Essential Guide to Protein

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Essential Guide to Protein

Protein is necessary for many things. Whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, recover from a tough workout, feel more satiated at mealtime or simply maintain good health, it’s important to get adequate amounts of healthy protein.

PROTEIN BASICS

Protein is a crucial component of every cell in our bodies. It’s used to build and repair tissues (like skeletal muscle, bone, hair, fingernails, cartilage, skin and blood), as well as make enzymes and hormones that help regulate metabolism, growth and many other things. Like carbohydrates and fat, protein also provides energy, but because it has so many other important functions and can’t be stored, the body relies first on carbohydrates and fat for energy.

But just like carbs and fat, excess protein gets converted and stored as fat.

Protein gets digested into amino acids that are absorbed by the small intestine and distributed throughout the body. Cells take what they need and rearrange amino acids to make new proteins or repair older ones. Because the body doesn’t store protein, any excess amino acids are either converted into glucose and subsequently glycogen to use as energy if the body is short on carbohydrates, or converted into fatty acids and stored as fat. Getting enough protein is important so the body can perform these functions on a daily basis. But just like carbs and fat, excess protein gets converted into fat and stored as fat.

Protein is found in a variety of foods: most notably meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and even grains. From a dietary perspective, meats, poultry, fish, eggs and soybeans are complete proteins — that is, they provide all of the amino acids required by our body. Other protein sources like legumes, some nuts and seeds, grains and leafy greens, don’t provide adequate amounts of the essential amino acids by themselves but can when eaten in combination with other foods and as part of a balanced diet.

TARGET PROTEIN NEEDS

Our body changes every day as cells grow, divide and die — these processes depend on protein to supply vital building blocks to our cells. Because of this, you need to eat enough protein to maintain lean muscle mass and support other important body functions.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) predicts how much protein you should eat on a daily basis to guard against lean muscle loss. The RDA for protein is 0.8 gram/kilogram of body weight, but this is a minimum for the average sedentary adult, aka the “weekend warrior.” MyFitnessPal calculates protein intake to be 20% of your daily calories, which is likely more than enough to maintain muscle mass.

Here’s how to calculate the minimum amount of protein you should be eating:

If you exercise regularly — particularly if you log 1 hour or more of moderate to vigorous exercise several days per week.

GOOD SOURCES OF PROTEIN

Most people can easily use real food, rather than protein powders and other supplements, to meet their protein needs. A sedentary woman weighing 127 pounds only needs a daily dose of about 46 grams of protein, which she can meet by eating 3 ounces of chicken breast, one large egg, a handful of almonds and a stick of string cheese.

Here’s a quick list of protein-rich foods, or check out our Definitive Guide to High-Protein Foods:

PROTEIN BEST PRACTICES

No matter how you meet your protein goals, these seven tips help you get the most out of protein:

1. SPREAD OUT PROTEIN BETWEEN MEALS

Protein-rich foods don’t come cheap, but you can maximize your body’s ability to digest, absorb and use protein by distributing it evenly throughout meals and snacks. Just take the total grams of protein you need daily and divide it into the total number of meals and snacks you eat daily.

2. EAT PROTEIN IMMEDIATELY AFTER EXERCISE

Having a high-protein snack soon after exercise (ideally before the one-hour mark) is best because this is when muscles are sensitive to nutrients they can use to repair and grow.

3. PAIR PROTEIN WITH CARBS

This is especially important when you’re refueling after aerobic exercise (like running) since protein is needed for muscle repair and carbs are needed to restock energy stores. Remember: Macros (carbs, fat and protein) like to work together.

4. SEEK OUT MORE PLANT PROTEIN

Vegetarian or not, we can all benefit from eating more plant-based protein. In addition to being great sources of protein, foods like beans, peas, quinoa and lentils are rich in other nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals.

