You know there are three basic elements of foods that we should eat. Those are protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Most of us, I think, don’t have much problem consuming enough fat, especially if you’re eating an American diet. Ditto for carbs– although not all carbs are made alike, so while you may be getting a good amount of carbs in your diet, if they’re all simple carbs, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
When it comes to protein, we may not as easily get enough in our diet. There are a few reasons for that, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, though, let’s quickly break down protein and see why it’s important, and what it does for our body.
What is Protein?
Protein is, simply put, the bricks that make up our muscles and other body tissues. The bricks are made up of amino acids– think of that as the clay. The best source of amino acids is animal proteins. Meats, dairy products, eggs. You need to be eating these every day, especially if you do any strenuous exercise.
What does protein do for me?
When you exercise, you’re actually tearing your muscles– creating holes in your brick wall. You need those fresh amino acids to come in and fill in the gaps. You’re not losing any muscle when you exercise. It’s the process of tear-and-repair that grows your muscles.
How much protein should I eat every day?
Like anything, it’s going to depend on where you’re starting out, and what you’re trying to achieve.
If you’re trying to lose weight, try to get at least 30% of your daily calories from protein. I have a target goal of 1300 calories a day, so at least 390 calories need to come from lean protein.
For example, you could include a 1/2 cup (2.5 oz.) of tuna in your meal. That’s about 85 calories, and 18 grams of protein. Mix in some mustard, pickles, and stuff it into half of a whole wheat pita pocket along with some sliced tomato, sprouts, and served with 1 C. of fresh fruit, and you have a meal that’s around 250 calories, with about 40-percent of those calories coming from protein.
What if I’m a vegetarian?
If you don’t eat animal products, that’s okay. But it will be more challenging for you to get the protein you need. Quinoa is a protein that’s gaining in popularity these days. 1 cup of prepared quinoa will give you about 8 grams of protein for 220 calories. Adding chia seeds or hemp seed to dishes will amp up the protein counts. Nuts are a more common place protein source– peanut butter, almond butter, and even almond milk are great. Use some Silk Almond Milk for a fruit smoothie, and toss in a little spirulina for a mega protein boost. And don’t forget chickpeas. They’re great on salads, and heavenly as hummus!
The other benefit of eating a diet high in protein, or at least making sure you’re eating protein at every mea, is that you’ll stay satisfied longer, because it takes longer for your body to break down those proteins. Staving off hunger, is as good an excuse as any for amping up your intake of those foods that will pull double duty to help build muscle.
Cheering for you!
One, is that protein is often harder to prepare.