Protein is an essential macronutrient. This means we need it in relatively large quantities (grams as opposed to micrograms) and it can only be obtained from food.
What is Protein?
Proteins are large molecules found in humans, animals and plants – all living things. They are made up of chains of small molecules known as amino acids.
When you consume large protein molecules and your digestive tract is working efficiently, stomach acid along with digestive enzymes in your gut break them down into smaller chains (peptides) and eventually into individual amino acids.
The digested proteins are then utilized by your gut bacteria and are absorbed through lining of your small intestine into your bloodstream. These amino acids are then shuttled throughout the body to create new proteins.
You already know the amino acids are used to build and strengthen your muscles, but they are responsible for so much more:
· Proteins are what allow you to move.
· Proteins provide structural support within your cells.
· Proteins are responsible for transporting molecules within the cell as well as throughout the body.
· Proteins act as messengers, such as certain hormones, and send important signals to other cells and tissues.
· Proteins act as antibodies, which are a big part of your immune system. Essentially, they’re responsible for attacking and neutralizing foreign invaders.
· Proteins act as enzymes, which are the catalysts for the thousands of biochemical reactions that take place within your cells. This includes energy production.
Proteins are clearly vital and without them the body would not be functioning at all! Remember, protein needs to be obtained from the diet. Thus, a lack of protein in your diet can lead to numerous problems, including loss of muscle, fatigue, stunted growth, and weakened immunity among MANY other things.
Recommended Amount of Daily Protein
The goal is to eat enough protein to build muscle, prevent muscle loss, and ensure your body has enough left over to perform all the other functions mentioned above.
This amount varies from person to person. It depends on several factors, including your activity level, health goals, and age.
In general, 60 grams to 100 grams of protein per day will cover most people. This equates to approximately 30% of your total caloric daily intake.
For example, if you’re eating a reduced calorie diet (approximately 1500 calories) and you’re moderately active, then 60 grams of protein is probably sufficient.
Alternately, if you are at your ideal weight and exercising frequently at high intensities, you may need 100 grams or more a day.
Here are a few reference points:
· 4 oz chicken breast = 35 grams of protein
· 4 oz salmon fillet = 23 grams of protein
· 1 scoop collagen powder = 10 grams of protein
If you consumed these three things in one day, this would be 68 grams of protein.
There is much debate as to how much protein your body can absorb and utilize at once. Essentially, this is more applicable when body building. Studies have found that the muscle boosting effects of consuming protein after a workout maxes out at about 30 grams. This means a protein shake with 50 grams is doing nothing more for your muscles than a 30-gram shake.
The protein not being used for building muscle can be used for all the other functions discussed earlier. Excess can also be converted into glucose and used to make energy in a process known as gluconeogenesis.
If your body is unable to quickly burn the glucose created, it can then be converted into fat. Sadly, it does not get converted back into protein.
I recommend spacing out your protein in even proportions the best you can. To keep your metabolism running high, to keep your blood sugar balanced, and to keep you full and satisfied.
Gut Health & Protein Digestion
The health of your gut plays such an important role in how well your body is able to digest and absorb nutrients. When it comes to protein, your body needs an adequate supply of stomach acid as well as several other digestive enzymes and a healthy population of gut bacteria to effectively and efficiently break proteins down into amino acids.
Deficiencies result in protein remaining undigested in the gut. This can cause digestive distress and damage to the lining of your digestive tract. Large protein particles may then be able to ‘leak’ into your bloodstream, triggering inflammation.
This is one of the reasons why I recommend bone broth and hydrolyzed collagen so much. Both are great sources of highly digestible and easily absorbable protein as well as a great source of glycine and proline (amino acids) that help repair the lining of your digestive tract.
Slowing down to eat and thoroughly chewing your food is also incredibly important. Chewing not only breaks the protein down into smaller pieces, but it also acts a signal to get your digestive juices flowing.
Protein & Aging
As you age, the ability for your body to process protein naturally declines.
Furthermore, without adequate nutrition and movement, your body naturally begins to lose skeletal muscle. This is known as sarcopenia which is one of the leading causes of immobility among seniors.
As you age, your protein needs may increase.
Protein & Weight Loss
You are aware that consuming adequate amount of protein is necessary to build new muscle. The more muscle you have, the more fat you burn. Muscle tissue is very active and requires more energy than less active tissues, such as your skin.
When you are losing weight by eating less and moving your body more, you also have the potential to burn muscle tissue. This is not good! Consuming enough protein, especially during weight loss, is essential to maintaining your lean muscle mass.
There are other ways in which eating protein can support your weight loss efforts:
· Protein requires more energy to digest than carbohydrates and fat. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF). This means you burn more calories (15 – 20% more) by eating a serving (4 oz) of chicken versus a helping of pasta.
· Protein generally does not cause sharp spikes in your blood sugar and insulin. Maintaining optimal levels of blood sugar and insulin is an important component of weight loss, weight management, and type 2 diabetes prevention.
· Protein is satisfying and keeps you feeling full long after your meal. Eat protein and you are less likely to overeat or snack between meals.
Several studies have actually shown that when dietary protein levels are increased, fewer calories are consumed.
In this study, participants quickly experienced an increase in fullness and a decrease in calorie intake after their protein intake was raised by 15% of their current diet.
Another study concluded that a higher protein diet led to an increase in fullness during the day. It also reduced late-night cravings as well as helped keep the participants’ minds off of food. This was despite how many meals the participants ate per day. Another ding against the 6 meal a day myth!
Is there such a thing as too much protein?
Protein is essential. You need to eat an adequate amount of protein. You also need room for lots of colorful veggies and healthy fats in your diet. It is important not to crowd out these other important food groups by eating too much protein.
While going over occasionally is not harmful, eating too much protein can become a problem for those with poor kidney function. Excess protein is also converted to glucose and can be stored as fat!
In addition, your body requires water to digest protein. Which means eating too much protein without increasing your intake of fluids could lead to dehydration. Dehydration brings with it a whole host of other problems.
Eating meats from unhealthy, factory-farmed animals is not doing your body any good. These meats are inflammatory and could possibly contain growth hormones, antibiotics, and other harmful additives.
Eat meats from healthy, pasture-raised animals. This means animals free to roam outdoors with lots of space and fed their natural diet free from pesticides. This is true for fish as well. You will get the biggest bang for your buck with wild cold-water fish, such as Alaskan salmon.
· Protein is an essential macronutrient that we must obtain from food.
· Eating adequate amounts is important to maintain good health as well as lose weight.
· How much protein your body needs depends on several factors, including your activity level, health goals, and age.
· The best sources of protein come from healthy, pasture-raised animals and wild fish.
Be sure to include high quality sources of protein in your diet. There is no need to overdo it. Three to four ounces of chicken, steak, or fish is typically all you need at any given time. Your meals should most often include a combination of protein, fibrous plants (above the ground vegetables), and healthy fats for optimal health and a trim waistline.