5. CHOOSE LEAN CUTS OF MEAT

Meat eaters, look for lean cuts like pork and beef tenderloin. A general rule of thumb when shopping: Cuts that have round, chuck or loin in the name are usually lean.

Some cuts may take a bit longer to prepare (try marinating or braising), but if prepared right, they’re equally as delicious as fattier cuts. Since ground meats are typically high in fat, look for the leaner options, like 90/10 ground beef, which contains 90% lean meat and only 10% fat. If you’re a steak or burger-lover, limit red meat to once or twice per week since it’s high in saturated fat.

6. MAKE SMART POULTRY CHOICES

Skin aside, poultry is generally lean but beware when buying ground chicken or turkey. Unless it says 100% ground turkey breast or chicken breast on the package, the meat has likely been ground up with the skin and fat, which means that turkey burger may not be any healthier than one made from ground beef.

7. INCREASE YOUR FISH INTAKE

If you enjoy fish, aim to eat 3–4 ounces of it twice a week. Frozen or fresh, fish can be a great source of protein. Some — like salmon — are rich in omega-3’s, a healthy, unsaturated fat.


READ MORE ESSENTIAL GUIDES

> Fat
> Carbs
> Macros


About the Author

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14 responses to “Essential Guide to Protein”

  1. This is great information. Protein seems to get hyped a lot these days, with some people trying to increase their intake and others decrease it. But, it’s always important to know more, particularly about best practices.

  2. Avatar net governance now! says:

    It would be nice if the tabular information was provided in a format one could copy and paste into a spreadsheet.

  3. Avatar Ana Gutierrez says:

    por favor como puedo pasarlo a español?

  4. Avatar Scott Tindal says:

    Hopefully this assists the readers of this article.

    1) “But just like carbs and fat, excess protein gets converted and stored as fat.”
    I would love to see the evidence for this statement – I am pretty sure it does not exist.
    You may in fact find that excess protein is simplu excreted in urine or faeces along as being reduced in the form of heat due to the inefficiency of it as a fuel source.

    2) “weekend warrior” will certainly benefit from an increased protein intake to support lean muscle mass and if they go on 0.8g/kg/day it is certainly going to make performing even at that level difficult. I would recommend at least 1.5-2 g/kg/BW for anyone looking to maintain body composition. This would need to fit into a structured daily energy intake based on your activity levels.

    3) Sedentary woman weighing 127 lbs (57kgs) getting a recommendation of 0.8g/kg/BW providing 48g protein per day is the minimum amount of protein recommended by the WHO. This is the amount to maintain life. I doubt that is the goal of the sedentary woman. Is this woman over 50? if so, her protein requirement becomes even more important to offset sarcopenia (progressive loss of muscle as we age). Increasing the sedentary womens protein intake may aid satiety, offset muscle loss, increase TEF and reduce her habitual intake of refined carbohydrates.

    4) Eating protein immediately after exercise is not a necessity and this is sort of highlighted that protein should be spaced throughout the day. It appears that consistency of protein feeds and total protein ingestion is far more important than the so-called anabolic window after training. I am not saying you cannot do it, and its always nice to eat/drink protein after a work out – just dont panic and worry your muscles are not going to drop off if you dont get it in!

    I appreciate it this a difficult topic to write about, but please, ensure for the sake of the public that the information is accurate.

    Thank you
    Scott Tindal

    • Avatar Angela James says:

      Mr. Tindal, Thank you for sharing. It is a difficult topic & there were a few gaps in this. I would like to point out that beef raised outside a feed lot is a lot leaner than any store bought chicken

    • Avatar reddragonfly8181 says:

      WOW, you should research these accusations before you post something like this. Did you go to school for anything related to these subjects?

