Protein: The Basics

Truth: Your body needs protein. While debates surround exactly how much your body needs, it’s undisputed that protein plays a critical role in the body. I’ll spare you all of the conflicting info and share with you the basic function of proteins in the body, signs that you might not be getting enough protein in your diet, and the generally accepted recommended amount of lean protein an active adult should aim for each day.

Proteins are organic molecules made up of amino acids, which are the main building blocks of life. They play a role in nearly all bodily functions. Our bodies need proteins and amino acids to produce important molecules in our body (enzymes, hormones, neurotransmittors, and antibodies). Without adequate protein intake, our bodies can’t function well at all. Your body doesn’t store protein; and carbohydrates and fats cannot assume the role of proteins in the body. If you consistently fall short on your protein intake (even if deficiency is marginal), you can experience several unwelcomed side effects: hair thinning, red or flaky skin, muscle weakness, anemia, nutrient malabsorption, liver problems, lowered immunity, food cravings, muscle and joint pain, slow recovery from injuries, and brain fog. While your body doesn’t need a large amount of protein to sustain life, if you want to look and feel your best it’s important to get an adequate amount of protein in your diet! Without going scientific on you think of it this way: your body needs a relatively small amount of protein to survive, but you need a lot more to thrive!

Ensuring that you’re eating an optimal level of protein in your daily diet will help ensure a healthy immune system and metabolism, promotes strong athletic performance, and encourages the body to maintain a healthy body weight. It’s generally accepted that a range of 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight is “optimal” dependent upon what type of activity is engaged in on a regular basis. I tend to start with a baseline recommendation of 1 gram per pound of body weight. If you’ve got a substantial amount of weight to lose, I suggest clients have their body fat/lean mass tested to determine protein needs or I base their protein need on their “healthy” body weight (based upon height/age/build).

If you’re actively engaged in weightlifting/resistance training, I highly recommend that you consume protein (with some carbs) pre- and post-workout to aid in the rebuilding of muscles. Protein breakdown is increased during and immediately after weight training, so protein and carbs around a workout helps to minimize a negative muscle protein balance (which means you’re avoiding a short-term wasting or catabolic state). You don’t need to go crazy, for an average 150 pound adult I’d recommend 20 grams of protein + 30 grams of carbs pre-workout, 20 grams of protein + 20 grams of carbs post-workout, and then a post-post-workout meal that’s higher in protein and carbs and low in fat (think 30-40 grams of protein + 40-70 grams of carbs + less than 15 grams of fat).

That’s the gist on protein. It’s important and I’d bet you’re falling short on a daily basis. Curious about how much protein you’re currently eating? I challenge you to log your food in an app like MyFitnessPal for a few days to see where you land! I’m a big fan of learning your food and taking control over your nutrition. If you’d like some help, email me!

Looking for protein recommendations? Here is my Top 20 List!

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