There are so many facts about protein to share because it's such an important macronutrient (macro). However, there are common misunderstandings about protein like how much to eat, will it make me bulky, etc.!
Facts About Protein
Protein is an essential nutrient, meaning we must consume it in our diet (our bodies can't make it themselves). Protein has many functions, including rebuilding and repairing muscle, promoting satiety, being an integral component of hair, skin and nails, as well as enzymes and tissues. As you can see, protein wears many hats and is necessary for optimal functioning!
What is protein?
There are 20 amino acids, which are the building blocks that make up what we know as protein. Eleven of these amino acids are essential, meaning we cannot synthesize them ourselves and must consume them through food. I'll get more into this in the next section! If you've ever heard of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), these are essential amino acids that may help with muscle protein synthesis (if you want to know more about BCAAs or supplements in general, let me know in the comments!).
Food sources of protein
Protein is found in a lot of foods, including:
- Meat & poultry (chicken, beef, turkey, pork, deli meats, jerky, etc.)
- Fish & seafood (salmon, tuna, shrimp, lobster, scallops, cod, etc.)
- Dairy (cow's milk, Greek yogurt, eggs, cheese)
- Soy products (tofu, soy milk, edamame)
- Beans (lentils, chickpeas, black beans, etc.)
- Nuts & seeds (peanuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, almond butter, etc.)
- Grains (oats, quinoa, freekeh, wheat, etc.)
While protein is found in many different foods, the quality of the protein will vary. Keep reading for more info on this!
Complete vs. Incomplete Protein
Complete proteins are found mostly in animal products, with a few exceptions like soy products and quinoa. Incomplete proteins are found in plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, nuts/seeds, etc. However, combining incomplete proteins can create a complete protein. For example, consuming beans and rice together will result in a complete protein because the amino acid profiles compliment each other in a way that creates a complete protein amino acid profile.
How much protein do I need a day?
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends 10-35% of your caloric intake come from protein. I recommend anywhere from 0.5-1g/lb body weight, depending on your body composition/fitness goals, activity levels, weight, etc. Our bodies can only absorb so much protein in one sitting so it's best to evenly spread out your protein intake over the course of the day. We can absorb about 0.18-0.25g protein per pound of body weight. These are facts about protein that generally unknown, causing people to over- or under-consume! Note: everyone has different needs and this is not a specific recommendation, more a general guideline.
The size of your palm roughly equates to 3-4oz of protein, which is ~15-20g of protein. Using the equation in the paragraph above, you can determine how many ounces of protein you would need per meal based on how much you can absorb in one sitting.
Example: Let's say you weigh 160lbs. Your goal is to consume 160g of protein each day. Considering the max amount of protein you can absorb in one sitting (0.25g/lb), you would need about 40g of protein per sitting. Since your total goal is 160g, this would need to be divided into 4 feedings (of 40g each). Each feeding, which is 40g, would need to include 6-8oz of protein (since 3-4oz is 15-20g).
Final Facts About Protein
One final thing I recommend to consider when picking your protein choices is the other nutrients that might come with that protein source. For example, a big steak will have ample protein, but it will also come with some saturated fat, which we want to limit as much as possible. On the flip side, a piece of salmon or tuna will provide protein as well as omega 3 fats, which I talk more about in this post! In addition to fat, some proteins will also contain carbohydrates (learn all about carbs in this post!). These include beans, lentils, and chickpeas, which are all great but something to be aware of.
Overall, protein is an essential macronutrient and amino acids are found in so many foods. I recommend you include a source of protein at every meal and snack!