Why Is Protein Important? (The Answer May Surprise You!)
So you’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle. You’re going to the gym, eating more fruit and veggies, and spending time outdoors. You’ve heard about the importance of eating enough protein, but you’re wondering, why is protein important?
A few years ago when I got serious about my health, I had a lot of questions. What is protein? How do I know how much to eat? Why do I need to eat it? And what foods have protein? Thankfully, I did the research, so you don’t have to. Keep reading to find the answers to these questions, and more.
What Is Protein Anyway?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients that our bodies need to function properly. Any healthy diet will include a balance of these three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
Scientifically speaking, proteins are chains of 20 different amino acids that form the building blocks of every single cell in our bodies. Of these 20 amino acids, 8 are the essential amino acids. Our body cannot create them so we must consume them in our diets.
Protein is the basis for muscles, bones, cartilage, skin and blood. But did you know that proteins also make up your hair, nails, enzymes, hormones, and even the different chemicals inside the body?
Unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body does not store extra protein. If you consume more protein than you need, the body will either store it as fat or eliminate it. So it is important that we eat the right amount of protein each day, as there are risks associated with a high protein diet.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Different people need different amounts of protein. Depending on your body weight, age, gender, level of activity, and if you have certain health conditions, your protein requirement will change. But don’t fret, there are a few rules of thumb we all can follow to make sure we get the right amount of protein in our diets.
As a general rule, according to the USDA, adult men should aim to consume around 56 grams of protein each day, while women should aim for 46 grams. Get more specific guidelines here.
How (and when!) to Eat Protein
Whether your goal is to lose weight, maintain your weight, gain muscle mass, or just live an overall healthier lifestyle, there are some easy guidelines to follow to consume protein in a healthy, balanced way.
Eating enough protein throughout the day can improve recovery after exercise, reduce muscle loss, build lean muscle and help maintain a healthy weight. It is also important to make sure you are eating a diverse variety of protein sources to avoid deficiency.
Protein deficiency can lead to memory loss, lowered concentration, fatigue, loss of muscle mass, reduced immunity, mood swings, unstable blood sugar, pain in the joints or bones, and trouble maintaining or losing weight.
The best idea is to eat a small amount of protein with every meal and snack throughout the day. This keeps your blood sugar steady, keeps you full, and supports your metabolism.
If you love exercise nutrition, there are strategic ways to eat protein before and after a workout as well. Best advice is if you’re looking to build muscle, try fast absorbing protein before a workout, such as whey protein, and make sure to get protein and carbs afterward.
The Best Sources of Proteins
Most of the foods that we eat have some form of protein, even fruits and vegetables. To get the most out of the protein in your diet, it is important to eat high-quality proteins from a wide variety of sources.
For meat eaters, choose from quality products like grass-fed beef, sustainably sourced fish, and humanely grown chicken and eggs. If these products are outside of your budget, consider eating more affordable, and sustainable, vegetarian products.
Processed meats like hot dogs or deli meats have been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and even colorectal cancer. Lower quality or mass-produced meats have less nutritional value due to the diet of the animals.
For vegans, vegetarians, or people looking to have better overall health and a sustainable way of life, there are a wide variety of plant-based proteins available. Plant-based proteins are not complete proteins, meaning they do not provide all 8 essential amino acids in one source, so be sure to eat a variety.
Plant based proteins include beans and other legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. For quick ideas, check out this video on a high protein vegetarian meals:
The Protein Wrap Up
Protein is a vital macronutrient that should make up a part of each meal of your day. Quality proteins help keep your body running well, boosts your metabolism and keeps you feeling full and happy throughout the day.
Make sure you choose healthy and sustainable protein sources, whether from animal products or plant-based sources and eat enough protein to support your level of activity. Or cheap protein powder is also a smart choice, it is fast and convenient. Eating protein doesn’t need to be complicated, just pay attention and lovingly provide what your body needs to thrive.
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