Unless you’re brand new to eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle, you’ve probably seen a wide variety of diets. Some are high in protein and others cut the protein you eat daily back to a minimum. Protein is an important micronutrient that’s necessary for every part of the body, from muscle tissue, to hair, blood vessels and hormones. Protein enters the body and is broken down to amino acids during digestion. The amino acids are important for creating enzymes which trigger a lot of biological reactions that are necessary for building connective tissue, maintaining the immune system, balancing fluids and providing energy.
How much do you actually need?
The amount of protein you need isn’t as simple as saying 100 grams, you have to estimate, since everyone is different. The amount of exercise you get, your gender, age, weight and total calories play a role. In most cases, the amount is streamlined to the number of calories you get from protein. If your overall diet is 2000 calories and the diet suggests you get 10 to 35% of your calories from protein, your daily calories from protein would range from 200 to 700. To give you an idea of calories, a quarter pound of ground beef is 4 ounces and has approximately 300 calories.
It’s about getting all the essential amino acids.
There traditionally have been 20 amino acids, but in the past thirty years, two additional ones have been added to make 22 total. Only nine of those are essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are ones that the body needs, but doesn’t make, so they have to come from food. Animal proteins are complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. Most plant proteins aren’t complete but must be combined with complementary foods to create the full array of amino acids.
You can get too much protein.
Too much protein over a long period can interfere with liver functioning, affect kidney health, increase the risk of cancer, cause artery disease and bone disorders. How much is enough and how much is too much? If you’re sedentary, consuming one gram for every 2.2 pounds of weight is sufficient. People who are active need between 1.3 grams and 1.6 grams for every 2.2 pounds. That means an inactive person who weighs 220 pounds would need about 100 grams of protein daily. If they increased their activity level it could increase to as high as 160 grams a day.
- In order to eat too much protein, the average person would have to consume about 2 grams of protein per 2.2 pounds a day for an extended period. A person weighing 220 pounds would eat 200 grams a day or the equivalent of eating a 26 ounce rib eye steak every day.
- The quality of the protein you choose is important. Salmon, beans and chicken are healthier ways to get that protein than red meat. Eating lean red meat is healthier than eating highly processed meat.
- Protein takes longer to digest and can help you feel fuller longer. It also requires more calories to digest. If you consume protein as a treat, rather than a sugary product, it can help stabilize your blood sugar.
- The very young and very old need more protein per pound. The very young need more for growth and older people don’t process protein as well, so they need more. Always check with your health care professional before adopting a new dietary regimen.
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