Have you ever been told that you should consume more protein? Perhaps this has led to you bulk buying protein supplements, which you've hardly used, or switching to a high-protein diet, such as those popularised by ripped celebrities (like the infamous steamed chicken, broccoli, and cauliflower diet Hugh Jackman uses to prepare for when he plays Wolverine).
But what do you know about protein? While researching a previous blog post about carbohydrates and their impact on weight loss, I learned so much about protein and why it's so important for us, especially if you're an active individual.
Read on to learn more about protein, why your body needs it, what happens if you have too much or too little in your diet, and how much you should probably consume each day.
What is protein?
Proteins are long chains of organic molecules called amino acids that are linked together like beads on a string—they are the building blocks of life.
There are 21 different amino acids that your body needs to grow and function properly. 12 of these are nonessential, which your body can produce itself, and 9 of these are essential that you must get through your diet.
The best sources of essential amino acids are (you guessed it) proteins, such as meat, fish, and eggs. Plant-based proteins, such as soy, tofu, and edamame also contain all 9 essential amino acids. These foods are known as "complete" sources of protein.
How your body uses protein
After you consume protein, digestive enzymes in your stomach and small intestine break it down into amino acids. These amino acids are then absorbed into the bloodstream and are transported to cells all over your body.
Once absorbed, they are connected into long chains of amino acids. These chains can be folded into different shapes, such as spirals, zigzags, and loops. Combining these shapes is how thousands of different types of proteins are made and each has an important job.
What happens if you consume too little or too much
It's crucial to consume an adequate amount of protein each day to maintain good health and prevent muscle loss as you age.
Consuming too little protein can have several negative effects on your body and health; it's essential to so many important functions. It can lead to:
Decreased energy levels
Loss of lean body mass
A weaker immune system
Imbalanced hormone levels
Slower metabolism and rate of recovery
On the other hand, consuming too much protein can also be harmful. Consuming excessive amounts of protein for an extended period can lead to:
Weight gain (excess protein is often stored as fat)
Kidney damage (for people with preexisting kidney disease)
Poor digestion (especially if your diet lacks fibre)
Bad breath (especially if you restrict your carbohydrate intake)
So what should you do?
Similar to what I've said before, there's no single correct answer to this question. As always, a good diet is both balanced and sustainable. However, you must consume the right amount of protein appropriate for your age, sex, and level of physical activity.
The recommended dietary allowance for the average sedentary adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Whereas an active adult who is trying to build or maintain muscle mass can increase to an intake of 1.4–2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight.
For example, an average sedentary adult weighing 75 kilograms should consume 60 grams of protein daily. An active adult who lifts weights weighing 75 kilograms should consume between 105–150 grams of protein per day.
If you'd like to keep up to date on my workouts and the meals I receive, you can follow me on Instagram.