Did you know that almost 17% of the human body is made out of protein? If you take into account that about 60% of your body is water, that’s almost half of your dry weight!
More specifically, our bones, teeth, skin, hair, nails, and muscles are all made out of protein. Which, as you can probably tell by this point, means protein is kind of important.
Here’s a few reasons why:
- Protein is used in the formation of hormones, antibodies, and enzymes.
- In certain cases, protein can serve as a backup energy source for the body.
- Finally, protein is necessary for optimal muscle growth and repair. And let’s be honest, that’s what you’re really interested in if you’re reading this post.
Fortunately for us, many of the proteins needed for the above processes can be synthesized in our bodies.
However, getting enough protein from your diet is still vital, especially if you’re aiming for muscle size, strength, and athletic performance.
In today’s post, we’ll explore amino-acids, protein quality, how much protein you need, and where you can find it.
Amino Acids – The building blocks of protein
All proteins consist entirely of amino acids. We’ve discovered close to 500 amino acids, but luckily humans need only 22 of them.
Out of those 22, 9 are categorized as essential because they can’t be synthesized in the body. You can only obtain the essential amino acids (EAAs) through your diet.
Which brings me to my next point; not all proteins are equal.
Proteins that come from animal sources have all the EAAs and are what we call ‘complete’ proteins. Proteins that come from plant sources, on the other hand, are usually incomplete, meaning that they lack at least 1 of the EAAs.
Here’s a good point to talk about vegans.
While I’m not vegan myself, I feel that I must address the common misconception that vegans can’t get the EAAs without taking dietary supplements.
This is nothing more than a myth. If you know what you’re doing, you can easily cover your amino acid needs as a vegan. True, most plant proteins are incomplete, however the amino acids in each plant food are different. All you need to do is combine the right plant protein sources.
Recommended Protein Intake
We’ve covered protein quality, but this is one of the cases where quantity also matters.
So, how much protein should you eat?
It depends on many factors, such as your age and activity level, but generally, there are two methods you can use to calculate your recommended protein intake.
Method 1: Calculate your protein intake as a percentage of your total caloric intake
It is recommended that 10-35% of your calories come from protein.
However, if you’re highly active and your fitness goals extend beyond avoiding a protein deficiency, I suggest you stay at 15% or more. There is evidence that high-protein diets can help with building muscle(1) and burning fat(2).
Now let’s see an example;
In this example, we’ll calculate the protein intake of a lightly active 20-year-old woman (60kg, 1900 kcal/day).
If the lady in our example needs 1900 kcal per day, 15-35% of those calories should come from protein (285 to 665 kcal).
Food labels don’t measure protein in calories, so we’ll have to convert calories to grams ourselves.
Each gram of protein is equal to 4 calories, so we simply divide the number of calories by 4.
Lower Limit: 285 / 4 = 72
Upper Limit: 665 / 4 = 166
According to this method, the woman in our example should get 72 to 166g of protein daily.
Method 2: Calculate your protein intake by using a g/kg ratio
With this method, you get 1.5 – 2.2g of protein per kg of body weight. This translates to 0.7 – 1g per pound.
Here’s an example;
We’ll calculate the protein needs of the same woman we used in method 1 (20 years old, 60 kg, 1900kcal/day).
Since she weighs 60 kg (132 pounds), we’ll have to multiply 60 by 1.5 and 2.2 respectively;
Lower Limit: 1.5 * 60 = 90 or 0.7 * 132 = 92
Upper Limit: 2.2 * 60 = 132 or 1 * 132 = 132
According to Method 2, this woman needs 92 to 132g of protein daily.
As you can see, the upper limit of method 1 is significantly higher than that of method 2. But it doesn’t really matter, these numbers are just guidelines. You’ll have to find your ideal protein intake through personal experimentation.
If the woman in our examples follows a diet with 90g of protein or more, she’s going to thrive.
I’ll keep this part short and sweet. You can find high-quality protein in lean meat, fish, dairy products, poultry, eggs, legumes, seeds, and nuts.
Now that you’ve read up on protein, let’s put what you’ve learned into practice.
Take some time to calculate your protein intake and add some high-protein foods to your diet. Combine that with an exercise program that follows the basic principles of overload and you’ll begin to notice the difference within weeks.
Next time we’ll talk about carbohydrates, so stay tuned.