Protein 101

Get the upload on protein benefits, function, and tips for your daily life.

By Pam Nisevich Bede, MS, RD, CSSD, LD
ZonePerfect Nutritionist

December 2019

Call yourself athlete, gym-goer, or someone looking for the lifestyle and diet plan that works, there’s a 100% chance you need protein. We all do; protein plays so many roles in a healthy body and because different sources are digested differently, variety is, as usual, the spice of life.

Let’s Chat about Protein

Chat about Protein

Protein’s Function in Our Bodies

Protein is and has been uber-popular due to its ability to keep us fuller than quicker digesting carbs, and it’s innate ability to perform a plethora of metabolic reactions in the body. You can thank protein for maintaining a strong immune system, bones, tendons, musculature, and the list goes on.

Protein, Weight Loss, and Exercise

Countless research studies also support the link between adequate protein and satiety and weight loss. And if you find yourself working out most days of the week, adequate protein intake is so crucial. Sweat sessions drive exercise-induced muscle breakdown and the need for rebuilding; small amounts of protein are used for energy, and additional protein beyond the bare minimum RDA is needed to support gains in lean muscle mass.

Protein, Weight Loss, and Exercise

Not all protein needs are the same

Did you know protein needs change across the ages and across levels of activity? If you’re sedentary (please say you’re not!) your protein needs are less than the needs of a workoutaholic or an athlete in heavy training. Athletes need approximately twice as much protein compared to the needs of the general population. This extra intake supports training and performance. Older individuals need more protein as the ability to utilize protein diminishes with age. And if you’re cutting calories and carbohydrates, additional protein is meant to account for amino acids being metabolized for fuel and can even boost glycogen stores (via a process called gluconeogenesis) when overall carb intake is low.

Myth busters!

The myth that everyone eats too much protein is just a myth. The bare minimum intake for protein - the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) – is, IMO, low. It’s only 0.36g/lb/day (0.8g/kg/day) which means that a sedentary 150lb person needs only 55grams of protein a day. That’s like 2 chicken breasts and a cup of milk! If you’re non-sedentary, i.e. you’re consistently breaking a sweat, or if you’re middle-aged or older, your protein needs extend well beyond this baseline so an intake closer to 0.5 to 1g per pound is a better choice to support your goals.

Myth busters

Quality and quantity are not the same things.

With a plethora of new sources and buzz words, how can you tell which proteins will give you the most health and performance benefits? Start with the basics - amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. When you eat a source of protein, your body breaks it down into individual amino acids and these amino acids reassemble new proteins and perform different functions. Different proteins contain different amino acid combinations and this combination helps determine if a protein is of high quality.

What counts as a serving of protein?

In general, a serving of protein is about the size of the palm of your hand, a hockey puck, a deck of cards, or (for fish) a checkbook. These servings sizes provide between 20-25 grams of protein. Conversely, one egg, 1oz of nuts, or ½ cup legumes typically provides between 5-8 grams of protein. With a variety of choices, it’s not that hard to meet your bare minimum daily protein needs and reach for performance needs as well!

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