Hopefully you read about carbs in part one of this series. If not, you can check it out here. In part two of understanding macros, the focus is on protein. Protein performs many functions in the body and is essential to maintaining a healthy weight. Most of my clients are not getting enough. Read on to learn about the importance of protein and the minimal amount you should be aiming for in your diet.
Proteins are mainly comprised of 20 different building blocks known as amino acids that are linked together in long chains by amino bonds. Amino acids are comprised of three types: essential, non-essential, and conditionally essential. Essential amino acids cannot be produced in the body and must be provided through food. The nine essential amino acids are:
A complete protein is one that contains all nine essential amino acids. All animal proteins are complete proteins. An incomplete protein is lacking one or more essential amino acids. Most plant based proteins are incomplete proteins. Sometimes, certain combinations of incomplete proteins can make them a complete protein. Examples of these combinations include rice and beans, edamame and walnuts, or oatmeal with almonds.
Non-essential amino acids can be provided by food, however the body can also produce these on its own. Conditionally essential amino acids are normally non-essential, but they are supplied by the diet when the need for them exceeds the body’s ability to produce it.
Amino acids are required to enable protein to perform its many functions, which include:
- Growth and maintenance of skin, tendons, membranes, muscles, organs, and bones
- Repair of body tissues
- Hormone regulation
- Digestion support in the form of enzymes
- Fluid Balance
- Acid-base regulation
- Transportation of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, oxygen and lipids
- Formation of antibodies to fight infection
- An additional form of energy and glucose
Foods that contain protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, soy, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and certain grains. When choosing meat such as beef, pork, lamb or eggs, be selective. Look for products without antibiotics and where applicable, choose pastured / grass fed. Remember that whatever the animal consumed, we consume. Choose lean cuts so that you can eat an ample portion.
A serving size of protein is generally 3-4 ounces for women, slightly more for men, or about the size of the palm of your hand. At a minimum, individuals should consume 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. This is a general recommendation and can vary based upon an individual’s needs, goals and healthy history. For weight loss, I generally recommend a higher amount. It is important to know that while protein is beneficial for many reasons, consuming too much protein can be detrimental. For this reason, I don’t always recommend certain types of protein supplements that exceed safe amounts.
Why does it matter?
Protein performs many valuable functions within our body. In addition to helping us build muscle and fight off infections, protein works synergistically with carbs to extend the energy that carbs provide. About 3-4 hours worth. Protein also provides satiety. Simply put, incorporating protein at meals will keep you fuller longer and help to offset blood sugar crashes that occur when our diet is too high in carbohydrates. I recommend including protein at each meal and snack, and especially at breakfast. By starting your day with protein, you will avoid those early morning blood sugar spikes that often lead to fatigue, mood changes, brain fog, and cravings.
Protein can be essential in helping us to balance our plate and maintain a healthy weight. When choosing protein, choose a variety of high quality sources. Be aware of which combinations of plant based foods provide you with a complete protein. Include protein at each meal and snack, and combine it with a complex carb to provide energy longer.
Balancing carbs with protein will help utilize the energy they provide, but also extend it throughout the day to help keep you balanced. Adequate protein in the diet will also help to build muscle, keep your hormones balance, and support digestion.
Want to know your specific protein needs? Contact me here for a nutrition counseling session.
Mahan, K.L., & Escott-Stump, S. (2008). Krause’s food and nutrition therapy. St. LouisMissouri: Saunders Elsevier.
Murray, M. T., & Pizzorno, J. (2012). The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 3rd Edition. New York, New York: Atria paperback.
Rolfes, S. R., Pinna, K., & Whitney, E. (2009). Understanding normal and clinical nutrition, eighth edition. Belmont, California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.