WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL WITH PROTEIN ANYWAY?

I don't lift weights.  Why should I care about protein?

Most fitness fanatics have heard in some shape or form about the importance of protein for building and maintaining muscle.  And while it is incredibly essential for doing exactly that, the truth is that any movement we engage in requires protein to help keep our muscles and tissues strong and healthy.  Protein also plays a vital role in a long list of other processes: 

  • Your body uses protein to build and repair tissue
  • Protein plays an important part in hormone regulation
  • Protein helps create enzymes, which help you digest and produce new cells.

Unlike the other two macronutrients in our body, protein does not get stored and therefore, we have no reservoir to tap into when we need a new supply.  This is why eating enough protein on a daily, consistent basis is so important to help our body regulate itself.

So how much protein should I eat?

A good general guideline is 1.25 to 2-grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.  If the math is too tiresome or you’re not into calculating macros, getting at least 1 good palm, fist, or handful of healthy protein with each meal should have you covered.

Bodyweight in Kilograms

Bodyweight in Pounds (lbs)

Grams of protein per day

100

220

125 -2 00

90

198

113 - 180

80

176

100 - 160

70

154

88 - 140

60

132

75 - 120

50

110

63 - 100

40

88

50 - 80

Where do I get protein from?

In regard to the debate on animal vs. plant protein, simply put, animal protein is a complete protein while plant protein is NOT.  That is not to say that animal protein is better than plant protein or that plant protein is worse than animal protein.  One diet composed of just one or the other requires a higher level of understanding and focus in determining the right foods.  We should strive to have a balance eating BOTH.

When eaten, protein is broken down into amino acids which are used for almost every metabolic (cell building and repair) process in the body.

In total, there are around 20 amino acids that the human body uses to build proteins. These amino acids are classified as either essential or non-essential.

Your body can produce non-essential amino acids. However, it cannot produce essential amino acids, which need to be obtained through your diet. For optimal health, your body needs all the essential amino acids in the right ratios.

Animal protein sources, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, are similar to the protein found in your body. These are considered to be complete sources of protein because they contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to function effectively.

On the contrary, plant protein sources, such as beans, lentils and nuts are considered to be incomplete, as they lack one or more of the essential amino acids that your body needs. Some sources report soy protein as complete. However, two essential amino acids are only found in small amounts in soy, so it isn't comparable to animal protein.  In order to reach the same complete amino profile, we would have to eat a variety of plant proteins in order to fill in those missing links in the chain and this requires a higher degree of understanding and research.

Additionally, even if items have equivalent total protein, amino acid ratios, digestion and absorption differ. For example, if you compared lentils and the equivalent amount of protein from beef or eggs, you would be short on the essential amino acids methionine and cysteine and you would probably absorb about 20% less protein from the lentils than from the beef or eggs.  That means if you are consuming “30g of protein” from a plant source, you are likely only absorbing 24g – in fact, you would need to consume about 38-39g of protein to get the equivalent amount.

That said, consuming a complete amino acid profile is possible through plant only protein sources but requires a much higher degree of food understanding and nutrient tracking that most individuals lack either the time or the means to do so.

BOTTOM LINE:

Animal foods are the easiest, most complete protein sources. Plant sources lack one or more amino acids and have a lower rate of absorption, which makes it more difficult to get all the amino acids that your body needs.  We should strive to eat a balance diet of both and given enough time, learn to eat a variety of plant protein sources to fill in those gaps!

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