“Protein is good for you.”
No doubt, you’ve heard this message for years. Dietary and health experts sing protein’s praises. And various products promote the amount of protein they contain. Countless medical studies have focused on protein. There are even diet plans whose foundations are built on protein.
But what exactly is protein, and why is it good for our bodies? And how much protein should you actually eat?
Let’s answer those questions. First and foremost…
What Does Protein Do?
Well, proteins are frequently referred to as the “building blocks” of the human body. Each protein is made up of a string of amino acids which helps establish its specific function.
Now, numerous bodily processes are performed by proteins, including the construction of muscles and tendons, the replication of DNA, and the transportation of molecules throughout your body.
Furthermore, many types of protein (often called essential proteins) cannot be produced by the body but must be obtained through foods, beverages, or supplements.
Suggested Levels of Protein
Turns out, how much protein your body needs to function properly depends on a variety of factors, the most important of which is weight.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (established by the federal Food and Nutrition Board, or FNB) calls for the consumption of .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
So, for a person who weighs 145 pounds, the minimum amount of daily protein intake should be 52.2 grams. And according to the FNB, protein should account for at least 10 percent of your calories consumed each day and can comprise up to 35 percent of your daily caloric intake.1
But determining how much protein you need involves more than just stepping onto a scale. You must also take into account your age, activity level, and lifestyle in order to ensure that you are getting enough protein.
Protein For Athletes
The second-most important variable to take into account regarding protein consumption is your activity level.
In fact, at a conference of scientists and researchers dubbed “Protein Summit 2.0” in 2013, one of the takeaways was that “Because physical activity enhances muscle protein synthesis, the researchers suggest that protein recommendations be linked to physical activity.”2
Though studies on this topic have produced varying results, a good rule of thumb is that athletes who want to build muscle should consume approximately one gram of protein per pound of body weight.3
That amount will help the body synthesize the additional protein into muscle growth and development.
Similarly, endurance athletes like runners, swimmers, or bicyclists also require a higher-than-average daily amount of protein. One study recommends between .5 and .65 grams of protein per pound of body weight.4
Protein For People Trying to Lose Weight
On the other hand, many people maintain an active lifestyle because they want to control their weight and/or shed some unwanted pounds. You might assume that weight loss regimens require a reduction in protein intake… but you’d be wrong.
That’s because consuming protein actually increases your metabolic rate, which helps you to burn calories faster. Moreover, protein helps you to feel fuller, and thus reduces your appetite, which can also aid in weight loss.5
Based on the most recent research, allocating between 25 to 30 percent of your daily caloric intake to protein consumption can help facilitate weight loss and lessen the chances that you’ll make poor dietary choices.6,7
Protein For Senior Citizens
Your age is also a factor in how much protein you should eat.
Research suggests that elderly individuals should increase the amount of protein in their diet to a ratio of .45 to .54 grams per pound of body weight.
While those suffering from a chronic or acute illness should raise that proportion even higher, to between .54 and .68 grams per pound.
Increased protein intake may help combat age-related conditions like a reduction in bone density (osteoporosis) or muscle mass (sarcopenia).8
Where to Find Protein Naturally
The simplest way to increase the amount of protein you’re getting is to incorporate more protein-heavy foods into your diet.
The most common source is the animal protein found in most meats, such as beef, chicken, turkey, pork, and bacon (though you should monitor the fat content in the meat you choose).
It also means eating more fish, eggs, and dairy products.
For people who have embraced a vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based food lifestyle, finding protein can be a bit more challenging.
A popular path to protein, in this case, is the family of soy-based foods like tofu, tempeh, soybeans, edamame, and soy-based veggie burgers. Other natural sources include quinoa, beans, lentils, whole grains, and nuts.
Are Protein Supplements For You?
Finally, for people who require more protein than they can get from foods or beverages, there are plenty of protein supplement products available.
These supplements tend to be available in powdered form (from which you can create protein shakes), protein bars, tablets or capsules. Some of the most common protein supplements are soy, whey, and casein.
You can try protein supplements on a temporary basis. If you’re weight training, for example, or if you’ve started a rigorous new fitness regimen, you might consider supplementing your protein intake with a supplement.
Though there isn’t any hard evidence that suggests consuming too much protein is unhealthy or dangerous, there is a certain level of diminishing returns the higher your protein intake rises.
And if you have any concerns about increasing your protein levels – especially if it’s in conjunction with a new exercise program – then you may want to speak to your physician.
But overall, giving your body more protein can help your body get stronger and operate more efficiently.
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