WHAT is protein?
Protein Protein Protein …
It’s found in just about all foods- plants and animals. All protein is made from amino acids (AA), which are linked together to form long chains; some proteins are 20 AA long and some can be a thousand AA long. We can make amino acids (and therefore proteins) from the amino acids in our diet….. however, there is one catch…. there are some AA that we cannot make, they are called Essential AA (EAA). When we eat well (fruits, veggies, lots-o water) and get all the EAA in our diet, we make great proteins! And protein is needed for ALL functions of the body: immunity, hormones, growth, digestion, and of course muscle growth and maintenance.
WHY is it important?
“Protein is needed for all functions of the body”
Protein has taken our food culture by storm… we equate protein with strong muscles, but there is so much more to the story. Food manufacturing and supplement companies have monopolized on our protein-obsessed culture and fueled our obsession with “getting enough.” So, do we have a protein problem? Not really. We (Americans) on average meet or exceed protein requirements. According the 2012 NHANES survey, on average men were taking in 101.9 grams of protein per day, and women were taking in 70.1 grams of protein per day. https://nchstats.com/category/protein/
For athletes, protein requirements are a bit higher, but only slightly. Also, athletes are interested in when (time of day/proximity to exercise) it’s best to eat protein and how much. Some research has shown that protein before and after (within 2 hours) helps with muscle recovery. What if you’re a vegetarian? No problem! A vegetarian diet can provide all of the EAA needed. Read here for the What. Why & What of the vegetarian athlete.
& WHAT to do about it
“Eat REAL food. It’s very easy to meet your protein needs from food that naturally contains protein, plus you get all the other nutritional benefits”
Eat REAL food first. “REAL” foods are those that are natural sources of protein and have not been processed/extracted/powdered, etc. Below is an example of a “REAL” food day that meets all of your protein needs. Both examples, Meat Eater & Vegetarian, have about 70g of protein for the day, which meets the needs for both male and female youth athletes (as well as most non active adults). The recommendation for protein is set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines for Americans. The recs are based on 0.8g/kg of body weight or about 50 g for females and 60g for males.http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/sites/fnic.nal.usda.gov/files/uploads/recommended_intakes_individuals.pdf
**You can do the math to find how much protein you need by multiplying 0.8 to your weight in Kg (1kg = 2.2lbs). If you weigh 150lbs, divide by 2.2 to get your weight in KG = 68kg. Now multiply! 0.8 x 68kg = 55g protein per day.
**If you are training a few hours per day, you can multiply your weight in Kg by 1.2. However, must of us who exercise regularly will meet our EAA needs by using the 0.8 factor.
Meat Eater: Greek yogurt smoothie: 1 cup Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup berries, 1/2 banana, 1 cup spinach, 1/2 cup unsweetened almond/soy milk, ice. -- 20g complete protein
Vegetarian: Greek yogurt smoothie: 1 cup Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup berries, 1/2 banana, 1 cup spinach, 1/2 cup unsweetened almond/soy milk, ice. -- 20g complete protein
Meat Eater: Grilled Chicken Wrap: Whole wheat tortilla, tomato, cucumber, mixed green salad mix, 3oz chicken (about the size of a deck of cards). -- 25g complete protein
Vegetarian: Baked Tofu/or Tempeh Wrap: Whole wheat tortilla, tomato, cucumber, mixed green salad mix, 1 cup baked tofu or 3oz baked tempeh (about the size of a deck of cards). -- 25g complete protein
Meat Eater: Stir Fry: 3 oz (about the size of a deck of cards) Beef/chicken/fish, 2 cups veggies (bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli), over 1 cup of brown rice. -- 25g complete protein
Vegetarian: Stir Fry: 1 cup chickpeas, 2 cups veggies (bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli), over 1 cup of brown rice. -- 25g complete protein
Meat Eater/ Vegetarian: 70g complete protein
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to get enough complete protein, aka all of the EAA you need, from REAL food. REAL food is the BEST option because it contains tons of other nutrients your body MUST have to make and use protein.
BUT while protein supplements can come in handy, they should be used sparingly. If you want to learn more about the What. Why & What of protein supplements, click here (coming soon!).
So, YES! Protein is important. More specifically, EAA must be eaten from food, but it’s pretty easy to reach the DRI recommendations. Protein alone will not build strong muscles, good immunity and growth. Your body MUST have nutrients like vitamin A, C, E, D, & B-vitamins (just to name a few).
Moral of the story… If you eat REAL food with lots of color and a serving of protein at each meal, you’re in good shape… Literally
Eat Well & WIN!