What Is Protein?
Chemically, protein is composed of amino acids, which are organic compounds made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen or sulfur. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are the building blocks of muscle mass, according to the National Institutes of Health(NIH).
Proteins are long chains of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. In other words, amino acids are like the links in a chain. The chain itself represents the protein molecule. Protein chains are then twisted and folded together in specific ways to create certain molecules.
Each gram of protein contains 4 calories. Protein makes up about 15 percent of a person’s body weight.
How much protein?
According to RDA or Recommended Dietary Allowance, the least amount of protein one needs to stay healthy is 0.8g per kilogram of body weight, every day. This is for someone who does not follow a very active lifestyle. For someone who works out regularly, the protein intake is slightly higher. It is 1.2g per kilogram of body weight. For bodybuilders who do hardcore weight training, the protein intake can go up to 1.8g to 2g per kilogram of body weight every day. This is because they need more protein to build muscle after a heavy workout session.
Health Benefits of Eating Foods with Protein
1. Boost Muscle Mass
Eating enough protein is necessary to build and maintain healthy muscle mass, while also supporting tendon, ligaments and other body tissue. So, protein is important for bodybuilding, but it’s also necessary for developing leaner muscles as well. When your diet is lacking in amino acids, “muscle wasting” (or muscle atrophy) can take place when your muscle fibers are broken down to support your body’s energy needs.
Protein is especially important after exercise, since physical activity like strength training purposefully damages muscle tissues so they can repair and grow back stronger. For the process to happen effectively, you need some extra protein to help repair the damage. While protein alone won’t enhance athletic performance, research shows that eating protein before and after exercise helps increase muscle recovery, promotes muscle synthesis and serves as effective muscle ache treatment.
2. Help Manage Your Weight by Filling You Up
Although some research studies show conflicting results regarding high-protein diets versus low-protein diets for maintaining an ideal weight or losing weight fast, there’s plenty evidence that protein helps make you feel full and can prevent overeating. While dietary or lifestyle change must be personalized for weight loss to be effective, studies show that controlled calorie intake in association with a moderately high protein intake can be an effective and practical weight-loss strategy.
Some of the reasons this is true? High-protein foods cause increased satiety to a greater extent than carbohydrates or fats, so they can prevent overeating and snacking. It’s usually much easier to overeat carbohydrates, especially if they’re refined or sweetened, than it is to overeat healthy protein foods. Eating protein also creates a process in the body known as thermogenesis, which requires the body to expend more energy (calories) in order to digest food. At the same time, protein helps ward off muscle loss that can result from a low-calorie diet, which makes certain proteins superfoods for weight loss.
3. Stabilize Blood Sugar Levels
Insulin is a hormone that’s required for carbohydrates, fat and protein to be metabolized. However, carbohydrates require much more insulin than fat or protein does. The major determinate of blood sugar levels is the glycemic index response from the foods you eat, so while eating high-carb and high-sugar foods results in fluctuations in blood sugar levels, eating protein does the opposite.
Eating foods with protein has a minimal effect on blood glucose levels and can, in fact, slow down the absorption of sugar during a meal. This means a high-protein diet can help prevent spikes in blood glucose, which is especially important for preventing type 2 diabetes, balancing energy levels, and keeping your appetite and mood in check.
4. Improve Your Mood
Certain amino acids from protein foods are needed to balance hormones naturally, control your mood and act as a natural remedy for anxiety. Proteins help neurotransmitters function and synthesize hormones like dopamine and serotonin that calm us and keep our outlook positive.
Many people who are lacking in key amino acids start experiencing weakness, moodiness, and increased anxiety or signs of depression for this reason. Because protein helps stabilize glucose in your blood, it also prevents mood changes, irritability and cravings that can occur due to fluctuating blood sugar levels.
5. Promote Healthy Brain Function and Learning
Proteins are needed to make enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters that are critical for cognitive function. As your mother may have told you when you were a kid, eating a healthy breakfast sets the tone for the day and prepares you to learn and remember information.
The brain requires a steady supply of amino acids in order to keep concentration, focus and energy levels up. Studies show that when amino acid deprivation takes place, learning and coordination suffers, but once all necessary amino acids are reintroduced into the diet, learning and motor skills improve.
6. Help Maintain Strong Bones
Many studies now show that a positive association exists between eating more foods with protein and better bone health. The effects of protein on bones also relate to the specific protein foods being eaten and intake of important bone-building nutrients like calcium and magnesium. A diet high in protein from whole, nutrient-rich foods can heal broken bones and prevent bone weakness, fractures and even osteoporosis by increasing calcium absorption and helping with bone metabolism.
