Pro Tips on Protein
April fools! Protein Slime isn’t real. But there are a lot of products on the market that are only slightly less ridiculous. Protein has become one of the most popular and widely talked-about nutrients—from food labels promoting protein content to friends talking about high-protein diets.
If we’re going to continue praising protein, we need to know: What even is protein? Is the hype warranted? How much protein should we eat daily, and what are the healthiest sources of protein?
What is protein?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients, along with fats and carbohydrates, that provide your body with calories. Protein is made up of amino acids which connect together in unique ways to form vital structures in your body. There are amino acids in your hair, organs, tissues, joints, enzymes, hormones, bones, arteries, red blood cells, skin, brain, DNA and chromosomes, and more. That is one important nutrient!
How much protein should we eat?
The World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the United Nations agree on how much protein we need: 0.4g per pound of bodyweight. That means a 150-pound person should get 55 grams of protein per day. Currently, the average American male is eating 100 grams a day, and women are eating 70 grams a day. Over 98% of Americans get the recommended amount of protein per day.
A baby’s body is quickly growing and changing, so you could assume that babies would need LOTS more protein than an adult. But compared to other animals, human breast milk contains the least amount of protein of any mammal ever tested. This seems to indicate that protein requirements for humans are lower than for primates and even mammals who don’t eat any meat.
If you’re similar to one of my clients who lifts weights to gain muscle, your protein requirements will be slightly higher, but not by much. Exercising men who ate 0.4g of protein per pound of bodyweight had the same amount of muscle gain as men who ate 0.6g of protein per pound of bodyweight. There is evidence that protein supplements help us gain more muscle size and strength, but the difference is quite small. A more determinant factor is if you are getting enough calories to support your body building and repairing itself.
So if most people are getting enough, why are people always talking about eating more protein?
How did protein become the most “important” nutrient?
The immense benefits it has in the body.
There’s no two ways about it: protein is an essential part of nutrition. Protein increases satiety and fullness to help prevent weight-gain, helps build muscle mass and muscle strength, helps build strong bones, and restores the body’s functions and systems.
Yet, your body has a limit on how much protein it can use at any one time. If you eat too much, it will be converted into body fat just like any other macronutrient. Not only that, if you’re only concerned about eating more protein but eat unhealthy foods, it can lead to a host of health problems.
In the 1950s and 1960s, people looking to get healthy and in better shape were turning to bodybuilders for their workout and nutrition advice. And why not? They looked fantastic! However, the most popular bodybuilders owed a large part of their physiques to a new and unstudied supplement: steroids. Anabolic steroids promote protein synthesis, allowing our muscles to utilize much more protein than we can naturally. Bodybuilders claimed, ‘I got strong and ripped because I ate lots of protein,’ but the real reason the protein was so effective was due to steroids.
Anabolic steroids have intense negative health and psychological effects, and are not recommended unless prescribed by a doctor.
High protein diets help you lose weight
500 calories of protein takes 150 calories to digest, absorb, and utilize. This is one of the major reasons why high-protein diets help people lose weight. However, it is very difficult to get proper nutrition if your body has to spend so much energy just to utilize that nutrition with only 350 calories left over to perform our bodily functions.
O n top of that, simply because a diet helps you to lose weight, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for your overall health. Dr. Robert Atkins, the founder of the Atkins diet, a low-carbohydrate/high-protein diet, suffered from heart attacks, congestive heart failure, and hypertension for a large portion of his life. Weight loss should be a by-product of healthy habits.
Companies With a Big Steak in Protein
Specific companies and industries spend billions of dollars in advertising and marketing to make their products seem healthier and more desirable, and protein is their bread and butter.
The supplement market is worth around $175 billion, with a large portion (more than $20 billion) of that coming from protein supplements.
The American meat industry brings in more than $1 trillion every year.
Remember those “Got Milk” advertisements? Advertisers from the dairy industry found that adding the phrase “8 grams of protein per glass!” incentivized people to buy their product more than any other saying. Milk in America is worth almost $40 billion.
The Protein Echo-Chamber:
People think protein is important, so, companies use the public’s perception of protein and spend billions of dollars to market protein in their products. This makes protein seem even more important. Now, people think protein is very important.
And the cycle continues.
Keep reading to find out what to eat to get protein from the best sources.
What are the best sources of protein?
Now we’re getting to the meat of the matter! We know that almost everyone is meeting the daily requirements for protein. So, rather than focus on protein, we need to understand what nutrients are lacking in our standard American diet.
Percentage of Americans who meet the recommended amounts of:
Potassium: less than 3%
Vitamin K: 20%
Fiber: less than 4%
Vitamin E: 7%
Let’s put some food groups to the test and see how they stack up nutritionally. Meat vs. Milk vs. Beans vs. Green Vegetables. We’ll compare them based on how much nutritional value they provide per calorie:
Meat, especially lean meat like chicken and fish, have the most amount of protein, yet the lowest nutritional value. On the plus side, meat contains a small amount of minerals, and a few B vitamins, but it also contains saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, toxic heavy metals, antibiotics, injected hormones, and lots of calories. While 4 ounces of meat will help you reach the recommended daily intake, on average, Americans eat 7 ounces of meat a day.
Skim milk did pretty well, with high calcium and potassium content. Of course, 2% and whole milk contain less nutritional value per calorie. Milk also contains high amounts of riboflavin and phosphorous, and small amounts of other minerals. Milk also contains most of the negatives of meat, as well as growth and pregnant cow hormones that promote weight gain and cancer risk. Americans drink close to 2 cups of milk a day.
Beans are a great source of protein, fiber, potassium and many minerals and vitamins such as folate and thiamin. Although beans can cause gas and stomach distress, your body and gut microbes can quickly adjust. Recommended consumption is ½ cup a cup a week, but I recommend that my clients eat 1 cup a day, especially if their goal is weight loss. Americans eat, on average, 0.1 cups of beans a day.
Green vegetables are the ULTIMATE protein source. Not only are they super high in protein, they have huge amounts of EVERYTHING ELSE— vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. They’re also low in calories, high in water, high in fiber, and increase your metabolism, so they’re probably the best food for weight loss. However, we need to eat sizeable portions to get the nutritional benefits. The recommendation is set at 5 cups of veggies a day. Most Americans eat 1.5 servings of veggies a day, with half being potatoes. The research shows that 9+ servings daily is where extraordinary benefits start.
So what the heck should I eat?
Moral of the story: Focus on eating more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients from fruits, vegetables, and beans, and you’ll be getting more than enough protein for optimum performance and health.
For further information or to learn more about my in-home custom workouts and nutrition plans, feel free to contact me at 240-380-8022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.