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About Protein

About protein
What is protein?

Protein is what your body needs to repair and build itself. Without protein we wouldn’t be able to live, it is in every cell of our body and is required for us to not only grow and develop when younger, but to also repair and replace all our cells within our body on a daily basis throughout our lives.

Protein isn’t stored by the body, so in order to keep a constant supply of amino acids available to the body (what’s called positive nitrogen balance), you will need to eat it daily and preferably eat some with each of your meals during the day.

There are 22 amino acids in protein and possibly more to be found yet (only 21 of those found can be used by humans). The amino acids can create different combinations and structures depending on the body’s requirements.

Nine of these amino acids are called essential amino acids and need to be consumed via food in order for them to be available for use by the body. The other 12 non essential amino acids can be made by your body.

Essential amino acids

The essential amino acids are: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan and Valine.

Non essential amino acids

The non-essential amino acids are: Alanine, Arginine, Aspartic acid, Cysteine, Glutamic acid, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine, Tyrosine, Asparagine, Selenocysteine, Pyrrolysine (Pyrrolysine cannot be used by humans).

Dietary Protein

Protein exists in many foods, most animal sourced protein is considered complete protein i.e. they contain all nine of the essential amino acids, while most plant sourced protein are considered to be incomplete due to the fact they are missing one or more of the essential amino acids. Of course you can combine several plant foods to make complete protein meals, handy if you are a vegetarian, however one thing to note is that more recent research has suggested that you can supply the various amino acids at different stages of a day and still benefit from a complete protein rich diet. Protein can also help in fat loss, as it has a high thermic effect when eaten, i.e. it uses a good deal of energy to digest and consume its nutrients and also helps with keeping you fuller for longer.

So how much protein do I need?

Well as this website is for people who are looking to get healthy and likely to be following a workout program then I would suggest anywhere between .5 of a gram to 1 gram per pound of lean body mass (this is your weight less your body fat which includes skin, organs, bones, muscle and water). Therefore if you are 200lbs and have 25% body fat, you have a LBM of 150lbs and will look to get between 75-150 grams of protein. Most people will get away with being on the lower end to be honest. There isn’t a magic formula here and it doesn’t need to be precise just eat well and get enough protein, but you don’t need huge amounts like most experts might suggest.

A shortfall in any of the amino acids that the body needs will make the body use existing tissue to create the missing one for its processes. As the body stores only a small amount of the amino acid consumed, you need to supply your body with it regularly. If you didn’t know it your body (organs, skeleton etc) are constantly being rebuilt.

As a percentage of your nutrition plan, look at around 20-40% of your plan as being protein – but again you need to adjust this based on your weekly or monthly results towards what ever goal you have set yourself. This may seem high to some people, but remember you are not on a diet and you should be looking to increase your muscle mass in place of fat storage, more muscle equals more calories burned through a higher metabolic rate, plus a slightly higher than moderate protein intake will help keep you more full than a high carbohydrate meal, as it takes longer to digest.

Can I eat too much protein?

Yes you can. I don’t really recommend more than 1 gram per lb and quite often much less. The potential side effects of high protein diets include kidney stone formation and gout, so if you have any kidney issues take care. Otherwise if you are eating good quality protein and or low fat meats adjusted to your needs, there shouldn’t be any issues. Do however drink plenty of water (a glass every couple of hours should be enough) to help clear the kidneys of any increase in blood urea nitrogen levels, although this is unlikely to happen at the quantities suggested above. Most problems with high protein diets are a result of eating fat laden protein foods, mostly from processed meats. As mentioned above most people should look to take in roughly around 20-40% of their calories from protein, although calorie counting isn’t important, this is just a very rough idea of the percentage of this macro against your total nutrition plan.

For your information: There are 4 calories per gram of protein.

Good sources of protein include:

  • Chicken/Turkey (eat mostly breast fillets, certainly leave out the skin and watch out for poultry where it has had added salt to it).
  • Lean Red Meat (grass fed animals are best, top or bottom round steak, ground beef, pork chops – skip the fatty meats and processed meats as they contain too much saturated fat and other nonsense).
  • Seafood (tuna, mackerel, halibut, salmon, sardines, cod, various shellfish – 2-3 servings per week, but watch portion sizes due to the potential high mercury content, the fats contained in fish is omega 3 and good for you too).
  • Eggs (if you eat a lot of eggs, eat a max of 2 yolks a day).
  • Milk (goat, but watch for high saturated fat content, organic non pasteurized cow milk – watch for total carbohydrate content and lactose intolerance – see the carbohydrates article about lactose).
  • Cheese (cottage cheese, quark, swiss cheese, as above for milk).
  • Yogurt (non fruit type best, as lots of sugar can be added to create the fruit flavour, try natural and Greek yogurt, as above for milk).
  • Vegetables (Spinach, artichokes, peas, kale, broccoli, Asparagus).
  • Beans (lupini, broad, soy, pinto, black, red).
  • Quinoa and quorn.
  • Nuts and seeds (various).
  • Protein powders (see supplements article).

Finally, I would like to add that no one should shy away from a plant only based diet where protein is concerned. There are many professional athletes who do well on them and in fact also get a boost in energy. More recent research has also shown that there could be negative health issues with those that eat a meat based diet.

Return to the nutrition plan main page.