Do I Need Protein? And How Much?

Protein is an essential nutrient for growth, repair and maintenance of the body. Proteins are also vital to the function of enzymes, antibodies, oxygen carriers, and hormones as well as providing structure to bones, ligaments, skin, and teeth. Protein can be used as an energy source, but it’s only used when carbohydrate and/or fat is lacking. Carbohydrates and fats can both be used for energy, but they can’t substitute for the building blocks of protein. That’s why it’s important that there be adequate calories from carbohydrates and fat, in essence to preserve proteins for synthesis and repair.

The recommended daily intake of protein in 0.8gm/kg of body weight, which amounts to roughly 55 grams per day for an adult weighing 150 pounds. A ‘ball-park’ way to estimate your protein requirements is to divide your desirable weight (which may be different than current weight) by 2. That’s approximately how many grams of protein are needed per day. Additional requirements depend on age, reproductive status, general health, and activity level – especially if its endurance events and/or resistance exercise for muscle building.

The best sources of low fat, high quality protein can be found in the meat group. These include fish, skinless poultry, and wild game. A 3-ounce serving provides 25-30 grams of high quality protein. Other good sources of protein are found in the dairy group. One cup of low fat milk provides 13 grams of protein, which is similar to a 1/2 cup of part-skim ricotta cheese or a cup of yogurt. Eggs are also an excellent source, offering 7 grams of protein per egg. For those individuals keeping a low cholesterol diet, making an omelet using one egg yolk and three egg whites would provide a low fat, high protein meal.

Legumes such as lentils, split peas, tofu and kidney beans provide about 8 grams of protein per 1/2 cup. Although these are low fat choices, they are not complete proteins. Complete proteins provide a balanced amount of all the essential amino acids – which are the building blocks of protein. Beans, therefore, need to be eaten in conjunction with other foods to provide a protein-balanced meal.

Unusual demands on the body create unusual needs for protein. For instance, long-distance endurance events, such as running or cycling, increase the need for protein – especially for the amino acid leucine. Up to 11-12% of the energy during such events are derived from protein. Serious weight training during the hypertrophy stage, when a great deal of muscle is being created, can double the need for protein – and sometimes even more. Illness can substantially increase protein requirements, especially for healing and to support immune system function. That’s also the time, unfortunately, when people have an aversive reaction to high-protein foods such as meats and fish. A protein supplement may be a good option at that time. The bottom line is that under all circumstances, there is an absolute need for a specific amount of protein. And the need must be met

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Craig Audley
Craig Audley writes about and promotes many diet, weight loss and nutrition products.