Recent studies in the elderly in the U.S. show that the greatest bone losses occur in people with low protein intake of 16–50 grams per day. It’s believed that when someone eats a low level of protein, insulin-like growth factor production is reduced, which in turn has a negative effect on calcium and phosphate metabolism in the bones and bone formation.
7. Protect Heart Health
Some studies show that an inverse relationship between protein intake and risk of heart disease has been observed in adults, as higher protein diets appear to one of the natural remedies for high blood pressure. Also, substituting carbohydrate foods with protein results in lower LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels. One reason this might be true is because higher protein diets balance blood sugar and tend to help prevent other heart disease-related causes, including obesity and diabetes.
8. Slow Aging and Promote Longevity
One of the key roles of protein foods is helping the body synthesize glutathione, often called the “master antioxidant.” Glutathione is stored within our own cells and helps us detox and reduce carcinogens that age us. Animal and human studies both show that adequate protein intake is crucial for the maintenance of glutathione and helps the body stay in a state of balanced “homeostasis.” Glutathione deficiency contributes to oxidative stress, which plays a key role in age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, cancer and viral infections.
Research shows that a diet high in balanced amino acids from protein foods can help treat muscle loss due to aging (called sarcopenia).A diet that has adequate levels of protein helps slow the aging process by keeping muscle mass intact, supporting strong bones, and maintaining high cognitive and immune function. In the elderly, amino acid deficiencies can potentially lead to eye problems like cataracts, heart problems, muscle loss, weakness and mood changes.
As you age, your body is less capable of synthesizing amino acids on its own, which is one reason why the amount of muscle you have tends to decrease over the years while fat accumulates. This makes it even more important for you to eat plenty of protein-rich foods to support not only a healthy body weight, but to keep your memory sharp, energy up, and strength and balance in place.
Top Protein options for Non-Vegetarians
When buying beef look for lean cuts with low fat contents. Not only will you get the most bang for your buck by the time you’re done cooking it, but it will also be less greasy and thus a healthier option.
With so many different ways to prepare chicken you can have a completely different meal every night for weeks all featuring the same main ingredient. Since it goes with everything, is relatively lean, and has a lower calorie count, it’s no wonder so many people turn to chicken as their main source of protein.
Not only is salmon an exceptional protein choice, but it is also high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. This popular fish option is not only fairly simple to cook on your own at home, but it’s relatively popular in most restaurants which means that you should never have a reason for skipping out on a healthy protein.
When you’re calorie counting it can be difficult to get enough protein in your diet without going over your calorie limit. That’s where white fish comes in. It is a low calorie option that is high in protein and can be seasoned to take on a variety of delicious flavors to keep your taste buds tantalized.
When the budget is tight it doesn’t get much better than eggs for your high protein diet food. They are cheap, easy to make, and can be used in a variety of different recipes to add a bit of flavor and a bunch of protein. Their versatility make them perfect for any meal of the day.
Top Protein options for Vegetarians
Not only is milk a fantastic source of protein, it is also high in other essential nutrients like vitamin D, potassium, and of course calcium. While reduced fat, low fat, and fat free varieties will still provide you with plenty of protein in your diet, sticking with whole fat milk ensures that you get the most amount of protein possible.
Although cheese is an adequate source of protein for a snack or as an additive to a lunch sandwich, it’s not quite healthy enough on it’s own to steal the show come dinnertime. A more realistic option is to serve a cheese tray for an appetizer or make a mini tray for yourself for a healthy lunch on the go.
Yogurt is a terrific source of protein, but Greek yogurt is even better. Opt for the plain varieties rather than the sugar laden flavor options and instead flavor them yourself with fresh fruits, nuts, or seeds. The portability makes it a great choice for on the go snacks, and the endless flavor additions make it great for dessert. The choice is yours.
Put your beans in a salad, have them as a side dish, or make them into your main course. No matter how you prepare them they make an impressive vegetarian protein source. Beans are not only categorized as a protein though, they are also a vegetable, which means that they provide you with an abundance of necessary nutrients.
butter is like a flavor sponge so it is a perfect vegetarian protein substitute in recipes that traditionally call for beef, chicken, or even seafood.
Make a salad using spinach as your leafy greens, or saute it into your dinner dish for an extra dose of protein. Once it’s cooked in your taste buds will hardly know the difference but your body definitely will. It can even be added to your omelets for a good morning breakfast that will keep you full all morning long.