Protein may be the Beyonce of nutrition. Composed of chain-forming molecules called amino acids, protein forms tissue, muscles, organs, enzymes, collagen, and many important hormones; in short, proteins are what make us who we are.
Ironically, of the three macronutrients that make up our diets (including carbohydrates and fats), proteins should only account for 10-30% of our daily requirements, and those wanting to increase muscle mass still only need as much as 35%.
Our bodies already create many of the amino acids that we need, but the others, called essential amino acids, are obtained through our diet. And since proteins cannot be stored, we need to eat the right quantity and quality daily. But how much is enough? What happens when we get too much or too little? And, is it possible to meet our daily protein requirements while following vegetarian or vegan lifestyles?
How much protein do we need?
The average person only needs about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Meaning, a 130-pound person who rarely works out only needs an average of 46.8 grams of protein per day. On the other hand, protein is essential in muscle-building and repair and athletes require more than the average person. High-intensity athletes are encouraged to eat between 0.5 – 0.8 grams of protein per pound while bodybuilders may require a little more still.
To put the quantities into perspective, 100 grams of turkey breast yields 22 grams of protein while 1 egg and 1 ounce of dry roasted almonds each provide 6 grams.
After some time, regularly eating more protein may lead to weight loss because it helps burn fat, but overconsumption can also have the opposite effect and lead to weight gain. Other side effects of too much protein include bad breath, constipation, diarrhea, organ failure, and even cancer. Too little protein can lead to unhealthy muscle and weight loss, fatigue, and a weakened immune system.
How can you be sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet?
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to think about this question because we would meet our nutritional requirements with a well-rounded diet. In reality, however, planning meals can be difficult amid pursuing successful careers, family obligations, and hobbies. MyFitnessPal is an app that can record the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins consumed in meals. Logging in regularly can help be more mindful of nutritional intake.
Animal meat and dairy aren’t the only ways to eat more protein. Those on a vegetarian or vegan diet can get a delicious boost with shakes since protein powders come in a variety of ingredients and flavors. Healthy and satisfying vegetarian dishes are possible with a few simple pantry staples like tofu, beans, and nuts. Soups are another guilt-free way to create satisfying meals filled with protein.