Growing up, my mom was always talking about protein. “Make sure to eat your cheese so you can get protein”, “Eat up to get nice and strong”. For most of my adolescence I subsisted on cheese, bread, pasta, rice, vegetables, fruit and juice. I never had a taste for meat which no doubt left my mom concerned about how much protein I was getting. Don’t worry, I ate enough cheese to end up OK.
So what’s the deal with protein & why is it so important?
- It provides structural support to body cells and tissues. Protein helps build muscle as well as connective tissues in the body.
- It helps maintain fluid balance between our cells and the rest of our body. Without proper balance of fluids in and out of cells, we would be susceptible to excessive swelling among other issues.
- It helps maintain the proper acid-base balance in our bodies. Thanks’ to a complicated process involving protein, our blood maintains a slightly basic PH.
- It aids in the formation of many important hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters.
- Antibodies which play a key role in our immune system response are in fact proteins. Without these proteins we would not be able to fight of disease.
- It helps ensure that nutrients are transported in the bloodstream to cells and areas to be used. For example, the protein hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs into cells for use.
- It serves as a back up reserve of glucose (the body’s main source of energy) when there is not enough carbohydrates being supplied in the diet.
Pretty important right?
Protein is such an essential part of being human, so why all the fuss all of a sudden? Why the huge surge of panic of not getting enough protein that has everyone running for the protein powder?
If you ask me, it’s brilliant marketing on behalf of the industry. Almost everyone I know now believes that having a protein smoothie every day is part of a healthy diet. I won’t get into the quality and discussion around protein powders today, but what I will say is that there is almost NO need for added protein for most average people. Most of us, especially those who eat meat, get plenty of protein that their body needs on a daily basis. So why add more?
How much protein does one need?
Years of scientific studies have translated into a general recommendation for healthy adults to get 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight each day. More protein is required if you are pregnant, suffering from trauma, or exercising excessively. But for most of us, this is a great rule. This translates into roughly 55-65 grams for adult men and 45-55 grams for adult women each day. Sound’s like a lot? Well it really isn’t.
If you’re eating an array of meat, dairy, grains, nuts, and legumes on a daily basis, you are getting more than enough protein from real food sources (the best way!).
Here are a few sample menus to give you an idea:
- 1 cup oats with berries (10g)
- ½ cup almonds (15g)
- ½ cup milk (4g)
- 1 chicken breast (20g)
- Steamed veggies (2g)
- ½ cup brown rice (3g)
- Peanut butter toast (12g)
- ½ cup yogurt with berries (6g)
- Green salad with
- ½ cup chickpeas (8g)
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds (7g)
Total Protein: 87 grams
- 2 scrambled eggs (12g)
- 1 slice toast (4g)
- 1 sausage (9g)
- Salad with:
- ½ chicken breast (10g)
- ½ cup nuts/seeds (12g)
- Cheese & crackers (10g)
- Fruit (0g)
- Spaghetti with ground beef (23g)
Total Protein: 80 grams
- 1 cup granola with fruit (10g)
- ½ cup seeds/nuts (12g)
- ½ cup yogurt (6g)
- Chicken stir fry:
- ½ chicken breast (10g)
- 1 cup white rice (4g)
- Hard boiled egg and vegetables (6g)
- Small piece of dark chocolate (2g)
- Alfredo pasta
- 1 cup pasta (8g)
- ½ cup peas (4g)
- Tomatoes & broccoli (0g)
Total Protein: 62 grams
As you can see above, it’s not uncommon or difficult to obtain more than enough protein each day by eating a variety of whole foods. The sample menus here are only highlighting protein containing foods and are not my recommendations for a complete healthy meal. Of course there should be much more vegetables listed here, but since they don’t contain much protein I’ve left them out just for comparison sake.
So I’ll ask again, why the panic of not getting enough protein? Look how well of a job those big companies have done at convincing you that you are somehow deficient in this essential nutrient. I encourage you to use this cheat sheet of most common foods and do a quick analysis of your own diet. How much protein do you get in one day? Do you need to add more? And should it come from a highly processed product such as protein powder? Maybe not.
My goal here is to get your wheels turning and start thinking about what is being sold to you and if in fact you actually need it. Sure, i’ll acknowledge that there is a place and time that protein powder can be really beneficial like if you are racing out the door and don’t have time to make lunch, or you’re training for a big event or trying to build some serious muscle. But most of us don’t need it, and definitely not on a daily basis. Whole foods are the best way to obtain what your body needs on a daily basis, and lucky for you they are abundant and accessible.
A note on excess protein is necessary here. This fad of “protein, protein, protein” has more often than not caused people to essentially “overdose” on protein. As with anything in life, too much of a good thing can cause problems. Protein is no different. Obtaining an excess amount of protein in your diet can cause a lot of stress on your kidney’s and liver as they attempt to deal with the increased amount of nutrient. Their processing abilities can become inhibited and exhausted. An excess amount of protein in the body, also requires an amazing amount of water to break down and use. Dehydration and lack of fluids can result from consuming too much protein. Often, too much protein causes digestive distress as your system and its enzymes are not equipped to deal with such large amounts of this complex nutrient.
In conclusion, you are probably not protein deficient AND you may actually be causing your body harm by consuming an excess of protein. It’s up to you now, to make sure you are obtaining the right amount of this precious nutrient for your body.
I challenge you this week to do a quick analysis of your protein needs as well as what you normally receive in one day. I think you will be very surprised.
Love & Strength,
P.s. Come on over to my amazing Facebook community and share your thoughts and ideas on this topic. I’d love to hear from you!