I often get asked about protein or feel like I am talking about it or planning ways to incorporate it into meals all the time. How many ways can we get protein? How much do we need? Is it possible to eat too much protein? And WHY does it seem as if most women/ladies/girls are afraid of it?
These are important questions for most folks trying to follow healthy diets and especially for folks following a low carb way of eating, who usually are replacing part of their carbohydrate intake with protein.
To make it simple, protein is one of the basic building blocks of the human body. It makes up roughly 16 percent of our total body weight. Think about it, muscle, hair, skin, and connective tissue are mainly made up of protein. It also plays an important role in all the cells, enzymes, hormones and other cool stuff in our bodies. (I don't want to get too scientific here as I can hear the yawns). Let's just say that having protein is important. Our body uses up protein constantly so it's really important to replace it.
Here's another cool fact. Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. For whatever reason, we cannot make nine of the amino acids, so we have to make sure to include all of the amino acids in our diets. Animal proteins such as meat, eggs, and dairy products have all the amino acids, and then there are other plants that have them. So, we know we need protein to feed our muscles, fill us up, and replace the proteins we cannot produce on our own. That brings the next question.
Just how much do we need? Well, that is where it gets tricky. How much you need depends on your age, size and how active you are. There is a standard method nutritionists use to figure out the minimum daily requirement. This calls for multiplying your body weight by .37. That is the number of grams of protein you should get as your daily minimum. So, for example, a person weighing 150 lbs (150 x .37) should eat 55 grams of protein per day.
There is research that says that people who exercise at a higher level, say endurance exercise like long distance running or body builders, should get more protein.
You might also read articles that say you should get a range of 10 - 20 percent of your calories from protein each day. The percentage works as an estimate because, typically, a larger and more active person will need more calories - so they will get more protein. The problem with this is that if you are dieting or cutting your calories for any reason, you might be cutting out more protein than you should if your consumption is based on a percentage of your diet.
If we are not getting enough protein, our body will start to break down its muscle. Our body stores fat and glucose. It does not store protein. What about eating MORE protein than the minimum requirements? That's an important question for folks on low carb diets. The National Academy of Sciences reported that "the only known danger from high-protein diets is for individuals with kidney disease. They recommend that 10 percent to 35 percent of daily calories come from protein." Research also states that extra protein may also help prevent osteoporosis.
So, what do we do with this information? I always tell my classes to eat something with protein within 2 hours of their workout. Having a protein bar on hand helps if you aren't going right home to eat. If I don't do this I will not feel well later. So, I try to follow my own advice after working out. I am not a huge meat eater. In fact, I gave up red meat in January and haven't missed it a bit! The problem is that I make up for it in the amount of peanut butter I eat! I do know that eating protein will stick with you longer and keep you from feeling hungry. I make sure each morning that my boys have some form of protein in their breakfast. The other day they wanted waffles. I didn't want them to "crash and burn" from the carb/sugar combo so I put a scoop of protein powder in the mix. They were happy and full for quite a while!
There are so many ways to sneak in the protein. The main sources are meat, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes and nuts. I tend to throw beans into any type of soup or stew I cook, I love putting walnuts, sunflower seeds or almonds in my salads at lunch, protein powder in smoothies in the mornings, hummus and peanut butter on veggies or crackers make a great snacks, chocolate milk also does the trick as a snack or after a workout. Those are the staples in my house. They are all quick, easy and good.
So, come on ladies, don't be afraid of the protein!
What are your favorite ways to get protein?
Here's my "take out" protein for dinner tonight!
(Grilled Salmon on top of a bed of spinach with green apple and pear slices and walnuts - and plenty left over for lunch tomorrow!)