Nutrition 101 - Everything You Need to Know About Protein
Ah protein, the macronutrient that takes the most flack because it's the only food we consume that has a face. Yes, I said it, vegans I'm sorry, but the topic of protein is a heated one.
As always, I do my best to educate my clients and anyone reading this blog (which apparently reaches people worldwide - someone is reading this in South Africa, how cool is that?!) about the importance of protein, the various kinds and why it is beneficial to their health. Like I mentioned in my last post (click here if you haven't read it) I believe there is a perfect diet for everyone, but it is unique to them. I can't tell you what foods are going to make you thrive until you discover what foods make you feel amazing. I do believe in educating everyone regardless of their diet and eating preferences about how they can benefit from getting more protein and the healthiest way to go about doing so. It's not about pushing our beliefs about what others should or shouldn't be eating, looking down at them for eating beef or refusing to eat with them unless they become vegan. It boils down to recognizing which foods fuel you best and ignoring what your best friend and the internet has to say about it.
WHY IS PROTEIN SO IMPORTANT ANYWAYS?
I came up with a great analogy for remembering why protein is so important. Think of protein as being your superhero mom - you don't know how she manages to do it all, but somehow she makes everything happen. She cooks, cleans, shuttles kids from point A to B, organizes the entire family and keeps the peace in the household while balancing a whole host of other jobs on top of her already full plate. Protein is essentially (no pun intended ;) the same. Proteins are comprised of amino acids and together they build everything from our muscles to our skin, hair and nails. They create enzymes that facilitate chemical reactions and act as neurotransmitters as they carry signals from one part of our bodies to the other. How cool is that? Pretty rad if you ask me.
SO WHAT IS PROTEIN?
Protein is a macronutrient, which means that we need it in larger quantities alongside fats and carbs in order to provide our bodies the nutrients it needs to function optimally. If we take it a step further, we can break protein down into amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids and they serve as the building blocks of protein.
Since our bodies don't produce the essential amino acids, we have to make an effort to get them from our food. Our essential amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, valine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, histidine and lysine in order to create complete proteins that are needed to build and repair muscle tissues and cells. On the flip side, we have our non-essential and conditional amino acids that our bodies produce themselves or only require larger amounts of when the body is sick or struggling to create those amino acids because it is in a diseased state. Long story short, at the end of the day, we have to make sure that we are getting the required amounts of essential amino acids in order to properly synthesize proteins. Yay for lean muscle tissue!
An easy way to determine how much of each amino acid you need is to first establish your daily protein goal. As a general guide, start by multiplying your body weight in pounds by 0.8 to calculate the number of grams of protein you need for your body type and weight. Once you have that number, multiply your protein goal by the amino acid goal and voila, you have your new essential amino acid goals for the day! It's a lot of numbers, but it doesn't have to be complicated, rest assured, Ms. Mustard is coming to the rescue.
WHAT DO I EAT TO GET ENOUGH PROTEIN?
Great question! There are so many fantastic protein options out there, so don't think for a second that you are limited to chicken, egg whites and tilapia. Boooooring. Before I jump into talking about the endless food you can use to hit your protein and amino acid goals, know that if you are eating a diet with meat, eggs, fish and poultry, you are getting more than enough essential amino acids. The table above is helpful for vegetarians and vegans who have a bit more of a challenge when it comes to creating a complete protein with the full range of amino acids. For my veggie lovers out there, make sure you are using pairing your protein properly! Below is a list of four foods that you need to pair a minimum of two of, in order to create a complete protein.
GRains + Legumes + Vegetables + Nuts/Seeds
Clean Complete Sources of ProteiN
- Egg whites
- Whey Protein
- Hemp Seeds
- Chia Seeds
- Organic Soy (Tempeh & Tofu)
- Dairy (Greek Yogurt)
The next time you sit down to a meal really start to think about the composition of your plate. Do you have a complete protein? More importantly, do you have enough protein? If not, what can you add to your meal in order to beef it up and add some muscle growth supporting amino acids to help you keep your metabolic fire stoked.
Need some help getting started? Give these recipes a whirl!