With the explosion of the supplement industry’s voice in the health and fitness community, protein has become the holy grail (like it was a secret) of putting on muscle and getting jacked (their words, not mine). However, with all the press, what exactly is it, why should we care, and why should we be eating more (or should we)?
Because of all the misinformation out there it’s difficult to understand what is true or conclusive about protein. To start here are some of the more important facts:
- Proteins are complex compounds that consists of polymers of L-amino acids and glycine linked via alpha-peptide bonds to form polypeptides, a.k.a protein (1).
- There are 20 different amino acids with 9 of them being essential: leucine, valine, isoleucine, histidine, lysine, methionine, threonine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine (1)
- Those nine essential amino acids are essential because our bodies either can’t synthesize them or synthesize them in adequate amounts for growth and repair (1)
- As complex compounds, proteins serve a role in just about everything, such as energy metabolism, hormones, enzymes, regulation of blood, transportation/storage of molecules, and cell growth and repair (3, 4, 5)
- Protein is found in every cell in your body and is the second most abundant source of matter in your body (behind only water) (2)
- Protein is one of the three macronutrients, next to lipids (fat) and carbohydrates, for us to live and be healthy (2)
- The current daily recommended intake (RDI) of protein is approximately 0.80g-1.00g per pound of body weight, or about 10-35% of total caloric intake (4, 6)
- Research is still inconclusive on how much we actually need, especially based on physical activity (6)
Now that we have the facts, where do we get protein?
We get protein from a variety of different sources. The most notable source is meat, such as beef, chicken, fish, etc., but also nuts and seeds, grains, legumes, and finally, fruits and vegetables. However, the only difference between meat and non-meat sources is density–meaning how many grams of protein per serving and the make-up of its amino acid profile. A piece of steak, for example, will give you tons and tons of more protein than a bowl of fruit. That’s obvious, but what if you’re vegetarian or vegan? Are you doomed?
Answer: probably not.
There has been great debate about whether or not you can get a complete source of protein (the nine essential amino acids) through a vegetarian, or even vegan diet. Research, of course, is still on-going, but the answer from my research suggests yes. The only caveat is that it will likely take a little more effort to do so because not all of vegetarian sources provide you with all the essential amino acids. Quinoa is one source that has all essential amino acids, but brown rice does not (click here for sources of complete protein). So, you’ll have to get creative in some instances.
Personally, however, I haven’t stopped eating meat, and don’t plan to. I respect someone’s decision to stay away, either for health or social reasons, but it’s a staple of my diet and probably will always be. For that reason, I usually stick to lean meats most of the time, such as poultry and fish, but I like a good steak in there every now and then (I go organic and wild caught when I can).
Regardless of where you get your protein from, however, just remember that if your eating a diverse and rich diet of many different types of foods then odds are you’re probably getting the right amount of protein and all your essential amino acids.
Of course, there’s many what if scenarios and that’s why you’ll have to tune in to Part II of my protein series and find out more!
Thanks for reading, please subscribe if not already, and comment down below. And, as always, be strong and be you!
- Watford, M. & Wu, G. (2011). Protein. Advances in Nutrition. Adv Nutr vol. 2: 62-63, 2011. doi: 10.3945/an.110.000091
- University of Arizona. Got Protein? Retrieved July 12, 2014 from https://www.health.arizona.edu/health_topics/nutrition/sports/protein.pdf
- Topness, Ellen. 6 Primary functions of protein. Healthy Eating. Retrieved July 12, 2014 from http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/6-primary-functions-proteins-5372.html
- What are proteins and what do they do? Genetics Home Reference. Retrieved July 12, 2014 from from http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/howgeneswork/protein
- Lauritzen, Georgia C. (1992). What is Protein? Utah State University. Retrieved July 12, 2014 from http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/FN_191.pdf
- Nutrition 121 Lecture by Karon Felton. Professor of Nutrition at the University of Nevada, Reno.