Protein: What You Need to Know
Protein - How Much is Enough?
Today I want to talk about protein becuase it is NOT just for body builders! Protein in 1 of 3 macro nutrients your body NEEDS to thrive (the other 2 are carbohydrates and fat). As women we likely grew up being told to count calories, not to focus on the quality of our calories, and that protein was something men who wanted big muscles needed but for us it was low fat cream cheese and carrot sticks all the way. Wrong!
Here’s why… proteins (or amino acids in their most basic form) are the main building blocks of the body.
Read that again, protein Builds. Your. Body!
Reasons We Need Protein
- Our Blood – red and white blood cells are made of protein
- Our Immune System – see above – white blood cells are made of protein
- To Build Our Body – protein make muscles, tendons and organs
- Shiny, healthy hair and skin – both made of protein
- To make enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters (these are the guys that tell our brain what to do!)
Last I checked women need blood, muscles and hormones too!
Protein is not just for great skin, hair, and nails; it's critical for health. Without it, you wouldn't be able to repair damage, digest food, fight infections, build muscle and bone, create hormones, and even think and have good moods. Higher protein diets can help fight high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Not to mention protein's great benefits for metabolism boosting, satiety (feeling full after a meal), and weight management.
Protein is important, and this is a given.
Benefits of Getting Enough Protein in Your Diet
- Protein at around 25-30% of calories has been shown to boost metabolism by up to 80 to 100 calories per day, compared to lower protein diets.
- Protein in a meal leaves you feeling much more satiated than both fat and carbs keeping you feeling full longer, blood sugar balanced and generally a reduction in overall calories consumed.
- A diet high enough in protein intake also helps to build and preserve muscle mass, which burns a small amount of calories around the clock.
- By keeping blood sugar balanced, adequate protein in your meals prevents mood swings, cravings, brain fog and more.
- Because it is the main building block of hormones, we need adequate protein to keep our hormones in check including thyroid and adrenal health.
There are a few factors to consider when calculating how much protein we need. I go through those calculations with you. Then I list the amount of protein in some common foods.
How Much Protein Is Enough
There isn’t a real rule that applies equally to everyone. There are a few factors to consider when figuring out how much protein you need.
Start with the minimum recommendation of 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb) per day.
So, for a 68 kg (150 lb) healthy non-athlete adult, this is about 55 g protein/day.
Mind you, this is a minimum to prevent protein deficiency. It's not optimal for good repair, digestion, immune function, muscle/bone building, hormones, thinking and great moods. It's not enough for athletes, seniors or those recovering from an injury, either. If you fall into one of these camps, you may need to increase the minimum protein intake. Aim closer to 1.3 g/kg (0.6 g/lb) per day. Or, keep is simple. At every meal aim to be eating 1 palm of protein. This will provide approximately 20-30 g of protein in one sitting. Be sure to include a little protein in each meal and snack throughout the day to get all the benefits of the protein (read the benefits again above if you need!).
Athletes, AKA runners, need more protein for their energy and muscle mass and if you are in the injured camp, you need even a bit more for recovery and healing.
How Much Protein is Too Much?
As with fat and carbohydrates, eating too much protein can cause weight gain. Extra protein can be converted into sugar or fat in the body. The interesting thing about protein is that it isn’t as easily or quickly converted as carbohydrates or fat, this is because of its "thermic effect." The thermic effect is the amount of energy required to digest, absorb, transport and store a nutrient. To digest protein, your body needs to spend energy (i.e., burn calories). More calories than when metabolizing fats or carbohydrates.
If you’re concerned that high protein intake harms healthy kidneys, don’t be. If your kidneys are healthy, they are more than capable of filtering out excess amino acids from the blood. The problem only occurs in people who already have kidney issues.
FUN FACT: Plant proteins are especially safe for kidney health.
How Much Protein Is In Food?
- 3.5 oz chicken breast = 31 g
- 3.5 oz can of salmon = 20 g
- ½ cup cooked beans = 6-9 g
- large egg = 6 g
- ¼ cup nuts = 4-7 g
- 1 medium baked potato = 3 g
- 2 Tbsps. Hemp seeds = 9 g
- 2 Tbsps. Almond butter = 7g
- 2 Tbsps. Tahini = 5g
- 2 Tbsps. pumpkin seeds = 5g
- 2 Tbsps. chia seeds = 5g
- ½ cup oats = 3g
- 1 cup kale = 3g
- ½ cup avocado = 2.5g
- ½ cup Greek Yogurt = 12g
Protein is an essential macro nutrient and we should all get enough of it each day. “Enough” is about 0.8 - 1.3 g/kg (0.36 - 0.6 g/lb) per day. If you're a healthy non-athlete adult, you can aim for the lower level. If you're an athlete, senior, or injured person, aim for the higher level. Protein is only 1 of 3 macro nutrients you need to balance each and every meal and snack for optimal health and protein is what will leave you feeling much more satiated than both fat and carbs keeping you feeling full longer, blood sugar balanced and generally a reduction in overall calories consumed. A diet high enough in protein intake helps to build and preserve muscle mass, which burns a small amount of calories around the clock. By keeping blood sugar balanced, adequate protein in your meals prevents mood swings, cravings, brain fog and more.
Too much protein, like too much of anything, can cause weight gain, so it's best to have just enough and always eat a well rounded balanced diet of proteins, carbs and healthy fats for a truly healthy body, mind and STRONG running.
Recipe (high-protein): Baked Chicken Breasts
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp paprika
Instructions: Preheat oven to 450°F. Place a layer of parchment paper on a baking dish.
Place the chicken breasts in the prepared dish. Brush on both sides with olive oil.
In a small bowl, mix spices until combined. Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the chicken on both sides.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through to at least 165°F at the thickest part. Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Serve with lots of veggies!!!
Want more tips on nutrition for runners? Grab the complete guide HERE on Macro Nutrition for Runners. This is an easy to follow guide that goes deeper into all 3 macro nutrients, how to eat them and when to eat them to curb your sugar cravings, rev your metabolism, kickstart your body into fat burning mode and as result, boost your performance. To run well, you have to eat well. It also includes a Recipe Guide and 5 day sample Meal plan the whole family will love. GET IT HERE.
Hope that helps!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any illness or disease. The information provided is for general educational purposes, has not been reviewed nor approved by the FDA and is not intended to take the place of advice from your medical professional, licensed dietician or nutritionist. You are solely responsible for your health care and activity choices. Reading this article does not constitute a client-coach relationship.