Updated: Mar 5
You may have heard when it comes to weight loss, protein is King. That's because Protein plays a vital role in your health and well-being, from building new cells to building and maintaining tissues. Protein is the essential building block of almost everything inside your body. Your body uses it to make enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters, making it an essential part of day-to-day function and a healthy part of a well-balanced diet.
And in case you're not sold on it yet, there are plenty of other reasons to love it. Protein is great for folks wanting to lose weight because it plays a major role in feeling satisfied, satiated, and full. Out of all the macronutrients, research has shown that protein is by far the most filling. And this is key for weight loss, because if you’re feeling satisfied after eating a protein-rich food, over-indulging later is far less likely to happen.
What's protein and what makes it important?
Proteins are large and complex molecules that are found in the cells of all living things. While we typically associate protein most with muscle mass, it's actually an essential part of all tissues found in the body - including bones, blood, and hormones. In this way, protein plays an important role in our overall healthy body function and can be an especially critical partner in fitness routines. Protein's primary role is to aid in the growth, build, repair, and maintenance of body tissues, however it also serves other important tasks, such as acting as an enzyme and hormones, helping to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance, strengthening our immune system, and even serving as an energy source.
How much protein do you need?
The RDA (recommended daily amount) of protein for the average adult is 10-35% of daily caloric intakes. Protein needs are typically higher for individuals who are within stages of growth and development - such as children, adolescents, and pregnant and/or lactating women. Protein needs will also be higher for physically active people as well as for individuals who follow a vegetarian and/or vegan diet. Ultimately the ideal percentage of protein in your daily diet will depend on several factors, including your current weight, activity level, and overall goals.
What's so important about amino acids?
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are a total of 20 amino acids in our bodies, 9 of which are classified as "essential," which means they must be obtained from food as our bodies are unable to produce them. While animal meats and dairy products have traditionally been considered the primary source for protein, you can find it in a variety of other food sources too.
Plant based proteins, for example, have become increasingly popular over the last decade for a variety of reasons, such as a the desire to create healthier food habits, complement lifestyle preferences, reduced food cost, increased access and availability, etc. For individuals that rely solely on plant proteins (i.e. vegetarians and vegans), it's especially important to understand how you can get those complementary protein combinations to obtain those essential amino acids.
How to get your protein
Animal protein sources:
Ground beef, lean - 3oz. = 22g protein
Chicken breast, skinless - 3oz. = 28g protein
Salmon - 3oz. = 22g protein
Tuna - 3oz. = 22g protein
Shrimp - 3oz. = 18g protein
Cottage cheese, 2% - 1 C = 28g protein
Low-fat yogurt - 8oz. = 13g protein
Skim milk - 8oz. = 8.8g protein
Vegetarian protein sources:
Quinoa - 1 C = 8g protein
Buckwheat - 1 C = 6g protein
Hempseed - 2 Tbsp. = 10g protein
Oatmeal - 1 C = 5.4g protein
Brown rice - 1 C = 5g protein
Black beans - 1/2 C = 7g protein
Chia Seeds - 2 Tbsp. = 4g protein
Peanut butter, creamy - 2 Tbsp. = 8g protein
Almonds - 1oz. = 6g protein
Collard greens - 1 C = 5g protein
Tofu - 3.3oz. = 7g protein
Examples of complementary vegetarian protein combinations:
Brown rice + lentil
Brown rice + beans
Peanut butter + whole wheat bread
Corn tortilla + beans
Tofu + broccoli
Spinach + nuts + beans
Almonds + lentil soup
Bottom line: while studies have shown that most Americans easily meet their recommended daily amount of protein, it's important to consider if it is quality protein supportive of your goals. A healthy and well-balanced diet should include lean proteins that are low in saturated fat and salt, offering essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals to support healthy body function. Studies show that a well-balanced diet of lean proteins, complex carbs and healthy fats not only supports healthy body function, but reduces risk of disease. A health and fitness professional can help you determine the ideal amount of daily protein for you based on your unique needs and goals.
Power up with Protein!
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