Contrary to current popular belief, protein is more than just a fad that companies have created to market and sell their products. Everyone is so drawn to “high in protein!” labels, but do you know what exactly protein is, and why it is so important?
What is protein and what does it do? Whether your goal is to lose weight or bulk up, protein is an important part of every healthy lifestyle. It is one of three macronutrients and is extremely essential to repair and build tissues in the body, like muscles, organs, nails, bones, cartilage, skin, and blood. A majority of our body’s systems rely on protein to function, like our immune and digestive systems, the production of hormones and enzymes, and our vision.
Each time you lift weights and hit the gym, you are essentially tearing your muscle tissue. Protein works to repair and build those muscles outside of the gym, and enables them to strengthen and grow. Other benefits from protein include preserving muscle, stabilizing energy and appetite, regulating and increasing metabolism, and maintaining a leaner physique.
Where can I get it? Protein is primarily found in animal products like meat, poultry, eggs/egg whites, seafood, Greek yogurt, milk, and cheese. Lean sources of protein, like chicken breast and fish, are preferable to the proteins found in fatty meats.
Plenty of vegetarian or vegan sources of protein also exist like soy milk, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, leafy greens, tofu, tempeh, seitan, edamame, Ezekiel toast, oats, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice, protein bars, and protein powder. Not all of these sources are complete proteins, but by pairing them with a good, balanced diet, they aid in healthy living.
How much should I eat? Bodybuilders rely on protein to constantly repair and rebuild the muscle because of the physically demanding nature of the sport. Research on how much protein is optimal for health benefits and building muscle is very inconclusive.
According to RDA (recommended dietary allowance), active women (men) between the ages of 19-30 should be consuming 10-30% of their recommended 2,400 (3,000) calories from protein. This equates to 60g - 180g for women and 75g – 225g for men. Regardless of current studies, it is agreeable that ideal protein consumption is extremely dependent upon each individual’s body composition, lifestyle, and activity level. Play around with your protein consumption levels to see what works best specifically for you!
Do I Need to Supplement? It is important to keep in mind that using protein powder does not directly result in weight loss. It will simply help supplement your diet if you feel you cannot get enough protein from whole foods. That being said – it is 100% not necessary to use a protein supplement. If you eat a healthy, balanced diet it is certainly possible, and a bit more preferable for most, to get an adequate amount of protein from whole foods. Protein powders are often just an easy, convenient way for bodybuilders to hit those high levels of protein if necessary.
Bottom line – Protein is absolutely essential for the body to function properly, and should not be neglected. It is preferable to try to get your protein requirements from mainly whole foods, but a few protein waffles never hurt anybody.