The protein you eat is essential to many body processes, including muscle and tissue growth and repair. It also helps keep you feeling full, maintains a healthy weight and energy level, and reduces fatigue.
Your daily protein needs vary depending on your health, fitness level and goals. We recommend you aim for between 10 and 35 percent of your total calories from protein.
What is Protein?
Protein is the body’s building block, making up bones, muscles, skin, organs, blood cells and even your hair and nails. It is also essential for energy production, hormone synthesis and metabolism.
The human body contains about 10,000 different proteins, which are made up of long chains of amino acids. The sequence in which the amino acids are arranged determines how each protein works. Nine of the amino acids are considered “essential,” meaning your body cannot make them on its own, so you must get them from your diet.
Your protein intake can affect your appetite and weight. Research shows that high-protein diets are linked to appetite regulation, which may help you feel full longer.
It’s important to eat a wide range of proteins from different sources to keep your diet balanced and healthy. Some of the best sources of protein are meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, legumes, and nuts.
Many plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains, are also good sources of protein. However, because most plant foods are incomplete proteins, they may not provide all of the amino acids that your body needs to function properly.
Some of the protein you need is found in animal products, such as milk, cheese, fish, meat, eggs and whey. Others are found in beans, nuts, seeds and soy products.
The protein you eat in your diet is broken down during digestion into parts called amino acids. The amino acids help your body make new cells, maintain tissue and keep your immune system running smoothly.
While the protein your body needs is different for everyone, most adults need about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight daily. This amount is also known as the Recommended Dietary Allowance, or RDA.
To get the most protein from your diet, consider choosing lean or low-fat proteins. These include grilled or roasted chicken breasts, turkey breasts, ground beef, fish, and skinless poultry. Try to limit fat and saturated fat in your protein choices, especially from red meat.
Animal Sources of Protein
The protein sources of animal origin (meat, poultry, fish, and dairy) are a very important part of an overall healthy diet. They are rich in essential nutrients such as protein, vitamin B12, potassium, iron and zinc, among others. They also contain high levels of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D and E, calcium, phosphorus, and selenium.
They are generally considered to be a complete source of protein because they contain all nine essential amino acids in the right proportions to meet the body’s needs. They are typically higher in methionine, lysine, and tryptophan than are plant proteins (which are low in these three amino acids).
There is evidence that eating a diet rich in animal protein can be beneficial for individuals at risk of cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis. Consuming meat has been linked to positive health outcomes in elderly women and has been shown to cause increases in lean muscle mass when compared to vegetarian diets. Similarly, diets containing meat have been shown to promote bone resorption and increase net protein synthesis compared with high vegetable protein intakes.
Meat and other sources of animal protein are also a good source of dietary fiber, a nutrient that is needed by our digestive system. Moreover, they tend to be lower in saturated fat and sodium than vegetable sources of protein.
However, there is a small amount of evidence that eating red meat and other sources of saturated fat can increase the risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. This is because these foods are often high in cholesterol and saturated fats.
The good news is that these health risks can be countered by limiting the amount of saturated fat and salt you consume and consuming healthier sources of protein from other sources such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits. In addition, reducing your overall intake of calories can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.
A high protein intake can also be beneficial for athletes and other fitness enthusiasts. During intense training, animal-based proteins can help provide the fuel and energy that is required for the body’s cells to function effectively. They can also help prevent protein breakdown in the body, which can result in reduced muscle wasting and injury during training.
Plant Sources of Protein
Plant sources of protein can be a great addition to a healthy, whole foods diet, as well as a great way to reduce your meat and other animal product intake. They’re a good source of many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that can benefit you in a variety of ways.
A growing number of studies have shown that increasing the amount of protein derived from plants can be beneficial for your health, particularly if you’re trying to maintain or lose weight. This can help lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation and reduce your risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
The amount of protein you need depends on your age, lifestyle, and activity level. Talk to a registered dietitian to learn more about your individual needs and to find out how much protein is best for you.
Most people get their daily protein intake from meat, fish and dairy products. These foods are often high in saturated fat and are associated with increased levels of inflammation in the body, which can lead to heart disease, stroke and other diseases.
However, some research suggests that a shift in dietary patterns to decrease meat consumption and increase the amount of protein from plants can be beneficial to our health as well as the environment. For example, increasing plant protein consumption reduces the impact on the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and land use for growing livestock.
Plant-based protein sources include a wide variety of foods, including nuts, seeds, legumes and vegetables. They are also an excellent source of fiber, which can help regulate digestion and keep you full.
These foods are also a good source of iron, zinc and calcium. These vitamins and minerals are often absent from animal-based proteins, but are important for the development of strong bones and teeth.
In addition, many plant-based proteins are also rich in phytochemicals, which have been linked to a reduction of certain cancer risks and a reduced risk of heart disease. The main phytochemicals exhibited by plant-based proteins are phytates, lignans and phenolic acids.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
Protein is the stuff of life, and it’s important to get enough of it every day. It plays a key role in everything from cell function to the production of major hormones and antibodies.
Your protein needs are determined by many factors, including your age, gender, diet, level of physical activity and other health conditions. For example, if you’re pregnant, lactating, or have kidney disease, your protein requirements are significantly higher than the average person.
According to the National Academy of Medicine, adults should consume 10-35% of their daily calories from protein. Getting enough of it may help you lose weight, build lean muscle, reduce inflammation and support bone health.
But getting the recommended amount of protein each day can be tricky. The RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, which means that a 50-year-old sedentary woman weighing 140 pounds should consume 53 grams of protein each day.
To determine your specific protein requirements, use this online Protein Calculator to calculate how much you should eat each day. The calculator estimates your protein intake based on your gender, age, height and weight.
In general, 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is a good daily protein intake range for healthy people to preserve existing muscle and gain lean mass, says Nicole Rodriguez, RDN, NASM-certified personal trainer and co-founder of Step Bite Step. This is the ideal protein intake for maintaining a normal weight or gaining lean mass when using a calorie surplus, she adds.
Increasing your protein intake can also help you feel fuller longer, curb hunger and keep you from overeating, Glover says. You can achieve this by eating a variety of foods with different levels of protein, like eggs, nuts, seeds, meats, dairy and beans.
Athletes, pregnant women, nursing mothers and those with kidney disease should aim to consume more protein than the average person. This is especially true if you’re working out regularly, Glover says.