What is protein? How much do you need? Are there consequences of eating too much? These are a few common questions I hear as a registered dietitian. Protein is one of the three main nutrients (aka: macronutrients) that our bodies need to function properly. Proteins function as building blocks for tissues in the body, and they provide energy through calories. Protein-containing foods should make up 10-35% of your daily caloric intake.
Eating too much protein IS possible! As with any single nutrient, over consumption can cause consequences for your body. In the case of protein, too much may result in burden on the kidney, which is where parts of the protein molecule (called amino acids) are metabolized. As a rule-of-thumb, you should not consume more than 30 grams of protein in one sitting.
So what are the PROS of PROTEIN?!
- Satiety: Protein digestion is the most complex out of all three macronutrients (Carbs, Fats, Proteins). Eating enough protein will help curb your hunger because the digestion process takes longer. Satiety can help weight maintenance and energy levels.
- Workout Recovery: Working out wears down your muscles. Like I mentioned before, protein is the building block that our bodies use to create new tissues. After a workout, it’s important to rest & replenish. Protein is needed during this time to rebuild muscle.
- Cellular Function: In addition to muscle, proteins are used to build and repair skin, cells, and enzymes.
What Foods contain protein? You will find the most protein in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. But you will also find protein in plant-based products such as beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and even some grains. Quinoa is one example of a grain that is higher in protein, compared to other grains. It’s best to get your protein from FOOD rather than supplements. Supplements provide an easy, on-the-go, alternative to protein, but they often contain other additives that our bodies do not need. My favorite sources of protein: plain non-fat Greek yogurt, canned tuna, tofu, eggs, venison, low-fat cottage cheese, low-fat cheese sticks, & Aldi’s Fit & Active Flatbread.
Another common question I get is in regards to protein bars. What one should you choose?! Here are my basic guidelines:
- 10 – 20 grams protein
- < 5 grams of added sugar
- < 30 carbohydrates
- ~ 200 Calories
This bar comes in at 10 grams of protein, 5 grams of added sugar, 15 carbohydrates, and 230 Calories. In addition, I can pronounce all of the ingredients: Almonds, pumpkin seeds, honey, glucose syrup, pea crisp (pea protein isolate, rice flour, rice starch), hemp seeds, jalapeño chili, onion powder, garlic powder, smoked sea salt, sunflower lecithin.
Does your protein bar fit into my basic guidelines? If so, comment below with the brand & flavor you like best.
Remember to keep your plate looking like MyPlate. The healthiest diet is a BALANCED one!