“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”
My last two posts covered Carbohydrates and Fat. In my opinion, I have saved the best for last! In recent years, so much of the focus, whether positive or negative, has been on carbs and fat. Protein has mostly flown under the radar with a day or two of fame, popping up here and there. Protein, like the other macronutrients, is essential to the human body. Protein makes up 15-20% of the human body, which is more than any other nutrient. Making sure you are getting enough in your diet will help you move towards your goal of a healthy life.
What is Protein?
Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids. There are 9 amino acids essential to the human body, which means we can only get them from food. Other amino acids are made in the body when needed. Different proteins are made up of a different sequence of amino acids. The amino acids in an egg are not the same as the amino acids in beans. Amino acids are what make up a lot of the tissue in our bodies; they are involved in many of the body’s reactions. Amino acids are linked to the following positive results:
- Healthy Skin
- Athletic Performance
- Fat Loss (more research needs to be done on this particular result, recent studies have shown that certain amino acids aid in the usage of fat as fuel ,rather than storage, and others have a positive affect on some of the hormones associated with weight retention)
Complete and Incomplete Proteins
Not all proteins are the same. Proteins that come from animal sources are known as complete proteins because they have all the essential amino acids our body needs. Most proteins that come from plant sources are known as incomplete proteins because they only have some of the amino acids we need. Combining some incomplete proteins together can ensure you are getting the necessary amino acids. For years, it was believed that you needed to eat them at the same time to ensure you got all the amino acids. Recently, dieticians have claimed that as long as all the amino acids are eaten in the same day the body will get what it needs. Many people still like to consume a complete protein at every meal. There are a few plant options for complete proteins such as buckwheat, quinoa, and soy. If you are looking for more protein variety without eating more meat, here are a few combinations that make up a complete protein.
- Hummus and Pita
- Beans and Rice
- Crackers and Peanut butter
Protein and Muscle
Protein is necessary for the body to build muscle. When we exercise, we break down muscle. Amino acids are part of the repair crew that not only repairs the damaged muscle, but also strengthen it. They also help to repair other tissues. When we have a cut, amino acids are needed to help rebuild the damaged area. Athletes need more protein than the average person does because they are breaking down more muscle than the average human. They also have more muscle to maintain, which requires even more amino acids.
Protein and Blood Sugar
Unlike carbohydrates, protein does not cause a significant rise in blood sugar. It helps maintain blood sugar. Replacing some of your carbohydrates with protein can have a positive effect on your blood sugar. Pairing proteins with carbohydrates can also help maintain blood sugar levels so that less insulin is needed, and less fat is stored.
How Much Protein Should I Eat
The Dietary Reference Intake suggests 0.8g of protein per kg of body fat. This averages out to about 50g per day for the average person. Personally, I believe that many of us need more than the recommendation. If you have an active job, like to workout, or have a lot of muscle mass, then your protein requirements are going to be higher. A good starting point is to include a significant source of protein with each meal. Like anything, balance is key. This is not permission for you to eat a 10oz steak at every meal. In North America, most of our meals are carb-centered, which causes protein to become an afterthought. Depending on your size, and the other factors I mentioned, try to include 3-4 portions of protein in your daily meal planning. Your body will thank you.
Eat your veggies,