Protein is one of the building blocks that make up a large part of every cell in your body, including muscle, skin, bone, and hair. It’s also essential for building hormones, enzymes, and hemoglobin.
Protein is made up of smaller components called amino acids, some of which can be produced by our bodies, and others, which must come from the foods we eat. The ones that must come from our diet are called essential amino acids and include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Because foods have varying levels of these essential amino acids, it’s important to eat a good diet.
In a 2002 report presenting dietary reference values for the intake of nutrients by Americans and Canadians, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommended that 10% to 35% of the diet come from protein (Ref. 1). The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of it for every kilogram of body weight. On average, based on the RDA, that’s 56 grams of protein for the average male who weighs 154 pounds and 40 grams for the average female who weighs 110 pounds. On average, Canadians consume 17% of their total calories from protein (Ref. 2).
Protein provides benefits you can see and feel because:
- It gives you energy: protein stimulates certain cells in the brain that keep you awake and increase your energy expenditure throughout the day (Ref. 3).
- It fills you up: studies show that people who eat a meal or snack containing protein feel fuller longer (Ref. 4), and that means a reduction in overall daily calorie consumption because subjects were simply not as hungry between meals or at mealtime.
- It maintains lean body mass: protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass whenever you’re on a calorie-restricted diet, exercising, or building muscle. Without enough protein in the diet, the body starts to use muscle mass for energy, which leads to a decrease in lean body mass and a drop in metabolism. Leucine, an amino acid in protein, is especially good at maintaining lean body mass during low-calorie diets (Ref. 5).
The typical Canadian diet includes enough protein (Ref. 6) – but not always from the healthiest sources. Statistics Canada data show that red meat still tops poultry and fish in per capita consumption. Depending on the type, red meat can be high in fat and cholesterol, which can increase both your weight and your risk of heart disease. Choose lean cuts of meat and consider substituting other sources of protein for some of the red meat in your diet, including poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy products, and vegetable sources such as soy protein (e.g., tofu), beans, and lentils.
Make sure you include a high-quality source of protein with every meal to maximize the benefits of feeling full and building muscle, including snacks after workouts. It’s been shown that eating protein, especially protein high in the essential amino acid leucine, after a workout helps build lean muscle. Try adding soy or whey protein to a smoothie or yogurt in the morning. Choose nuts, beans, or low-fat cheese as a snack, and include lean proteins with lunch and dinner. Over time, you may find yourself feeling stronger and looking leaner.
What’s your favourite way to include proteins in your day?
On a personal note: I find that having a morning smoothie is the best way to start my day. Packing it full of protein, fruit, bee pollen, greens and whatever else I feel inspired to throw in LOL, ensures that I am getting all the daily goodies my body needs :). I always include a serving of Shaklee Protein, either the Shaklee 180™ Smoothee Mix or the Vanilla Soy Protein. There are many different brands of protein out there, and it can be hard to decide which brand to choose. For myself, I will only ingest a product that is NON GMO, guaranteed pure, backed by scientific research and that contains Leucine, which holds on to lean muscle while letting go of fat. Yup, that is what I am talking about! Shaklee has all those bases covered.
1. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids. 5 September 2002. http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2002/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-for-Energy-Carbohydrate-Fiber-Fat-Fatty-Acids-Cholesterol-Protein-and-Amino-Acids.aspx.
2. American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2009/03000/Nutrition_and_Athletic_Performance.27.aspx.
3. Cell Press. How the brain senses nutrient balance. ScienceDaily. 23 January 2012. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111117140258.htm.
4. Cell Press. How a protein meal tells your brain you’re full. ScienceDaily. 5 July 2012. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120705172041.htm.
5. Westcott W, Varghese J, DiNubile N, Moynihan N, Loud RL, Whitehead S, Brothers S, Giordano J, Morse S, Madigan MA, Blum K. Exercise and nutrition more effective than exercise alone for increasing lean weight and reducing resting blood pressure. J Exerc Physiol-online. 2011 Aug; 14(4): 120.
6. Health Canada. Canadian community health survey, cycle 2.2, nutrition. Nutrient intakes from food. 2004. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/surveill/nutri-tion/commun/cchs_focus-volet_escc-eng.php.