Why we need protein
Protein is a critical part of our diet—we need it to feel full, have energy, build and repair muscle, process nutrients, and boost immunity, among other vital roles.”Protein is made up of amino acids that are the building blocks of body tissues, including muscles, blood vessels, hair, skin, and nails. It’s also involved in the production of enzymes and hormones that help the body to function normally,” says Kaleigh McMordie, a registered dietitian nutritionist. Why are these amino acids so important? McMordie gives a quick anatomy lesson (in case you spaced out in 10th grade): There are some amino acids that the body can synthesize, but others, called essential amino acids, we must get through our diet. Animal protein sources, such as meat, fish, milk, and eggs, contain all nine essential amino acids while most plant-based protein sources don’t have the full complement of amino acids in the exact right amounts (there are some exceptions, like soybeans). “That’s why it is important to include a variety of protein sources in order to get all of the essential amino acids, especially for vegetarians,” McMordie says. And if you’re a regular exerciser, protein is especially important, according to diet and lifestyle dietitian and registered nutritionist, Keith Akoob, EdD. “Protein not only builds muscle, but it also repairs and maintains muscle,” he says. “Muscle cells, like all living tissue, have a life. They eventually need to be replaced, so repair and maintenance are critical roles for dietary protein.” Don’t miss 7 signs you might not be eating enough protein.
How much protein we need
There are many elements to consider when determining just how much protein you personally need on a daily basis, from how often you squeeze in a sweat sesh to how your body’s digestion is functioning. That said, there are some overall guidelines. As McMordie explains, “The RDA for protein for adult men and women is around 50 to 62 grams of protein per day. This will typically prevent any protein deficiencies,” she says. Though that’s a rough estimate, CCHE Chief Culinary Officer, Ken Immer notes, “Most often, we hear about recommending protein in specific gram amounts per day. However, that can be misleading because it should be closely tied to your total calorie needs, rather than just an arbitrary number,” he says. “There is a wide range of recommendations when it comes to the ideal percentage of calories from protein—10 to 35 percent of total calories, 10 percent being the absolute minimum, and 35 percent being the maximum before there is a toxicity to be concerned about.” As a general rule, Immer recommends that men aim for 140 grams and women shoot for 110 grams per day, which is more than the RDA, but still within safe limits. But what happens when you go overboard?