There is a lot of confusion around protein these days. How much is too much? Should I avoid red meat? Will eating too much protein cause me to gain weight? What if I don’t eat meat or animal products? I admit that, until recently, I was a protein skeptic. I thought that, as a woman, eating a lot of protein would make me big and bulky like a guy. Upping my protein has not only helped me feel better, but has helped me to achieve fitness goals and has most definitely not made me big or “unwomanly”. As a result, I’m dedicating this week’s post to all things protein and discussing why it is so freaking important and how much of it we should be eating every day.
Protein is a macronutrient made up of amino acids, which are one of the building blocks of the human body. Our body is able to produce some amino acids but others, known as essential amino acids, we can only get from our food. Protein plays a crucial role is just about every function of the human body. It helps to grow and maintain cells, provides us with energy, helps build and maintain muscle, improves the immune system and carries oxygen throughout the body. Basically, protein is essential to our existence. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, protein has also been found to aid with managing cravings and weight, increase satiety (i.e. feeling full) and help curb appetite.
Not all protein is created equal. The quality of your protein matters. When it comes to protein from animal sources, the health of the animal has a direct impact on our health. If you can afford it, opt for organic, grass-fed and free range meet, pasture-raised eggs and organic dairy. Meat that is not organic has added hormones and antibiotics that are not healthy for us. Same goes for farm-raised fish, which live in conditions similar to those of a factory farm. Opt for fresh, wild fish and beware of mercury levels. Fish found with the highest mercury levels include swordfish, tuna and halibut, while the lowest levels are found in shrimp, salmon and sardines.
One commonly-held misconception is that you have to eat animal meat to get enough protein in your diet. There are some great non-animal sources of protein, which I will discuss in more detail a little later on. Famous athletes who are vegan or vegetarian include Venus Williams and Mike Tyson. It just takes a little bit more planning to make sure you are getting adequate levels of protein, that’s all.
Speaking of adequate levels… How much protein you should eat depends on your sex, age, activity level and weight. The standard recommendation is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. So, a 150 pound woman should eat about 54 grams of protein every day. That doesn’t factor in activity level. Strength athletes are encouraged to eat 0.64-0.82 grams per pound and endurance athletes 0.54-0.64 grams per pound. Using this information, calculate what amount you should be aiming for every day.
It is recommended that protein consumption be spread out throughout the day. This will help you to sustain your energy and avoid the pitfalls of low blood sugar that can make us dizzy and sleepy. Not to mention help curb cravings for sugar in the mid-afternoon! Breakfast and snacks are two times when people commonly don’t eat enough protein. Eating breakfast of a bagel and banana on the run isn’t going to give you enough protein to get your body going and sustain you until lunch. Try adding a hard-boiled egg or spread your bagel with natural almond butter.
Below I’ve provided a chart of various types of proteins from animal and non-animal sources, as well as my thoughts on each category:
For a 150 pound meat-eating female who likes to get her workout on at the gym most days, below is an example of a day’s worth of protein intake. Keeping the daily recommendations above in mind, she should eat around 100 grams of protein a day (150 x 0.64 = 96). If she likes to lift and push herself pretty hard at the gym, she should bump up her protein even more. The grams measurements used are approximations.
As always, find what works best for you considering your lifestyle and eating preferences. Listen to your body, it knows exactly what it needs.
~Peace, love and protein~
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