Why is Protein Important?
Nutrition is the secret of youth. Eating a healthy diet is scientifically proven to drastically extend your life span. The problem that modern people have is that we lack an understanding of nutrition and what constitutes a healthy meal.
With hundreds if not thousands of ‘nutrition’ experts and websites publishing tidbits of misinformation, it is easy to believe the most popular myths that get recirculated over and over again. The sheer volume of bogus nutritional info that exists has distorted the Standard American Diet, which is the technical term for the culture of food that exists in America today.
Because the general information that is available is so unreliable, it not surprising that the Standard American Diet has resulted in an epidemic of obesity and chronic illness.
Hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and other metabolic conditions are all directly linked to poor diet choices. While there may be a genetic predisposition for these conditions, the scientific evidence supports that a change in diet can decrease and even eliminate the disease entirely.
In order to have a healthy diet, the first thing is to sort through the misconceptions and junk science so that you can understand the essential nutrients and what they can do for you. There are three main nutrient categories that everything you eat will fall under: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. These three things are all essential in the support of life and no diet can be without them. Myths and misinformation surround each of these nutrients, but none is so misunderstood as protein.
Protein is considered by many to be the main component of every meal, so much so that individuals who eat a meat-free lifestyle are considered strange and alternative. The question of how vegetarians get their protein without meat is one that is constantly asked by.
Protein has been touted as the ultimate diet food. Filling and heart healthy, an overabundance of protein has been guaranteed to build lean muscle mass and torch calories. While protein is part of any successful healthy diet, it has been gravely misunderstood. Here is everything about protein that you need to know in order to create a nutritional and healthy daily diet. Let’s talk about what protein is and it’s essential building block: the amino acid.
All about protein: what is it? what does it do?
Protein is the macronutrient that is responsible for repairing and generating tissue such as muscle, ligaments, and organs. Without protein, your body would be unable to create new skin cells, blood, and muscle tissue. Protein also helps in the formation of enzymes, the body’s response to stimuli, and many other important functions.
There are hundreds of different kinds of protein molecules, but they all have one thing in common. They are all chains of amino acids. It is important to understand what an amino acid is and its function in order to understand why protein is so beneficial for you.
The amino acid is an organic compound that can be chained together to form different types of proteins. There are hundreds of amino acids that the human body can benefit from, and many are considered essential. Aside from water, protein and amino acids are the second largest group of compounds in the human body. They make up all of your muscle tissue.
Now that you understand what protein does for you, let’s talk about the different ways that you can get protein in your diet.
Plant Protein vs Animal Protein
You can get dietary protein from two different sources. The first and most popular is animal protein, found in animal meat and milk. This is usually beef, pork, poultry, seafood and some others such as bison and venison.
Animal meat has long been considered the best way to get protein in a human diet because it is so plentiful, rich in fat and other minerals, and tastes great. It is that a part of the American Standard diet for so long, that many people don’t realize that there are other ways in which you can get protein in your diet.
That is the first common myth about protein that we will touch on later. In reality, you can get protein a number of other ways, including in all of your vegetables.
Every vegetable contains some amount of protein in it. The amount of protein in a single swerving of broccoli is significantly less than protein in a chicken breast, but a diet high in vegetables and grains actually contains more than enough protein to sustain you.
You may be asking yourself, “if this is true, why haven’t I heard about veggie protein before?” The reason that these proteins are not discussed on a regular basis is because they are considered what we would call ‘incomplete’ protein. That is, one single plant does not contain all of the essential amino acids that humans require in order to synthesize muscle tissue.
In light of this, there were many in the nutritional science community who considered animal protein to be the best and most complete protein available. They began recommending staggering amounts of meat and dairy as the main source of dietary protein. Before long meat became the main course at every American meal, and the average American household started tripling their meat consumption, leading to the meat-centered diet we have today.
In reality, while protein from animals may give you all the essential amino acids, you shouldn’t exclusively eat high quantities of meat if you want to be healthy. There are other setbacks to consuming too much animal meat that outweigh the benefits of the essential amino acids.
Studies have shown that excessive consumption of animal meats that are high in fat can accelerate the blockage of arteries and other blood vessels, making you more susceptible to life threatening heart disease.
There has also been some recent scientific evidence that supports a link between cured and processed meats like bacon and deli meat and colorectal cancer.
3 Popular misconceptions about protein
There are so many myths about protein out there on the Internet and in the nutrition industry that it is difficult to keep track, but there are three major misconceptions about protein that have existed for years and still persist to this day despite mounting scientific evidence that proves them to be false.
Here are three of the biggest myths and misconceptions about protein:
- Eating extra protein doubles the benefits: This is extremely false! While protein is absolutely essential to a healthy diet, consuming more protein than you need may actually do more harm than good. Unlike fat, the body has no mechanism for storing extra protein. This means that all of the extra protein you consume will have to be either converted into energy (sugar which can then become fat) or discarded through the urine. Individuals who eat more protein than their body can consume put their kidneys at risk for damage as the kidneys will be working twice as hard to remove the excess protein from their blood. If your body is unable to get rid of and none of the excess protein that you eat, you may suffer from what is known as protein toxicity. This disease, which happens naturally in people who are diabetic, can lead to hospitalization—and even death. It is important to make sure that while you are consuming protein, you don’t overdo it.
- Protein makes you feel fuller longer:This is a dieting myth about protein that has existed as long as humans have have been dieting. The fact of the matter is that protein does nothing to make you feel fuller longer. Protein is easily broken down and absorbed by the stomach. In fact, if you would like to feel fuller longer, the best route would be to consume foods that are high in fiber. Vegetables and grains pack large amounts of fiber in every serving, which can help you feel fuller longer because it takes longer for the stomach to break down food that is high in fiber. If you felt fuller after a meal that was high in protein and low in carbohydrates, you were really feeling full from whatever vegetables you paired with your protein dish.
