What exactly is protein and why is it so important? It seems like we’re hearing a lot these days about protein – and for good reason! If you’re curious to learn more about protein and how much to incorporate into your diet, then keep on reading.
What Is Protein?
Protein is a macronutrient that plays a role in building and repairing tissues. Essentially every cell in your body is made up of protein – most notably muscle tissue. Proteins are composed of amino acids. There are around 20 total amino acids that work together in different combinations. Your body can synthesize 11 of these amino acids, known as non-essential amino acids. The remaining 9, known as essential amino acids, cannot be made by your body; which means, it’s important to incorporate them within your diet.1
Complete vs. Incomplete Protein
Foods that contain all 9 essential amino acids are commonly referred to as “complete proteins.” The best sources of complete proteins include animal sources, such as poultry, eggs, dairy, beef and seafood. Plant-based sources such as quinoa, soy and buckwheat are also considered complete proteins.
Other sources of food that contain essential amino acids, but not all 9, are considered “incomplete proteins.” They include foods such as brown rice, legumes and seeds. Those who adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle are often encouraged to eat a wide variety of these types of foods to ensure they are consuming all 9 essential amino acids through different food combinations.2
How Much Protein Do I Need?
Your protein needs largely depend on your lifestyle and goals. Are you an athlete aiming for muscle gain? Or perhaps you’re trying to shed some weight while preserving muscle mass? Understanding your objectives is the first step in determining your protein intake. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, active individuals, especially those engaged in resistance training, may require more protein to support muscle recovery and growth.3
A commonly used method is calculating protein needs based on your body weight. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) suggests consuming 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for sedentary adults (1 kg = 2.2 lbs).4 However, physical activity can also influence your protein requirements. Additional research suggests closer to 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for active individuals, with the higher end of the range being more suitable for endurance athletes. Timing of protein may also be beneficial. Similar research indicates that consuming protein after your workout, may aid in building and repairing muscles.5 Protein supplements, such as BodyLean25, can be a great source of high quality, complete protein in this type of situation.
Age and Health Status:
Age and health status also impact protein needs. As you age, your protein requirements might increase to prevent age-related muscle loss. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition suggests that older adults might benefit from an intake closer to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to maintain muscle health.6
Consulting With a Registered Dietitian
While these guidelines provide a general idea, consulting a registered dietitian can offer personalized recommendations. They consider your unique factors, such as metabolism, food preferences, and dietary restrictions, to tailor a protein intake plan that suits your needs.
Protein needs are not one-size-fits-all. Tailoring your protein intake to your lifestyle, activity level, and goals is essential for optimal health. Remember, it’s always a good idea to seek guidance from professionals to ensure you’re providing your body with the right amount of protein it needs to thrive.
- Better Health Channel. (n.d.). Protein. Victorian Government, Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/protein
- Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Amino Acids. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22243-amino-acids#:~:text=Essential%20amino%20acids%20can%20be%20found%20in%20many%20different%20foods,acids%20are%20called%20complete%20proteins.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (n.d.). How Much Protein Should I Eat? EatRight.org. https://www.eatright.org/health/essential-nutrients/protein/how-much-protein-should-i-eat
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. (Ed.). (2018). Protein Intake – How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day? In StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234922/
- Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Nutrition Rules That Will Fuel Your Workout. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/nutrition-rules-that-will-fuel-your-workout/art-20390073#:~:text=Protein%20is%20important%20because%20it,to%20136%20grams%20each%20day.