Proteins are made of amino acids bound together by a chemical bond. Amino acids are the “building blocks” of life. There is some confusion and misunderstanding out there about protein. In my opinion and experience, protein is the “King” of the macronutrients and in this post I will explain why.
Protein sources in our diet are comprised of eggs, beef, poultry and fish to name a few. The amino acids that make up protein are divided into two categories. There are 12 non-essential amino acids which our body can manufacture on its own. Then there are 8 essential amino acids we must obtain from our food. Proteins are needed by the body to produce enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and antibodies. Protein replaces cells that have died, support metabolism and immune function. They are also critical for the growth and repair of muscles. Protein is satiating hence aids in the control of our appetite and assists in the breakdown of fat for fuel. Take it from me, protein helps you to lose weight!
So how much should you eat? The amount needed is based on several factors. Since our body has limited capacity to store protein because of the constant turn over, a minimum amount is needed daily to prevent deficiency. A healthy, sedentary person needs 0.8 grams/kg/body weight per day. A person who trains regularly needs 1.0 grams/kg and an athlete or those who are training intensely need 1.5-2 grams/kg. Both during and after resistance exercise, for a short time, the body is breaking protein down faster than the rate of building therefore it is important to consume protein before and after your session. Due to the fact that our stores of protein fluctuate throughout the day, it is important to eat protein with each meal for replacement.
Does eating too much cause you to get fat? Eating too much of anything and not utilizing it will cause you to get fat! Let me say that protein is very hard to overeat- remember what I said about satiating? Secondly, one must consider the thermic effect of food. Thermic effect is the amount of our food’s energy that is lost to the digestion, absorption and transportation of that food to storage at each meal. For example, we lose 30% of protein’s energy to the thermic effect whereas 8% for carbohydrates and 3% for fats. Protein will be the last macro headed to the fat pile in a healthy, active individual unless you are consuming a large quantity and being a couch potato. So now to the argument of too much protein causing renal failure and osteoporosis. Studies have shown that in a healthy individual with healthy kidneys even consuming a level of 2.8 grams/kg/body weight has no ill effects. The claim that protein causes calcium loss is unsubstantiated in the research.
In summary, protein is a key part of a well balanced diet. Eat a lean source at every meal for optimal health, performance and body composition.