With all the press it gets, protein seems to be on everyone’s minds these days, but did you know that protein is also in every cell of your body? In fact, if you take away water the human body is mostly made up of protein. Protein is essential for promoting growth, repairing damaged cells and tissues, rebuilding muscle, enabling critical chemical reactions to occur, and maintaining the proper functioning of hormones.
Is it any wonder that protein is essential in your diet? Fortunately, eating protein isn’t that hard. Foods like meat, fish, and eggs are all considered high in protein. But you don’t have to be a carnivore to eat enough protein. Vegetarians can easily meet their protein needs by consuming a wide variety of non-animal sources, such as beans, nuts, and whole grains.
The need for dietary protein really comes down to a need for essential amino acids. Protein is considered “complete” if it contains all the essential amino acids and incomplete if it is missing one or more of the essential amino acids. All animal-based sources of protein (like beef or chicken) are complete sources.
So what happens if you don’t get enough protein? The body doesn’t store amino acids, so if it doesn’t get the protein it needs; it takes it from muscle tissue. This can lead to muscle wasting, poor circulation, anemia, and fatigue. And if you get too much? Because there is no place in the body to store amino acids, excess protein is broken down and stored as sugar or fat, or excreted from the body.
How much protein is enough? A general rule of thumb is that your average person can meet his or her protein needs by consuming 0.8–1.0 grams of protein, per kilogram of body weight, per day, but athletes should aim for 1.2–2.0 grams. An easy way to make sure your needs are met is to keep protein snacks on hand. No, you probably can’t travel around with meat. But you can keep easily portable protein with you, such as snacks like trail mix, hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, and CLIF Builder’s Bars.
It’s important to make sure you eat protein daily, and in amounts that suit your needs. Whether you’re into heaving kettle bells, lifting weights, or running the basketball court, there is no doubt having a little protein before, after, and sometimes evening during activity can bolster muscle recovery and repair as well strengthen your body’s immune response. After a major workout, protein combined with carbohydrate can really help to reduce the effects of muscle damage that occurs during exercise.
With all protein does for your body, it’s no coincidence that it seems to be center stage. Knowing how to get great-tasting and healthy protein will serve your body well when it comes to replenishing, recovering, and rebuilding every day.