- Protein is an essential macronutrient and has always been recommended as part of a healthy diet. It’s essential for building and keeping muscle as you age.
- Complete and incomplete proteins aren’t as complicated as you think — they both provide different health benefits to the body.
- High protein foods include organic meat and fish, nuts and seeds, legumes, beans, and dairy products. You’ll generally need a combination of several different sources to reach your daily needs.
Protein. If you’ve spent any time investing in your health, you know this macronutrient is essential for muscle building, longevity, quality of life, and so much more.
While dietary advice has changed over the years (for example, margarine was considered a healthy necessity in the 1970s!) protein has always been recommended as part of a healthy diet. So there’s no question — protein is essential for survival, energy, and for feeling your best.
But with so much content online about protein, it can be difficult to discern exactly how much protein you need and what types of protein are healthiest for your body. (It’s likely not what you’ve been told.)
Today we’re breaking apart protein myths and sharing science-backed data to help you create a balanced plate for strength, longevity, and vitality.
Table of Contents:
- What Is Protein?
- Protein Benefits
- Complete vs. Incomplete Protein
- Good Sources of High Quality Proteint
- Protein Powder
- How Much of Your Diet Should Consist of Protein?t
What is Protein?
Protein is a macronutrient that’s made up of building blocks called amino acids. It’s found in every cell of the human body — literally from your head to your toes. You may know protein for its ability to build strong muscles. But it really does so much more for the body, like maintaining your energy levels, oxygenating the bloodstream, and balancing blood sugar levels.
What Are the Benefits of Protein?
Beyond muscle building, how do protein stores impact your daily life? Here are just a few things protein is doing for your body behind the scenes.
High quality protein…
- Assists in the creation of cell membrane structure and cell regeneration
- Helps to regulate your metabolism and digestion
- Improves energy levels
- Grows strong hair and nails
- Assists in hormone function and regulation
- Plays an essential role in maintaining pH levels in the body
- Improves immune system function
- Is essential for human growth and development, especially in children and teens
Seeing how much protein accomplishes for your body, it’s no wonder we need quite a lot of it on a daily basis. If you have energy issues, feel fatigued easily, hormone imbalances, or low immunity, you might simply need more protein. More on this in just a bit.
Complete vs. Incomplete Protein: Why Does It Matter?
Have you ever bought an expensive protein powder just to find out it doesn’t include any complete proteins? Maybe you’re not exactly sure what that means, but it doesn’t sound good…
Remember, protein is created from amino acids. You have to have those amino acids present in order to create different proteins. Some amino acids can be made naturally by your body (these are called “nonessential” amino acids), but others can only be sourced through food (essential amino acids).
There are nine essential amino acids: phenylalanine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, threonine, histidine, methionine, tryptophan, and valine. When you eat animal protein (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, etc.), you’ll consume all of these amino acids at once — and that’s considered a complete protein.
An incomplete protein is a food that contains only some essential amino acids. In order for your body to create proteins, you’d need to consume multiple sources of amino acids.
Incomplete proteins aren’t inherently bad. The downside is that you’ll have to eat more calories (usually much more) and a higher variety of foods in order to achieve the same results.
We do recommend consuming complete proteins when possible (whether through protein powder or animal sources), simply because it’s easier to meet your nutritional needs this way and the body seems to respond better.
Good Sources of High Quality Protein
There are a few things to consider when consuming protein: how your own body reacts to protein, where you’re sourcing your protein from (local and regenerative organic, we hope!), and how many foods you are willing to eat in order to meet your daily protein intake.
Plant vs. Animal Protein
If you’ve ever considered becoming a vegetarian or vegan, you know that protein is a huge part of the conversation — and likely, you’ll have to do a lot of research before taking the leap. It can be much more difficult to get complete proteins when eating only a plant-based diet, but it’s not impossible.
Since plant sources don’t usually contain complete proteins, you have to eat a lot more calories to meet the recommended daily protein intake. You also have to eat a larger variety of foods to ensure you consume all nine of the essential amino acids. A plant-based protein powder is likely going to be an essential on a daily basis.
Although going vegetarian or vegan is a personal choice, we do recommend including animal sources (beef, chicken, or fish) in your diet when possible. This takes the stress off you and your body — and ensures you get enough protein to keep your cells, organs, and muscles going for a long time. No guessing needed.
High Protein Foods
These high protein foods will help you stay fuller longer while building strong muscles and improving cognitive function.
Organic Meat and Fish
Consuming grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, and shellfish is a great way to ensure your body is well supplied with complete proteins. If you’re worried you aren’t getting enough protein in your diet, start a temporary food journal or use a macro tracking app. Eating more animal products might feel intimidating at first, but you will likely notice an increase in energy and vitality over time. Don’t forget to include appropriate servings of fruits, veggies, and healthy starches or grains on the side.
Beans and Legumes
Beans are extremely versatile and can be included in meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They are also an excellent high protein food. Most beans do not include complete proteins (only soybeans, which unfortunately are highly estrogenic and one of the most highly sprayed crops in the U.S.), so they may require supplementation of another source.
Organic Dairy Products
Yep, your morning yogurt bowl packs some protein alongside those probiotics. Although you won’t get as much protein from milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt as you would from fish or meat, you’ll still get a healthy dose of complete proteins (so it’s a win!). Greek yogurt especially packs 24 grams per cup (8 oz.), a decent serving size.
