I can not go anywhere these days without spotting a protein mention – from menus highlighting how you can add protein to grab n go foods and beverages increasing their protein content – I even saw a coffee with added protein. We are in love with protein, and while it is a worthy macronutrient (like carbs and fats), if you are swapping lemons for proteins you will not get better health results!
So here is the skinny on what you really need and a few ideas on how to get it:
Your Body Needs Protein
You need protein. Protein builds muscles but it also passes messages in our body, helping to signal reactions that impact everything from inflammatory response to metabolism and energy levels.
Try Protein From Various Sources
You need different kinds of proteins. More accurately, you need different amino acids. Proteins are formed from amino acids – some of which the body can synthesize and some which the body needs you to bring in via your food (essentials).
Take Protein At Regular Intervals
You body need protein at regular intervals. Protein plays a key role in balancing the quick energy impact of carbohydrates to help prevent energy spikes and crashes from it or stimulants (like caffeine). Nutrient balance – carbs, proteins, fats, non-starchy vegetables – provides the body with a better balance of energy as well as the nutrients to signal the body about that energy and the nutrients to help the body optimally breakdown and use that energy.
Do Not Take Excess Protein
You body do not need more protein. Recently, I sat through a great lecture from a Stanford researcher explaining to fitness professionals that almost all Americans, including athletes, already meet and even exceed their protein needs. The negative health risks of too much protein are significant, and do not confer better performance results, especially when the excess proteins come from animal or poor quality plant sources. Animal proteins are acid-formers, so that makes it harder to maintain the desirable pH levels in which goof bacteria thrive in the lower digestive tract. Too much protein means too much work for the kidneys, an organ whose optimal function is critical to our elimination of toxins as well as balancing overall electrolyte balance and blood pH. For most of us, about 1g protein / kg of body weight is more than sufficient (the low range is 0.8g/kg and the high end can go as high as 1.3 or 1.7 depending on performance and health needs but anything above 1.3g/kg should be discussed/developed with a healthcare provider). How do you figure this out? Take your body weight in pounds – let us say 160 pounds and multiply by .45 to get kilograms which equals 72kg so your daily intake (1g/kg) should be around 72g of protein.
Break-Down Your Protein Intake
You do not need too much protein at one time. Not only can the body not use it all at once – that is overwhelming – but too much protein at once makes it harder on the organs involved with digesting, allocating, and eliminating the byproducts of protein metabolism. When protein is broken down for use, the body produces What is too much? On my nutrition plan, I note a serving is anywhere from 6-20g of protein. Most of us do best with keeping our upper limit at the 20g range, remember this is per nutrition pit stop – meal or snack – not total for the day. So if your daily goal is 72g, you can break this up into 5 equal pit stops of 14g or 3 at 20g, and 1 at 12g, and so on.
Choose The Right Ones
You need better protein. While protein intake is essential for human better health, it is better protein that enables better I note above that proteins do a lot of things – they are building blocks of muscles, messages, and reactions throughout the body. So poor quality proteins translate to poor quality communication and reactions. Allergies, intolerances, irritation, unhealthy inflammatory response, and disease result from the body repeatedly trying to do its work with the wrong inputs as much as external assaults. One example is auto-immune disease, the body attacking itself, which occurs in large part because certain messages are miscommunicated. Part of addressing auto-immune disease is cleaning up dietary choices, including protein.
Go Plant Based Protein
You need mostly better plant protein. Plants provide us with so much of what we animals need. Yes, just like a horse or a cow that gets its nutrients exclusively from plants (ok, almost exclusively as its fair to say they also consume some critters that thrive on plants like good bacteria and yummy bugs), and who can be lean mean fighting machines – yeah cows, like us, should actually not be overfat, and when you consume plants you not only get the amino acids your body needs to make all its proteins but you also get vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and other plant nutrients (phytonutrients) that help support better health, including clean up of the “dirt” that protein metabolism generates.
Yes, some plants provide “complete” protein, but all plants provide valuable amino acids, so a diverse plant-based diet will get you all the amino acids you need. Even broccoli has amino acids and it also packs in glucoraphanin which the body uses during detoxification to modify and eliminate used hormones and other toxins. These are just two examples of why plants’ protein power is your primary protein source.
Go Over Quality Than Quantity
You need less, better animal protein. If you are going to consume animal protein (this includes animal products too), it needs to be better quality but we should still consume less. I often advise a third of your daily protein as the maximum from animal protein. You can and should try days where you have none too.
What makes an animal protein better is what makes us healthier – and it is multi-factorial: are we fed what our body recognizes and knows what to do with? Are we only given medication when we really need it? Are we happy? Are we overly stressed? Are we exercising? Review the nutrition plan for guidance on what foods provide better animal protein.