PROTEIN. It’s an essential macronutrient and paying attention to its source and amount is critical for balanced nutrition, weight loss, and optimal athletic performance. But with so much mixed information in the media today, its hard to know how much protein is necessary for YOU and how to fuel your diet to best accomplish your health goals. Read on to learn about harnessing the power or protein with information fueled by Kashi: Natural Learning!
What protein is and what it does
Proteins, along with fats and carbohydrates, are the macronutrients that form the basis of our diets. In our bodies proteins perform a range of duties, from building new cells to regulating metabolism to helping cells communicate. Proteins form antibodies to shuttle oxygen throughout the body in the form of hemoglobin, as well as build muscle.
Protein provides us with energy (calories). Like carbohydrates, protein contributes 4 calories per gram, versus 9 calories per gram in fats.
Amino acids, of which there are about twenty, are the LEGOs of proteins. Our DNA directs the body to join various combinations of amino acids in a variety of sequences and three-dimensional shapes for an arsenal of about 10,000 different body proteins, each serving a unique function. Our bodies can make about 11 of these amino acids, leaving 9 that we must get from food. These remaining 9 are called essential amino acids, since it is essential that we get them from our diet.
While our bodies can store fats and carbohydrates to draw on when needed, they cannot store amino acids. We need a fresh source each day in order to build the body proteins we need. If the body is missing a particular amino acid to form the protein it needs, it will pull that amino acid by breaking down existing muscle protein. If we consistently lack protein we lose muscle weight, energy and, eventually, fundamental functions.
Many foods contain protein in some form. Here are the main sources of dietary protein:
- Meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and fish are complete sources of protein because they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Some animal protein sources—most notably red meat and whole dairy products—can also be high in saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels. Learn more about lean sources of animal-based protein.
- Soy, often in the form of tofu, or soy milk, is a popular plant-based source of protein since it, like animal-based protein, contains all 9 essential amino.
- Nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and whole grains can be terrific sources of protein. One thing to keep in mind with plant sources of protein, is that not all plant proteins are equal. With the exception of soy and quinoa, plant foods don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids. But certain plant foods complement each other with their amino acid profiles. For example, beans tend to be low in one amino acid that grains have plenty of, so combining these foods forms a complete protein. Learn more about complete plant proteins and vegetarians and protein.
Protein and Weight maintainance:
Studies and experts have indicated that for many people, getting the right amount of protein in their diet may help promote weight loss and improve body composition. Here are a few ways protein promotes healthy weight maintainance:
- Protein promotes satiety: When we consume protein-rich foods, say lean poultry or low-fat yogurt, we tend to feel fuller than when we consume other types of nutrients. When you eat protein, it’s easier to consume fewer overall calories, which is one of the keys to losing weight. So consider adding a grilled chicken breast to your salad or low-fat cottage cheese to your breakfast. You may find you’re less likely to overeat later in the day.
- Protein helps keep blood sugar levels steady: The staying power of protein can help keep blood sugar levels from spiking too high or dipping too low. With less frequent blood sugar spikes, dieters are better able to control their appetites, and control what they put in their mouths. Most of us make better choices when our blood sugar is balanced!
- Protein plus exercise is a powerful one-two punch: Combining the higher protein diet with exercise creates more of an effect than exercise alone and can improve body composition during weight loss. It also helps reduce triacylglycerol levels and increases concentrations of HDL (good) cholesterol.
- Protein may minimize weight re-gain: A protein intake of 18% compared with 15% resulted in improved weight maintenance in overweight subjects after weight loss in a 2005 study. A second study in 2009 examined changes in weight and body composition after dieting, and found that a diet higher in protein more effectively reduced fat mass and improved body composition, and that these changes were sustained over time.
- Customize your diet to fit YOUR needs! When looking to lose or maintain weight, the best course of action is to seek a balanced regimen you’ll be able to sustain. This means not excluding key nutrients like healthy fats, complex carbs, or fiber-rich foods from your diet. It also means exercising more and eating less. Upping protein intake isn’t appropriate for everyone (particularly those with kidney problems), so its important to consult with your doctor before making dietary changes. Protein is simply one piece of a larger puzzle that may help you reach your weight and fitness goals.
Challenge of the Week: Calculate your personal protein needs!
How much protein YOU need depends on many factors, including age, gender, height, weight, activity level, and fitness goals. This week, I challenge you to figure out how much of this nutrient YOU need to feel and perform you best. To get a good estimate on your personal protein requirement, check out Kashi’s online PROTEIN CALCULATOR. This will provide you with a good idea of how much protein is right for YOU. For a more specific analysis, its best to work with a dietician like San Francisco’s diet guru JAE BERMAN.
I used Kashi’s calculator to figure out I need 86 grams of protein daily! Whats your number? What foods do you eat to fuel this requirement? I LOVE chicken, fish, and the Hodo Tofu sold at my favorite Whole Foods Market Franklin. I also like to waking up with my favorite oatmeal recipe…all the coconut toppings make me happy 🙂
Remember, you cant “out train” a bad diet. Eat the foods that POWER you up, make you feel good, and allow you to live your BEST life.
Thanks for being an amazing fitness family, hope to see you soon for another great class or training session. Till then…. move, breathe, and stay positive!
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