Protein – what is it, why do we need it, and how much do I need?
Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids which are linked to one another in long chains. Proteins play many critical roles in the body including their function as building blocks for bones, cartilage, skin, and blood. All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, seeds, and dairy are considered protein foods. Protein also contains sources of vitamins and minerals such and B vitamins, choline, copper, iron, phosphorus, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin E, and zinc.
Protein is essential for the body, but how much do we really need?
Well, this depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity. It is recommended that 10 to 35 percent of daily calorie intake should come from protein. One glass of milk is equivalent to about 7-8 grams of protein. Athletes require more protein for recovery due to intense physical activity. Protein helps to repair and strengthen muscle tissue. However, eating large amounts of protein is not correlated with a toned body. Excess protein can not be store in the body. Therefore, it may be converted into fat or excreted in the urine.
It is recommended to consume lean animal-based protein sources like poultry, eggs, and a variety of seafood. Plant-based foods can be good sources of protein too. Some plant-based proteins include tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, and chickpeas. High fat dairy products and red meats should be limited due to their fat content. These contain high amounts of saturated fat which is not good for the body.
Do I need a protein supplement?
It is recommended to consume high-quality protein several times a day to support a positive nitrogen balance. Individuals should focus on consuming solid protein containing foods like meats and poultry, to meet their individual needs. Protein supplements can be used to supplement a healthy diet, such as after a workout if a meal can not be consumed. Although, it is not essential to the diet and should not be consumed over solid protein foods which contain a multitude of essential nutrients.
The Bottom Line:
It is important to consume a source of protein at every meal. Protein is essential and plays many important roles in the body. A high protein diet is not necessary due to the fact that your body can only use so much protein at once and it can not be stored. Focus on consuming lean animal-based protein sources and plant-based protein and limiting high fat meats and dairy.
Williams MH, Rawson ES, Branch JD. Nutrition for health, fitness & sport. 11th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education; 2017.