What does protein do for me?
Proteins are the building blocks for several cellular structural elements. They also help transporting different important elements around the body, provide enzymatic activity, muscle work and are involved in repair processes in the body.
Dietary protein has two roles in nutrition, it is a source of nitrogen and amino acids, and it is an energy source (calories). As mentioned before there are much less calories in protein than in fat, so energy wise you can eat a bigger amount of food if they are high on protein (or carbs) and low in fat, before you reach your “energy limit” of the day.
Several studies have also found that people feel more satiated after eating protein, and the feeling lasts longer. This is of course a good thing, if you want to control your weight, as it will help you eat less food and keep you from snacking all through the day, because you feel full for longer.
And let’s face it, feeling hungry is NOT a funny feeling!
Recent years there has been a lot of talking about proteins and that they can help you maintain or loose weight. But why is that?
Well, basically it is all a question about arithmetic! Everyday your body burns a specific amount of calories. If you consume more calories than you burn, then your weight increases – and if you consume less calories than your body needs, then you loose weight… It is as simple as that! And this is where the proteins play an important role…
When we talk about calories, you can divide them into 3 different main macronutrients: fat, carbohydrates and protein. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates and protein only contain 4 calories per gram. This means that if you want to loose weight you should limit your intake of fat and instead concentrate on complex carbohydrates and protein.
How much protein do I need?
Different people do not need the same amount of protein. The amount depends on your age, gender, activity level and what kind of physical activity you do. For example children should not eat as much protein as adults, and elderly people usually need a bit more in order to maintain a healthy muscle mass. It is also evident that if you do a lot of strength training and you want to build muscle mass – or if you want to avoid loosing muscle mass during a weight loss – you need a bit more protein.
The specific recommendations vary from country to country, but around 15-20% of your daily calories should come from protein, if you are a healthy adult. If you don’t eat very much, your daily calorie intake will be small, and then your protein E% intake should be higher. But check out the national recommendation in your country or ask your doctor if you are in doubt.
You should also be aware that people with kidney disease should not eat too much protein.
Where do I get my protein?
Dietary proteins are found in almost all foods of animal and plant origin. Meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, pulses, nuts, seeds, lentils and beans are some of the foods with a high amount of protein.
But before you start packing in more protein, please be aware that “get more protein” does not necesserally mean “get more meat”. Beef, pork and poultry can of course provide a lot of protein, but so can many plant foods, like for example whole grains, beans, nuts and vegetables. And you need to consider the “whole package”, because most food items also include fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals etc. So you should aim for protein sources that are low in saturated fat and processed carbohydrates, and rich in many nutrients.
A quick way to choose healthy proteins and prioritise between various animal food products is to choose the animal that has the least amount of legs… (not because of the amount of legs, but it is just a quick way to remember, which items are better). So proteins from plants and fish do not have any legs, and they are priority number one proteins from chicken, turkey etc. have two legs, and they are priority number two proteins from pork, beef, lamb etc. have four legs and are priority number three.
10 types of food high on protein (grams of protein per 100g of the product)
Soya beans: 36g
Red lentils: 27g
Chick peas: 20g
Parmesan cheese: 39g
Mozzarella 30+: 29g
A little added protein
Ever heard about protein supplements? Well, in the bodybuilding business and fitness industry, protein powders, shakes and smoothies have been popular for decades. But actually everyone can benefit from these types of products from time to time – they are a quick and easy way to increase your protein intake and boost your body.
One of the advantages of protein powders, protein shakes and smoothies is the fact that they can increase your protein intake without vastly increasing your intake of other macronutrients (fat and carbs) – and thereby keeping your calorie intake to a minimum. You simply get all the benefits from the protein that can help you boost your athletic performance, improve muscle tone and keep you going for longer. You could call it a quick power boost!
But like with anything else, take a look at the ingredients before buying a protein shake or smoothie. Go for products with a low amount of fat, look out for added sugar and keep an eye on the total amount of calories. And keep in mind that your total daily protein intake should not exceed the recommended amounts.
Did you know
That unlike carbohydrates and fat, the body does not generally store proteins, thus they are essential in the diet
That protein constitutes 15-20% of the human body? This corresponds to approx. 12 kg in a person with a body weight of 70 kg
That the human body has about 100,000 different types of protein? The body needs protein to grow, heal, and carry about nearly every chemical reaction in the body
That proteins in the human body have many jobs? For example, a protein called rhodopsin in our eyes helps us see light
That Protein builds muscles, but it also delivers messages in our bodies, helping to signal reactions that impact everything from inflammatory response to metabolism and energy levels