      1) open up a textbook, look at an article- this is a fact. Some amino acids get used, some are excreted, and some are stored as FAT.
      2) Weekend warrior is referring to a sedentary individual, not making gains because their muscles and bones do not have the required force to build lean muscle. NOT TO MENTION, the author said to maintain muscle mass… are you drunk? Also, you should take a look at another text book or article relevant to this because you are a victim to the media and people trying to sell you on high protein.
      3) No one said anything about age, you are a hater trying to show off your general knowledge learned from being into working out. Why are you attacking this person?
      4) I would think that a BRO like you would know enough about the anabolic window. The author literally said to spread protein out between meals and the protein referred to post-exercise does not need to be a ridiculous amount like you probably ingest. You should look it up in a textbook or article resource, again. Oh and by the way, there is also a carbohydrate timing importance before, during, and after exercise that might help you gain the muscle mass you are having such a hard time gaining or need sooooo much protein to get to.

      LASTLY, do you have a blog or something similar so we can see the hilarious nature of your mind and judge WITH facts because your attack on this person just made me want to waste time (or take a break from my classes where we are learning about all this stuff) just to let you know what’s up. I could use a good break in between other awesome knowledge I am gaining later this semester!

      Thanks!

      • Avatar Scott Tindal says:

        Thank you for your energetic reply. Firstly – i was not attacking the author & if the reader took it that way it was certainly not intended to be read like that so i do apologies to him/her. (unlike you attacking me but hey thats cool).

        1. The actual process and shear amount of excess protein to turn to fat is the point I was making. Even the process of turning CHO to fat (de novo lipogenesis) is actually a very inefficient process – despite what is portrayed in the general media. You might actually find that reading about substrate utilization and prioritization is a better way of explaining why fat accumulation occurs. I am sure you already know all about this.

        2. “Weekend warrior is referring to a sedentary individual” – really? did you create that definition or is it mainstream?
        I would classify myself as a weekend warrior and i train 4-5 x/week. I would think anyone who is engaging in sport but not being paid as a professional would like to think of themselves as a weekend warrior and would therefore benefit from an increased protein intake. You may want to refer to the ISSN Position Stand on protein and it’s benefits. It is not just my word but a whole plethora of individuals with significant academic awards to be justified to make those claims.

        3. Not sure where the “hater” is coming from. It is important to acknowledge age when discussing protein requirements. to phrase you – you may want to open a text book, review recent literature and and read about it.

        4. this made me laugh out loud. Did you even read what i wrote??
        Whilst an anabolic window has been shown to exist in the short term following exercise
        (i agree with you) you may also benefit from reading a little bit more of the more recent research which focuses on the need for consistent protein feeds and not worrying so much about slamming a protein drink down your throat immediately after exercise for fear of your muscles dropping off – in a very Bro manner as you so eloquently put it.

        And yes if you would like to read some of the articles I have written then please go to Breaking Muscle or True Protein websites and have a read. Your feedback on those is welcome.

        I appreciate you are likely studying something to do with nutrition and that is great – if you are going to go on the full rant perhaps provide useful information – as i attempted to – to create a discussion rather than an attack.

        • Avatar Reddragonfly8181 says:

          Your ability to be corrected and take the criticism is deplorable. I’m not going to fix the wrongness of your response again. All of my response was fact based not media, anyone that learns at a college level could see that. You were attacking the author. Good luck with your future ignorance.

  5. Thanks for sharing this valuable post. As many people are confused about the amount of fat they should carry. They don’t know that how much intake of fat is required to stay fit. Your post really helps people understand what amount of fat is essential for our body and how anyone can manage their foods to be fat free.

  6. good research! thank you

  7. Avatar Carolyn Emole says:

    According to the calculation above I only need 63 grams of protein a day. I’m a pescaratarian and yet rarely eat fish…and my body requires a lot of protein..I probably eat 200 grams a day. I suffer from hypoglycemia and also am very overweight from menopause. It’s so hard to know what to do as every place tells you something different. UGH!

  8. […] 447 IUs (75% DV) per 3-ounce serving. Salmon is also a rich source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats, protein, B-vitamins, phosphorus and selenium, which support everything from brain health to immunity. Try […]

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