Protein is an often misunderstood component of our diets. Athletes and bodybuilders regularly load up on tons of protein, especially in the form of supplements and powders. But what is the truth about protein? How much do you really need?
Proteins are the building blocks in our body and critical for life, but are rarely used for energy. There is no storage for protein in the body which means we need to get it every day from our diet. Proteins contribute the structure and function of cells and tissues. They are used for normal growth as well as tissue repair and are necessary to maintain good health.You probably don’t need as much protein as you think, and you’re more than likely getting enough, even if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet or even a raw vegan diet.
Where do we get protein?
Protein is found in meats, poultry, fish, meat substitutes, cheese, milk, nuts, legumes, and in starchy foods and vegetables. In fact, most foods contain some protein. But if you only eat fruits, sugars, fats and alcohol, you probably don’t get enough protein — But, then again, how many people only eat these things? Not many.
Types of protein:
Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids we need. Meats are complete proteins, but so too are quinoa, hemp seeds, and soy products, like miso. And many other vegetables and fruits have all the essential amino acids, including carrots, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cucumbers, kale, okra, peas, tomatoes, and bananas.
Incomplete proteins do not contain all of the essential amino acids. But we do not need all essential amino acids from one food or meal because our bodies are able to store amino acids for future use.
Why animal protein is not better than plant-based protein:
First of all, there is a lot of evidence to suggest our bodies are herbivores not carnivores. Protein from animals can be high in unhealthy fat and cholesterol, and eating animal protein has been linked to some types of cancer and poor heart health. Plus, plant-based proteins have fiber and complex carbs. And by choosing plant proteins, you’ll save animals from factory farms and limit your intake of toxins, like insecticides and antibiotics, which can be found in meat.
Why raw protein is better than cooked protein:
Plant protein gives you amino acids in their raw, unassembled form. But animal proteins give you amino acids in their assembled form, so your body must first disassemble the whole proteins to break them down, which takes extra time and energy. Some proteins are destroyed in the cooking process, which means raw foods have more available protein than cooked foods.
When should I eat protein?
Consuming protein immediately after exercise has been shown to maximize protein synthesis and adaptation. What is even more important is to make sure you get sufficient protein spaced out throughout the day so your body doesn’t run out of the building blocks it needs.
Maintaining muscle mass also plays a critical role in maintaining good health in aging. Even small losses of muscle mass can impact health and the ability to maintain an active life. Therefore, elderly or people with a low caloric intake can benefit from supplementing their diet with additional protein.
How much protein do we need?
Most Americans get plenty of protein, and even non-meat eaters can meet their protein needs by eating a balanced diet.
As we pointed out earlier here on OGP, “People that consume animal protein in every meal can end up consuming up to 5 times more animal protein than their daily requirement.”
Recommendations vary but according to the American Dietetic Association, most active adults only need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (1 kg = 2.2 pounds) of body weight per day. So a person who weighs 125 pounds needs 45 to 57 grams of protein in a day. Females need less protein than males, and serious athletes might need a little more protein — But not a lot more! Studies have shown that protein use is no higher during exercise than under resting conditions.
(Check out these five plant-based athletes that get all the protein they need from plant sources.)
To help you determine your daily protein needs, you might want to plug your info into these calculators:
And yes, you can eat too much protein.
“The paradox of protein is that it is not only essential but also potentially health-destroying,” wrote Dr. Morter in Your Health, Your Choice, “Cells overburdened with protein become toxic.”
Overconsumption of protein may cause problems for your heart and your kidneys. It may also promote the growth of cancer cells, cause digestive problems, and harmful mineral imbalances.
We all need protein everyday, but no diet needs protein supplements to achieve the right amount of protein. If you eat a variety of foods throughout the day, more than likely, you get enough protein.
This content provided above is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
When and How Much to Eat
Talk to five athletes. There’s a solid chance you’ll hear about five totally different diets; and all five of them will swear that they’ve found the answer to elite athleticism and nutrition. Here’s the crazy part: Every single one of them could be correct.
Take intermittent fasting, for example. The general idea is that you give yourself a window to eat – six hours, eight hours – and you fast the remainder of those 24 hours. It’s preferred by many due to the fact that when you train fasted, you’re pulling energy from stored fat; and if your first meal is post-training, what you consume is used as efficiently as your body can allow: for muscle building and recovery.
On the opposite end of eating two large meals a day is the school of thought that you’re best served eating five to six smaller meals. The arguments behind eating smaller and more frequent meals seem valid: It stops your body from going into a state of hunger and keeps your metabolism constantly chugging along. Faster metabolisms burn more fat.
There are countless other meal plans outside of these two that athletes use to gain muscle mass. Athletes wanting to put on some serious weight will drink a gallon of milk a day short-term (say a month or two), and they’re all but guaranteed an increase in body mass thanks to milk’s high protein, fat and carb content.
What to Eat and Why It Matters
It seems to be the general consensus that your post-training meal is absolutely vital to muscle gain, largely because this is when your muscles are most capable of turning sugar/carbs into muscle glycogen (1). A general note? Just eat. Eat something. Some people will say eat ANYTHING. In fact, if you’re going to be naughty and have a treat, many will argue that this is the absolute best time to do so.
Post-workout protein shakes are a staple to athletes. We are permanently glued to our blender bottles, simply because we can’t sit down to the five-course meal that we really want after we finish training. Shakes are quick and easy. There are approximately 1,400,530 different kinds of protein you can purchase. If you’re trying to eat a clean diet, here’s a great protein option.
Carbs are equally as important as protein for post-training nutrition – in fact, they might be even more important to consume immediately. Carbs are a huge part of your immediate muscle recovery and rebuild, since they’ll help spike your insulin post-workout; so your meal should include something like potatoes or rice, plus your protein, plus your veggies.
What should every other meal look like? Again, it varies by athlete. Overwhelmingly, eggs, cottage cheese, meat, nuts and beans are considered some of our best friends for building muscle. If you happen to do a lot of weightlifting, you’ll likely start to notice that a salad with boiled chicken breast doesn’t cut it anymore. Your growing muscles are turning you into a calorie-burning machine. Don’t be afraid to eat; and when you’re done eating, go eat.