What is protein?
Proteins play countless roles throughout the biological world, catalyzing chemical reactions to building the structures of all living things. Despite all the various things proteins are used for, their basic structure stays pretty similar, consisting of the same 21 amino acids, but depending on what is required of them, they are arranged in different ways. The way the amino acids are arranged dictates the final shape of the protein which in turn, allows for recognition and the binding of specific molecules, once completed, the proteins can perform as required for their positions.
For us mere mortals, proteins play an important role in helping us stay alive and healthy. They are the building blocks upon which the foundation of our very existence lives. It allows us to create and keep muscles, bones, cartilage, skin, and even those pretty nails that we all like to paint so much. Even the hair on our head….and other places, is made up of protein. We exist in a state of constant decay and regeneration. We need to build, and we need protein to do this. Part of us is always dying, and like the phoenix, some is being reborn, built a little better, and a little bigger (assuming of course you are eating nutritious foods and stacking plates in the gym 😜).
Why is protein important?
Repair, rebirth, salvation. You need protein to recover. Plain and simple. Think of protein as building blocks...or a lake, readily available, the water of life...Let’s say you did a bunch of damage to yourself, it was a massacre, you hiked for 15 miles, downhill both ways, off the couch, and with a 40-pound pack full of bricks. It is now the following day and you are not feeling quite as spry as you were the day before...not only that, but you have not been eating very much protein, plenty of fats and carbs, so your energy throughout the activity was pretty steady, but now the activity is over and your body needs to repair all the damage accrued under the weight and mileage from the death march that was just administered. Without an adequate amount of protein in your body, it is like trying to put out a house fire with a water bucket that has a hole in it. Protein should be a well that never runs dry, yes you can overdo it, but it is pretty hard to achieve. Unless this is something you have tracked before, more often than not, your body is running in a deficit. So when you need to open up the metaphorical floodgates to put out the flames that are burning down the structure, the volume needed to repair or douse the offending areas is not readily available. We need a lake on the inside, a reservoir that is available at all times, to be on call and ready to go where needed most.
How much protein?
How big of a reservoir do you need? How much protein do you need to have for sufficient storage? It depends on several things: body size, gender, activity level, and goals. Calculating how much protein you need can get super geeky, so some experimentation may be needed depending on the goals of the individual. In general, you should be taking in at least .6 grams per pound of bodyweight on the low side, and up to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight on the high side. In terms of muscle building, weight loss, and general athletic training, an average intake of .75 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is considered to be ideal to maximize muscle gain during periods of growth, as well as to maintain lean body mass during periods of fat loss.
Not only does protein help with recovery, but it also helps with weight management. A good goal would be to base each meal around your protein first. Protein will leave you feeling satisfied and fulfilled. If consumed in the range mentioned above, and assuming your carbs and fats are also in a good range for your current daily activity levels, then maintaining a consistent protein intake is the best way to maintain your lean muscle mass as you age.
Here is an example of calculating your daily protein: Bob weighs 185lbs, a good goal for him would be to eat roughly 140 grams of protein a day (.75 x 185 = 138.75). Remember your protein goal can range from .6-1 gram per pound of bodyweight but the sweet spot usually lies somewhere in between.
Nutrition challenge daily protein goal:
Since we are in a nutrition challenge, your challenge for this week is to eat .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. For every day that you hit your daily protein goal you will earn 3 points!
Here are some helpful tips for tracking your protein and hitting your daily protein goals:
Use the app My Fitness Pal to track your protein for the day. You can easily search for food and enter the quantity you ate and it will tell you how many grams of protein is in your food.
If you don't want to use an app you can easily use a pen and paper.
Plan your meals around protein.
Protein shakes post-workout are a great way to add an extra 20-25grams.