What is Protein?
Proteins are made up of amino acids which are linked together. Once ingested, your body will break down protein into amino acids or small peptides (small links of amino acids) in order to digest and absorb them. Once inside the body, the various amino acids and peptides are reassembled or used as needed.
In total there are 20 amino acids, nine of which are essential amino acids. Essential amino acids you must obtain from your diet because cells cannot manufacture them.
With this in mind, the most beneficial proteins are “complete” proteins or proteins that contain all 9 of the essential amino acids. Some examples of complete proteins include:
Incomplete proteins such as the protein found in vegetables and most legumes are not bad, they just need to be combined with other protein sources to ensure all 9 amino acids are being consumed. Consume a wide variety of incomplete proteins and you will be golden. For example, beans alone are not considered to be a complete protein. Combine beans with rice for a complete protein!
Why Do We Need Protein?
You can think about protein as the building blocks your body uses to construct muscles, tendons, skin, and all cells. If we were building a house, protein is like the wood that provides the structure to keep the house up and strong. But that’s not all, protein also has many other functions which are required for healthy living. For example, enzymes are made up of protein. Enzymes are essential for the following:
- Digesting food
- Slowing the aging process
- Carrying away toxic waste
- Proper hormone regulation
- Reducing Inflammation
- Getting nutrients into the cell
Enzymes are just one of the thousands of things inside the body made up of proteins along side your DNA! With this in mind the importance of protein cannot be understated. For healthy and normal function within the body, optimal protein intake is of utmost importance.
The amount of protein you should be eating depends on many factors. The big three stipulations that will determine your optimal protein intake include
1. Activity Level
2. Lean Body Mass
The more active you are, the more physical stress you are putting on your body. In turn, this means more protein is required to rebuild muscles and replenish resources. If you find that your recovery time is sluggish, you may not be getting enough protein! If you are highly active, try consuming on the high end of what is recommended below.
Lean Body Mass
Your lean body mass is the weight you carry on your body that isn’t fat. All the protein amount recommendations below are based on this figure. You can use simple online calculators to calculate your LBM. Click here for a simple Lean Body Mass Calculator.
If you are cutting fat, it is almost inevitable that you will lose some amount of muscle in the process. It is very hard to build muscle while you are in a calorie deficit – eating less claories than you body is using each day. Increasing your protein intake will help you retain muscle while losing weight! It is a win-win.
Protein also reduces appetite! This means it is easier to stay away from pesky carbs while you are losing weight. Protein is very high on the satiety index meaning it will curb your appetite when ingested. Try a protein shake instead of your usual snack. You may be surprised.
For those who would like to lose weight, .6-.9g of protein per pound of lean body mass is recommended.
If your goal is to build muscle, obviously you are going to need very high amounts of protein in your diet. Protein alone will not help you build muscle though! You need to lift weights or fatigue the muscle is some way. As you already know, lifting weights creates micro tears in the muscle. The body needs protein to rebuild the muscles bigger and stronger than before.
To build muscle fast, it is important to remain in a caloric surplus while you are training. Consuming more calories than your body is using will allow you to rebuild muscle at the fastest rate possible. The body will inevitably store some amount of fat while in a calorie surplus but that is the nature of the game. This is why many count calories so strictly and try to eat just over what their body is using each day.
For those who want to build muscle fast, .8-1.2g of protein per pound of lean body mass is recommended.
Maintain a Slim Figure
It is important to note that increasing protein consumption will not automatically pack on muscle or weight. If you participate in light exercise routinely, more protein would most likely speed up your recovery. Other than that you might notice less of an appetite and not much else. With that said matching calories burned each day with calories eaten is the most important aspect here. It may take some trial and error to nail down how many calories you should be eating each day so be patient.
For those who want to maintain a slim figure, .5-.8g of protein per pound of lean body mass is recommended.
Sourcing Your Protein
The jury is still out on the best type of protein. You may find different sources you like more than others but below are some common sources to help you get started.
If you are having trouble getting enough protein in your diet, supplementing is a great idea. You can instantly increase protein intake without added calories from carbs or fats. Whey protein or hemp based protein supplements are my go to. (Make sure your whey doesn’t contain Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K) which is a controversial sweetener that contains known carcinogens.)