Protein is one of the 3 macronutrients that you get from the foods you eat. You probably know that protein is important for building strong muscles and tendons. And, if you’re an avid exerciser, you likely supplement your diet with a protein drink most days. But, many people still find it tough to eat enough protein despite shakes and smoothies.
Protein is important for so many factors of health. It helps to repair damage and fight infections, making it a vital macronutrient to support a healthy immune system. Protein is needed for healthy skin, hair and nails (which is what a lot of women strive for when they aim to eat enough protein).
But, protein is important for other things too. Things like the production of hormones and maintaining a stable mood.
High protein diets may also help reduce blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis too. And, of course, we all know that when you eat enough protein, you don’t feel as hungry as often! This makes protein important for metabolism and a healthy body weight.
How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
Protein isn’t a magic food and eating too much can cause some significant health issues. If your diet consists of 20-30% protein, you can safely say that you eat enough protein each day.
But, in our carb- and processed food-heavy society, most people don’t eat enough protein. They fill up on foods like pasta, crackers, cookies, and other snacks.
Your body needs at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or 0.36 grams of protein per pound) per day.
This is the absolute minimum, for people who are not athletic or avid exercisers.
If you exercise regularly but don’t consider yourself a bodybuilder or athlete, your protein needs are about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight.
And, if you do a LOT of physical exercise to build strong muscles, your needs increase to 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
If you’ve just calculated out your typical protein consumption and found it to be quite low, start by trying to get the bare minimum. That’s 0.8 g/kg per day!
Seniors and people healing from surgeries or injury will need to eat enough protein to recover and heal.
Protein and Its Effects on Your Weight
There is a misconception out there that eating more protein than any other macronutrient will help with weight loss.
Protein will help with weight loss to a point. However, just like carbs, too much protein can be broken down into sugars and thus stored as fat. And, to be clear, too many calories of any type of macronutrient will cause fat storage too. So, portion sizes are still important.
As I mentioned, your body does need a certain amount of protein to stay healthy. Just don’t eat too much!
One of the cool things about protein is that the digestion process actually burns more calories than other macronutrients. This is known as it’s “thermic effect”, which is the amount of energy needed to digest, absorb, transport and store a nutrient. Protein digestion expends more energy than either fat or carbohydrate digestion. Interesting, eh?
Can Too Much Protein Be Unhealthy
Honestly, besides weight gain, most people won’t experience any adverse effects if they eat too much protein. But, whether you eat enough protein or too much, it’s always best to watch your intake and any symptoms you may notice. Just to be safe.
If you have kidney issues, though, a high protein diet can be harmful. Your kidneys will not be able to filter out the excess amino acids from broken down protein. Talk to your doctor before increasing your protein intake if kidneys are a concern.
Plant proteins are a safe source of protein for kidney health, so try to balance your protein from both animal and plant sources.
How to Eat Enough Protein
Animal sources of protein tend to have the highest amounts. However, you can still get complete protein from grains, legumes and beans. Just make sure to eat a variety of these foods often to get all the essential amino acids your body needs!
- A 3.5 ozchicken breast has 31 g
- A 3.5 ozcan of salmon has 20 g
- ½ cup cooked beans contain 6-9 g
- A large egg contains 6 g
- ¼ cup nuts contains 4-7 g
- 1 medium baked potato contains 3 g
- Most protein powders contain 20-35 g protein.
Eat Enough Protein for Better Energy
I don’t know about you, but when my energy levels tank, I don’t want to cook healthy meals or exercise. And both of these things are crucial for a healthy lifestyle and to prevent health issues like adrenal fatigue, weight gain, sugar cravings, brain fog and so much more!
So, again, make sure to eat enough protein to keep your energy levels up! Not only will protein improve energy, it will do so without spiking your blood sugar and your cortisol. Organ meats are actually one of the best sources of protein for people with low energy, if you can stomach them. Fish, organic meats, eggs, beans and whole, sprouted grains are great too.
We all need to eat enough protein. “Enough” is about 0.8 – 1.3 g/kg (0.36 – 0.6 g/lb) per day. If you’re a healthy non-athlete adult, you can aim for the lower level. If you’re an athlete, senior, or injured person, aim for the higher level.
Too much protein can cause weight gain, so try to stay within the above limits depending on your health and physical activity levels. If your energy is low, try increasing your protein intake. It might be helpful for you to keep track of your protein consumption to see just how close you are to the recommended daily amount.