Understanding protein needs

Some of the most-asked questions I get regarding nutrition involve our protein needs.  Before we dig into the details, let’s revisit the basics: Proteins are the main building blocks of our bodies, used to make muscles, tendons, organs and skin, as well as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and various tiny molecules that serve many important functions.

Most active adults’ diets should aim to consist of 25–30% protein, depending on their total daily caloric goals. This amount has been shown to boost metabolism by up to 80–100 calories per day compared to lower-protein diets, which leads to an extra pound lost every 35-40 days. Essentially, you want to make sure that all your meals and snacks have about 10-20g of protein. This will help to ensure that you feel satisfied and thus take in fewer calories, it will increase your metabolism, and it even plays an important role in regulating hormones. 

If you are working out on a regular basis, it is important to remember that you want to consume approximately 20g of protein about 40 minutes before your workout session. You also want to follow up your workout with another 20-30g of protein.  This dose effectively stimulates muscle protein synthesis—the process that helps promote muscle repair and growth after exercise. 

Here is a basic breakdown of some of the top protein sources you can use to fuel your body:

Lean red meatchoices are a great source of protein, offering about 23 grams of complete protein per three ounce serving.

Lentils contain about 13 grams of protein in each quarter-cup dried serving, which makes about one-half cup of lentils.

Peanut butter offers almost 10 grams of complete protein in a standard two-tablespoon serving. Peanut butter is high in fat calories, with some of the calories coming from healthy fats.

Tofu offers more than 10 grams of quality protein per standard three-ounce serving.

A one-cup serving of quinoa contains about 8 grams of protein and just about 200 calories, which tends to make you feel fuller, faster.

A one-cup serving of garbanzo beans contains close to 40 grams of complete protein.

Fish is one of the richest sources of protein content, with a standard three-ounce filet of salmon or tuna offering about 22 grams with each serving.

Notoriously high in cholesterol, eggs contain healthy fats and about 6 grams of protein per large egg. 

Egg whites, however, boast 26.5 grams per one-cup serving and contain zero cholesterol.

Greek yogurt can contain over 20 grams of protein per serving.  

Protein Powder usually contains about 20-35g of protein per serving.  There are a variety of protein powders out there (whey, casein, egg white protein, soy, hemp, pea, etc). There are various options for almost any sort of food allergy, so do your research and pick the one that works best for you!  

Something to think about as you start increasing your protein needs is the fact that you need to watch your cholesterol levels.  If you use an app like “myfitnesspal” you can track your macro nutrients (protein, carbs, fats) along with macronutrientsand make sure that you are hitting your macro goals and not going over your recommended cholesterol levels (less than 300mg/day). 

Can you eat too much protein?  The answer is YES! Essentially, your kidneys work to remove excess protein from your body. Eating too much protein can lead to kidney damage and even contribute to renal failure in some cases. Additionally, high dietary protein levels cause your body to excrete more calcium, which can contribute to osteoporosis.

Whether your goal is to increase energy, lose weight, gain muscle, or simply feed yourself (and your family) more healthfully, consuming the right amount of protein is key. For long days spent running from working out to work to family time, your body—and your brain—is constantly in motion. You need protein to keep moving.

Here’s a helpful link to some great protein-packed meals that will help you reach your daily goals: protein recipes

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me via my Facebook or Instagram page, “Desert Athlete”.