Protein is an integral part of any healthy diet. Every time we exercise, our muscles are damaged. In order to repair them and make them stronger for our next workout, we need protein! Not to mention, protein is one of the most satiating macronutrients, and helps keep us full between meals and snacks.
WHAT IS IT? AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Protein is made of amino acids, and there are 22 of them. Your body is able to make 13 of them on its own, and are called “non- essential” amino acids. The other nine are “essential” amino acids, meaning you can get them from food, and food only.
These amino acids are broken down and literally make you, you! They are rearranged in order to build and maintain your muscles, bones, blood and other organs. Protein makes up roughly 20% of our body weight, and is considered the second most important aspect of nutrition.
Not only do they help your body function for you during workouts and day to day life, but it is also incredibly important for your immune system, something that is so important during a pandemic. The immune system needs protein for the formation of antibodies, which help us fight infections and viruses.
Protein is also especially important in maintaining health as you age. It contributes strong building blocks to aging muscles, helping prevent injury and muscle atrophy.
There are two types of protein: complete protein and incomplete protein. Many animal products are complete proteins, meaning they have all 22 amino acids in them. Incomplete protein sources each have an array of these amino acids, just not all of them. However, if you eat a wide range of incomplete proteins throughout the day, week, and month, you’re likely not ever going to be deficient in one. Examples of incomplete proteins include nuts, grains, vegetables, and beans.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I BE HAVING?
So, you might be wondering how much protein you should be having? And the answer depends on a number of factors. The basic recommendation for daily protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram (0.36 grams per pound). If you fall more within the “active” ranges for your daily activity, you might need a little more than this recommendation, maybe somewhere around 1.4-2.0 grams per kilogram.
No matter what kind of diet you consume, vegan, vegetarian or paleo, getting enough protein is imperative to meeting your health goals.
WHEN SHOULD I FOCUS ON GETTING MY PROTEIN?
There is research to show that you should definitely be getting protein one to two hours after vigorous exercise or strength training. This is because muscle protein activation peaks at this time, meaning your muscles are more likely to recover more efficiently during this time.
The fitter and more physically active you are, the faster your body will break down protein. This really emphasizes how every body is different, and you might have to play around with your timing and volume of protein, and find what feels good for your body.
There is also research to support having a little protein every time you eat, for fullness’ sake! Including a bit of protein in each snack and meal can make you feel fuller, as protein reduces a hormone called “ghrelin”. Ghrelin, simply put, is our hunger hormone. It flows from your gut, where it’s produced, through your bloodstream to your brain, where it tells you that it’s time to eat! When you eat protein, ghrelin is suppressed, and you can stay fuller for longer, letting you focus on your busy life, instead of being cranky and hungry.
WHERE CAN I GET MY PROTEIN FROM?
There are so many wonderful sources of protein that have endless recipe combinations. Some plant-based options include tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds. Legumes are also a great source of protein for plant-based diets, like peas, beans, and lentils. Grains such as quinoa and buckwheat are also protein sources that are delicious and nutritious. Seeds like hemp hearts and chia give you a boost of protein along with omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for vegetarians or vegans who don’t consume animal products.
Plant based proteins are also a fantastic option because they come with fibre, which supports blood sugar stability and keeping your digestive system happy. They are also often more low calorie options, if your goal is weight loss or weight maintenance.
Protein is one of the most important things that you can emphasize in your diet, as it can help everything from your immune system to bulking up in the gym. Getting enough, and enough of the right kind is essential in any healthy eating routine.
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Author: Natalie MacMillan is a recent journalism graduate and writer. She was born and raised in Toronto, where she currently lives. She loves delicious, healthy food and the outdoors.