Nuts and Seeds
Have you ever wondered why nuts and seeds are often recommended for athletes? It’s because these easy snacks contain a lot of protein — while allowing for slower digestion and higher performance for sporting events. If you’re looking to increase your protein intake, you can sprinkle walnuts or almonds in your salad or add ground-up seeds (like flax and chia) to smoothies.
Should You Use Protein Powder Supplements?
Protein powders are a great option for athletes, weightlifters, and those looking to build and maintain muscle. They add an extra boost to your regular intake of high protein foods. Just make sure you choose a supplement that is low in sugar and doesn’t include any sketchy chemicals. Here are some options we love:
This popular protein supplement is derived from dairy (specifically, cheese!). A high quality, organic, non denatured whey supplement should help reduce inflammation, increase cognitive function, and even improve gut health and immunity. This is because non denatured whey contains some of the amazing immunoglobulins (IgG, IgA), the master antioxidant glutathione, and other nutrients found in high quality dairy.
Vegetarians love a good pea protein powder — and we do, too! Unlike other veggie-based supplement options, pea protein is a complete protein. It also offers extra benefits of iron and antioxidants. When shopping for pea protein, just make sure to find one with quality control that doesn’t leave room for glyphosate (the most heavily sprayed herbicide in the U.S.).
How Much of Your Diet Should Consist of Protein?
High quality proteins come in all shapes, sizes, and tastes! Our recommended (and doctor-approved) protein consumption is .8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. If you’re strength training or exercising regularly, you probably need even more.
So for a woman who weighs 130 Ibs, she should try to get between 104 and 130 grams of protein per day, toward the higher end of that range if she’s training regularly. If this seems completely unattainable right now, start with building a high protein breakfast with 30 grams of protein and address the rest of your meals and snacks from there. Aim for 25-40 grams of protein per meal and include one or two high protein snacks throughout the day.
Another variable to consider is age. The older you get, the more protein you need in order to maintain muscle mass and vitality. Unfortunately, it’s more common that people eat less protein as they age.
The Benefits of a High Protein Diet
High protein diets like Keto do come with some benefits, but we recommend a modified version for optimal cellular health (hint: the modified version still includes lots of protein). Here are some benefits you might experience when following that diet and increasing your protein intake:
- Protein Increases Your Feeling of Fullness
Protein takes longer to digest than carbs, meaning it helps you stay fuller longer and increases feelings of satisfaction. This makes protein a great choice for athletes who may have to go multiple hours without eating during long training sessions. Protein also may help you get through the early morning hours at work without any hangry feelings — always a bonus.
- Protein May Help Balance Your Blood Sugar
Even if you’re not concerned about insulin resistance, you should be aware of the spikes and drops that happen with your blood sugar. When you primarily eat carbs, your blood sugar spikes and then drops soon after mealtime. This is harsh on your body, plus it can make you feel famished only an hour or two after eating. Add a little (or a lot) of protein to your meal (preferably, eat it before the carbs!) to offset the blood sugar spikes.
- Increase Muscle Mass
Increasing muscle mass isn’t just for looks (although that’s certainly a benefit). Upleveling your muscle gains can help you live a more vital lifestyle — enjoying activities with your friends and family, keeping up with pets and kids, and participating in sports if you choose. Muscle is easy to lose during sickness or stressful times (this is normal), so doing your best to keep up with it on a daily basis will help you stay in shape longer.
Is Protein Hard to Digest?
If you are healthy, you shouldn’t have any trouble digesting protein. (This is a myth!) Although protein does take longer to digest than carbs, it shouldn’t give you any symptoms or feelings of “heaviness.” If you do experience discomfort after eating, it may be helpful to look at what type of protein you’re consuming and check for food sensitivities. It can also help to monitor the amount of protein you eat and see what feels best for your body; don’t be afraid to slowly increase your protein intake over time.
When Should I Consume Protein?
There’s a lot of conflicting information about when protein should be consumed. Many people suggest taking a protein powder after a workout for better results and absorption — although studies don’t seem to show a difference in when you take protein. Consistency is more important than timing.
There is, however, data showing that 30 grams of protein with your first meal of day is important for muscle synthesis, metabolism, and blood sugar balance.
We do also recommend that if you're spending an early morning at the gym, make sure you consume protein (and a few carbs) ahead of time. You should never be doing heavy exercise on an empty stomach.
Protein for Your Cellular Health
If you care about your cellular health, then you have to care about protein. Protein is involved in nearly every cellular function — from cell membrane structure to cell signaling, cellular repair, and organ function. Even a small protein deficiency can drastically impact your daily life and accelerate aging, due to protein’s influence on the cell.
BodyBio is Here to Support Your Diet and Fitness Goals
If you’re just starting to incorporate more protein and consistent workouts in your daily routine — way to go! By strengthening your body now, you’ll be able to enjoy more of the activities you love long into the future. Future you thanks present you in advance.Whether you’re strength training at the gym or running a PR-breaking mile, you need two key things to optimize your diet and fitness goals: protein and electrolytes. Check out this blog to learn about another dietary essential that will help optimize your hard workouts and keep you feeling young, refreshed, and healthy.
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