Trying to figure out what you’re supposed to eat, is like trying to hit a moving target. It’s changing all the time, and it feels like everyone has a different definition of what’s healthy or what’s not. The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that a healthy and balanced diet should include protein, but the agreement stops there.
You’ve likely heard of protein, and you probably already knew that you needed it. But aside from that, everything else can be a mystery - like how much you need, what the differences are between supplements, and if you even need a supplement to begin with. Here are 12 things everyone should know about protein!
So, what is protein?
Protein is a macronutrient, similar to fat or carbohydrates, that the body needs for energy and to build muscle. Protein is composed of essential, nonessential, and conditional amino acids. Essential amino acids are those that can’t be produced by the body, which is why we have to get protein from the food we eat.
Where can I get protein?
Protein is found in high quantities in animal products like meat, eggs, and milk, but is also found in legumes, nuts, seeds, leafy greens and other vegetables, and whole grains. Protein is in most foods, even if it’s only a small amount. There are even a lot of unexpected foods you can eat to sneak some more protein into your diet.
What are the recommended amounts?
The recommended intake of protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight and 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Alyssa Ardolino, registered dietitian (RD) and nutrition communications coordinator at the International Food Information Council (IFIC), said that number is just a recommendation and not a set rule. "Use this as a general guideline for the minimum amount of protein you need based on your body weight. If you are more active, pregnant, or elderly, you may require closer to 1-1.2g/pound of protein." Work with your doctor to come up with the right goal for you based on your age, weight, activity level, and any other factors.
What does protein have to do with working out?
Protein is often associated with exercise and active lifestyles. That’s because it’s critical to muscle growth and repair. When you work out, you’re basically creating tears in your muscles that need to be rebuilt, which is one of the reasons you’re so sore the next day. When you’re lifting weights or doing any kind of strength training, they’re rebuilt bigger than they were before. Protein has a main role in that process. Protein provides the building blocks that help maintain and repair muscles, organs and other parts of the body.
That means those who work out often have to pay a lot of attention to how much protein they consume and when they consume it. Within 15-45 minutes of exercising, it’s best to eat a snack that contains both protein and carbohydrates, like eggs and toast or apples and peanut butter. Or, the most popular solution for this is protein shake!
What happens if I don’t have enough?
Protein deficiency has serious consequences, but luckily, there are many alternatives for you to ensure the proper amounts. A true protein deficiency is rare in developed countries, but signs of protein deficiency could be muscle wasting, bone fracture, brittle nails and hair, and stunted growth.
Those who follow strict vegetarian and vegan diets do need to be more mindful of getting enough protein from a variety of plant sources. Luckily, quinoa, soy, and many vegetables are excellent sources of plant-based protein, so a well-balanced diet should cover those recommended daily intakes.
What happens if I have too much?
On the other hand, it is also possible to get too much protein, and studies show that most of us are already getting more than the recommended amounts.
What's the difference between animal and plant-based protein?
Animal proteins like those from meat and eggs, along with plant proteins like those from soy, nuts, and vegetables are both important to a well-balanced diet and both have health benefits. But there are some differences. For example, animal protein tends to contain more saturated fat than protein from plants, which mostly contain unsaturated fat. There are various studies now coming out that certain plant foods can attribute just as much complete amino acid complexity. Select your protein accordingly and view the differences that suit your needs and the amount of protein your body requires. Each source has different levels of protein per serving.
What makes something a "complete protein”?
You may have heard some plant-based foods advertised as “complete proteins” while others are not. The implication is that complete proteins are somehow better, but most people probably don’t understand exactly why. The truth is, it has to do with the composition of the amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and nine of them are essential, which means we need to get them from our diets. A complete protein contains all nine essential amino acids.
Examples of complete proteins are eggs, dairy, meat, chia seeds, quinoa, and fish, while most other plant proteins are incomplete. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about always eating complete proteins or complementary foods at each meal, because your liver stores amino acids throughout the day. Essentially, if you eat an incomplete protein, the liver is able to make it complete with any excess amino acids from previous meals that day.
Why does protein give me gases?
A very unfortunate side effect of protein can be flatulence, and there may be a couple of reasons for that! The first is that there’s only so much protein that can be broken down in your small intestines, and if you consume more than that, it gets pushed down to your colon instead. There it’s broken down by microbes and an unpleasant gas is produced. Another reason may be a sensitivity to dairy if you’re consuming a lot of it or using a whey-based protein powder. The solution for this is switching to Natreve Wellness Protein Powders because both our Whey and Vegan Series contain our own special high-powered blend of Probiotics, which prevents you from having unwanted gas!