fat.
What is protein?
Protein is made from small building blocks called amino acids. Just as there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, there are 20 amino acids in the protein alphabet. With these 20 amino acids, it is possible to make almost anything – from your muscles to your eyelashes to chicken to fish to soya beans.
There are two main types of protein in your body: structural proteins and homeostatic proteins. Structural proteins make up things like your skin, nails, muscles and bones while homeostatic proteins play an important role in how your body functions such as the production of enzymes and hormones.
Protein is an essential nutrient – your body cannot make it. If you don’t consume enough protein, your body will not function very well. Your muscles will shrink, your bones will weaken, your skin will sag and your health will suffer. In contrast, carbs are not essential and you can live fairly happily without them.
Protein contains four calories per gram – the same as protein and a little under half of fat which contains nine calories per gram. However, protein is not easily converted to fat and is not readily used for energy. This means it’s a good food during a diet. It’s also filling and helps stabilize your blood glucose. For this reason, most diets place an emphasis on protein.
Sources of protein
Protein is not as prevalent as carbohydrate and fat in the diet. You need to seek it out to make sure you are getting enough. Animal proteins are the most common and readily available (eggs, fish, chicken, beef, pork etc.) but there are vegetarian sources of protein too such as beans, nuts, seeds, rice, peas, soya and quinoa. It’s worth noting that most vegetarian sources of protein are not as concentrated as the animal sources as they often contain a lot of carbs along with their protein.
How much protein do you need to eat?
The amount of protein you need to eat depends on how active you are and the type of exercise you like to do. The more sedentary you are, the less you need. In contrast, the more active you are, the more you need. People who do a lot of strength training need even more.
The average daily protein requirement by activity level is:
|Daily protein requirements in grams per kilogram of bodyweight|
|Recreational adult exerciser||0.8 – 1.5|
|Adult endurance athlete||1.2 – 1.6|
|Growing teenage athlete||1.5 – 2.0|
|Adult building muscle mass||1.5 – 1.7|
|Adult estimated upper limit||2.0|
How to make sure you get enough protein
The easiest way to make sure you get enough dietary protein each and every day is to include protein in most of your main meals and also have high protein snacks. Eating protein several times a day should mean you have no problem getting your quota of protein. You might also consider using protein shakes and protein bars. Protein shakes and protein bars are often more convenient than “real” protein foods – especially when you are at work or on the move.
The power of protein
Protein is a BIG nutrition topic so here are some bullet points to highlight the benefits of eating enough protein:
- Protein is filling and can help prevent cravings and hunger
- Protein helps stabilize your blood glucose
- Protein helps prevent muscle loss (and therefore lowered metabolism) during a diet
- Protein increases your metabolism more than fat and carbs
- Protein is essential for recovery after exercise
- Protein is vital for muscle building – more muscle means a faster metabolism
Protein is a powerful nutrient – hence the title of this article – but many people don’t eat enough. Cutting carbs and cutting fat are both effective weight management strategies but the one thing most of us should never cut is protein. Make sure you enjoy the power of protein by eating enough of this vital nutrient each and every day.