- The only way to get protein in your diet is by eating meat. Not true! I actually learned earlier, each plant that is edible for humans contains protein in it. The problem is that the amino acids that make up proteins are not considered the essential one for humans. While this might seem like a problem, it is merely a small obstacle that can be overcome by the integration of a second vegetable or grain that provides the missing amino acid. The perfect example of this is beans and rice. Wild kidney beans do not contain all of the essential amino acid for growth and tissue repair in humans, rice contains this single amino acid that the beans lack, meaning that by consuming them together, you were getting the same benefit as if you were eating red meat. And that is without the heart disease! For more ways to get all of your essential amino acids in your veggies here is a list of some recipes that we love that do the work for you!
There are several grains beans nuts seeds and vegetables that can provide you with more than enough protein on a daily basis. The question now lives in how much protein you really need?
How much protein do you need?
You know that too much protein is a bad thing for your body, but too little protein can be just as if not more dangerous for your health. People who do not eat enough protein in their diet experience a weakening of their muscles, tissues, and ligaments as well as hair loss, eyesight problems and myriad of other degenerative issues from body organs that depend on protein stay healthy. The trick is to find the ‘goldilocks zone’ of protein; not too much and not too little. Your intake should be just right. But how much protein do you need?
This answer is tricky because not everyone will have the same protein needs. Like a caloric intake, the amount of protein you will need to consume in grams each day largely depends on your gender, height, weight, and level of activity.
There are several formulas to deciphering how many grams of protein you should consume in a day, but we have one from the National Academy of Sports Medicine that we think is the simplest and most accurate.
In order to determine the amount of grams of protein you need to consume everyday:
- Convert your body weight into kilograms. This can be done by dividing your weight by 2.2 on a calculator.
- Next, you will need to multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8. This will provide you with a number in grams of how much protein you need to consume every day.
Once you have your number of grams of protein per day, it is important to remember that you do not need to drive yourself crazy trying to hit this number exactly. A few grams above or below will not do you any harm.
Instead, you can use this number as a guidepost to help you keep your intake in perspective. This way you can have all of the benefits protein can provide. Keep in mind that this protein intake formula is best for an average individual. If you are active or just starting a new fitness program, then your body will require a different amount of protein.
Protein and fitness
If you are active or about the start a new fitness program you will need to increase your protein needs when planning your nutrition. Without a small bump in protein intake, your body will lose muscle mass as you start to work out more.
As you put increasing physical demands on your body, it will take extra protein to repair tired muscle and build the new muscle mass that your body needs for the next workout. If you don’t get enough protein to your muscles your body will take from its own muscle mass to repair tired muscle. Eventually it can lead to protein deficiency which can be lethal.
Here are the DO’s and DON’Ts to protein intake when you are starting a new fitness program.
- DO Eat Healthy: When you begin a new fitness program, it can lead to an enormous increase in appetite. Your metabolism will go through the roof with an integration of cardio and weight training to a usually sedentary lifestyle. Despite your new hunger, try to make smart eating decisions. It is easy to find yourself gaining unwanted weight when you start a new fitness program if you don’t eat properly. All too often people eat fattening, unhealthy foods because they feel that they ‘deserve’ it after a hard workout at the gym. The unfortunate truth is that the decadent foods you want to eat may contain more calories and fat in a single serving than you could burn in several hours at the gym. Instead of choosing a pizza and soda after a good workout, stick with a healthy portion of veggies and lean proteins to refuel your body and get you revved up for your next workout!
- DON’T Over Supplement: Protein requirements are significantly higher when you are working out several times a week, and some people find it helpful and effective to supplement their diet with a protein shake or liquid amino acids in order to make sure they get enough protein. There is nothing inherently wrong with this concept, but it is very easy to start thinking that if one protein shake a day is good that two or three can be even better. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to fitness and protein. A single serving of protein powder can contain nearly a third of your body’s daily protein needs, so you should be careful not to take more than you need. As we discussed earlier, overabundance of protein is actually going to be bad for your health. Weight gain, protein toxicity, and other unwanted symptoms can result from having too much protein. Be sure that when you choose a protein powder you find out how much protein is contained in each scoop. This way you are not accidentally consuming too much protein.
- DO Eat Before A Workout: There is a dangerous workout myth that if you work out on an empty stomach you will burn more fat calories and see faster results. This is not always the case. If anything, you are depriving your body of the energy and protein it needs to be active. Having protein in your system will help your muscle endurance and even help boost power and strength during your workout. It will also help with muscle recover afterward. Thirty minutes to an hour before your workout, have a small meal that provides you with some simple carbohydrates and protein and you will see significant energy and endurance increases in your next workout.
- DON’T forget to hydrate: It is important to hydrate properly during a fitness program for many reasons. We lose a lot of water when we sweat, so a new fitness regimen requires that you drink lots of extra water to replace what you lose. A dehydrated body is not only tired and less effective when working out. When you are eating more protein for a fitness regimen, being hydrated is especially important. Consuming additional protein in your diet can be hard on your kidneys. They extra protein needs to be filtered through the kidneys and broken down into the smaller amino acids that your body can use. This means that you will make sure that you are well hydrated in order to maintain healthy kidney function. It will also help with your digestive system, which is beneficial because extra protein can occasionally cause constipation.
No matter how you get your protein, remember that the right amounts of protein and amino acids are absolutely essential to a healthy diet.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to make protein the focus of every meal. The key to protein is finding balance. By adding healthy levels of protein to your daily diet from a variety of plant and animal sources you can transform your diet, your body, and increase your lifespan.