In order to know the importance of protein in our diet and how much we should actually consume, we need to first understand what protein is and the important role it plays in our body.

So what is protein?

Proteins are the main building blocks of the body. Proteins are made up of smaller molecules called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that join together to make all types of proteins. These amino acids can be broken down to three groups:

Essential amino acids or indispensable: Human body cannot make these amino acids and they must come from our diet.

Conditionally indispensable amino acids: these are synthesized from other amino acids or their synthesis are limited under certain conditions

Truly dispensable or non-essential: body can make this group of amino acids and we do not need to consume these through diet.

Protein is used to make muscles, organs, skin, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and other tiny molecules that play important role in the way our body functions.

How much protein do we really need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adult men and women is 0.8 g of complete protein per kg body weight per day or 0.36 g per pound of body weight. This means protein recommendations depend on body weight as well as age and gender. For example an adult male who weighs 190 lb would need to consume 68.4 g of protein a day and an adult female who weighs 120 lb would need to consume about 43.2 g of protein a day.

Although there is no Upper Intake Level (UL) for total protein, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that proteins contribute about 10 to 35% of your daily calories.

protein intake

Do we need more protein to gain muscle?

Muscles are made largely of proteins; One pound of muscle in the human body contains about 100 g of protein. Muscles, like all the other tissues in the body, are being constantly broken down and being rebuilt. The amount suggested above will help the body to synthesize as much muscle as it is breaking down. In order to gain muscle, however, we need more protein. People who desire to make muscles need to lift weights, of course, and eat more protein.

There are some conflicting results (1,2) in studies regarding the optimal amount of protein for muscle gain. Therefore, it is hard to give exact figures. However 0.7-1.0 grams per pound of body weight seems reasonable.

 

Another rule of thumb, if you are carrying a lot of body fat, it is better to use your lean mass or your goal weight to measure your protein needed instead of your current total body weight.

Complete vs. Incomplete protein:

Complete proteins contain all nine of the essential amino acids and can be fully utilized by the body during the protein synthesis. The main sources of complete proteins are animal and fish products.

On the other hand Incomplete proteins when consumed, the body cannot fully utilize them during protein synthesis. Incomplete sources of protein are generally found in plant-based foods. However, it is possible to mix two incomplete sources of protein to make a complete protein. An example of this is mixing rice with beans. Neither one of them has all nine amino acids by themselves, but when mixed together, they form a complete protein.

The key is finding two sources of incomplete proteins that make up enough of each of the nine essential amino acids to form a complete protein. Here are some of the most popular plants based proteins and the essential amino acids that they contain:

Plants based proteins

What are some good sources of protein?

When it comes to protein quality is better than quantity. Here are some high quality protein sources:

  1. Eggs from free range chickens
    A medium egg has around 6g of protein in an easily digestible form. 
  2. Milk from grass fed cows
    1 cup of milk contains 8g of protein. Even though grass fed milk and conventional milk have the same amount of protein, but grass feeding improves the quality of cow’s milk, and makes the milk richer in omega-3 fats, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and CLA (a beneficial fatty acid named conjugated linoleic acid)
  3. Greek Yogurt
    Most of Greek yogurt’s protein is casein, the primary type of protein found in milk-based products. Choosing your Greek yogurt pay close attention to the ingredients. The main ingredients in Greek yogurt should be  milk and live active cultures. You’ll want to steer clear of added protein like “whey concentrates” and added thickeners like “modified corn starch.” and should contain 12 g or more of protein per serving.
  4. Fish and seafood
    Fish and seafood are good sources of protein and are typically low in fat. While slightly higher in fat than other varieties, salmon packs in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids which can reduce joint stiffness and inflammation. It is very important to do your study before buying your fish.  Choose fish or seafood with the lowest levels of contaminants and high in health-promoting omega-3 fats.
  5. Pistachio nuts
    Nuts such as pistachios are a practical protein choice if you’re on the move. Around 50 pistachio nuts will provide 6g of protein. Choose raw unsalted pistachios.
  6. Meat                                                                                                                                              Animal protein provides all the essential amino acids in the right ratio for us to make full use of them. When it comes to animal protein, opt for lean protein from white meat poultry such as chicken and turkey.
  7. Beans and pulses                                                                                                                              These are great, value-for-money protein sources. Beans and pulses are also a good source of iron and fiber.

Most people don’t really need protein supplements, but they can be useful for athletes and bodybuilders.

Bottom line:

Protein is necessary for our body to function. You should take at list 0.36 g/ lb of your body weight if you are in optimal health and have a low activity level. You can up your protein consumption to 0.7-1 g/lb of body weight if you are active and/or trying to build muscle.  There are two sources of protein, complete and incomplete proteins. Most animal proteins tend to be complete proteins while plant proteins tend to be incomplete. Always opt for high quality proteins.

Stay happy and healthy

Roya

 

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