All macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) are essential to proper growth, function, and optimal wellness. However, manipulating each nutrients role in your daily dietary needs as an individual, is highly specific, highly varied and always changing.
I want to focus on the subject of protein today, as there's so much more to it than meat and muscles! Proteins are utilized in the body in the following way:
- To regulate fluid balance. Proteins help maintain fluid balance contained within or outside the cell as well as between intravascular spaces.
- As acid-base regulators. Normal body processes produce acids and bases which are carried to the kidneys or lungs for excretion, this must be done with a balanced blood pH and proteins help to do this.
- As transporters. Proteins carry oxygen, lipids, vitamins and minerals throughout the body.
- As antibodies. Proteins defend against disease with their giant antibody molecules. Without sufficient protein the body cannot maintain its antibodies and the person will be more prone to illnesses.
- As energy sources. Though not their first priority, proteins can be synthesized to make glucose for energy in a time of need.
- For blood clotting. Fibrin, a mass of protein fibers, is produced in order to form blood clots in a time of injury. As the injury becomes a scar the scar is formed by the protein collagen and can permanently heal.
You can begin to see why proteins are so important for our health. If we are deficient or have an imbalance of proteins in our diet it will effect of hormones levels, our digestion, our brain function, our sleep patterns, our healing capacity, our pain tolerance, our mood, our susceptibility to illness, and all of these can lead to much more serious disease processes in our bodies.
But How Much Protein do you Need?
Like with all nutritional suggestions, the answer to this question is variable. Depends on the person; their gender, their genetics, their health history, their health goals, their food allergens or restrictions, what they have access to, and even economical variation. This is why I don't like to make generalizations as a nutritionist! Just like any nutrient, if we over eat proteins they will convert to fat and be stored in our fat cells as excess. It is also important to note that proteins do not “act alone” they must be combine with proper nutrients from a balanced diet in order to do their job. That’s why it’s important to balance your proteins with healthy fats, vegetables, and whole grains. Eggs are the “gold standard” in high quality protein sources. Other healthy lean protein sources include: buffalo, ground beef, chicken, turkey, and fish.
With the popularity of "high-protein" diets, you might be tempted to believe you simply can't overeat protein. But the truth is that consuming excessive protein can actually be quite detrimental to your health. Eating more protein than your body needs can interfere with your health and fitness goals in a number of ways, including weight gain, extra body fat, stress on your kidneys, dehydration, and leaching of important bone minerals.
You likely need about one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. The following table outlines your protein intake based on weight and the assumption that you have 20% body fat. (20%BF for females is on the low end of average, for males it is on the high end of average)
Total Body WeightBody Fat 20%Protein requirements/day130lbs104 LBM52g150lbs120 LBM60g170lbs136 LBM68g200lbs160 LBM80g220lbs176 LBM88g250lbs200 LBM100g
The protein RDA above would of course change if your body fat percentage was higher or lower. For most people, this amounts to 40 to 70 grams of protein a day. Rarely does a person need more protein than this—the exception would be those who are aggressively exercising (or competing) and pregnant women, who should have about 25 percent more. For endurance or professional athletes the protein intake jumps to .8g-1.2g of protein per pound of body weight.
What is a "Serving" of Protein?
Typically, a serving of protein is about 3-6oz, or anywhere from 25-40g. But for those of you who like lists, here's an easy go to for ya!
Hamburger patty, 4 oz – 28 grams protein
Steak, 6 oz – 42 grams
Most cuts of beef – 7 grams of protein per ounce
Chicken breast, 3.5 oz - 30 grams protein
Chicken thigh – 10 grams (for average size)
Drumstick – 11 grams
Wing – 6 grams
Chicken meat, cooked, 4 oz – 35 grams
Most fish fillets or steaks are about 22 grams of protein for 3 ½ oz (100 grams) of cooked fish, or 6 grams per ounce
Tuna, 6 oz can - 40 grams of protein
Pork chop, average - 22 grams protein
Pork loin or tenderloin, 4 oz – 29 grams
Ham, 3 oz serving – 19 grams
Ground pork, 1 oz raw – 5 grams; 3 oz cooked – 22 grams
Bacon, 1 slice – 3 grams
Canadian-style bacon (back bacon), slice – 5 – 6 grams
Eggs and Dairy
Egg, large - 6 grams protein
Milk, 1 cup - 8 grams
Cottage cheese, ½ cup - 15 grams
Yogurt, 1 cup – usually 8-12 grams, check label
Soft cheeses (Mozzarella, Brie, Camembert) – 6 grams per oz
Medium cheeses (Cheddar, Swiss) – 7 or 8 grams per oz
Hard cheeses (Parmesan) – 10 grams per oz
Beans (including soy)
Tofu, ½ cup 20 grams protein
Tofu, 1 oz, 2.3 grams
Soy milk, 1 cup - 6 -10 grams
Most beans (black, pinto, lentils, etc) about 7-10 grams protein per half cup of cooked beans
Soy beans, ½ cup cooked – 14 grams protein
Split peas, ½ cup cooked – 8 grams
Nuts and Seeds
Peanut butter, 2 Tablespoons - 8 grams protein
Almonds, ¼ cup – 8 grams
Peanuts, ¼ cup – 9 grams
Cashews, ¼ cup – 5 grams
Pecans, ¼ cup – 2.5 grams
Sunflower seeds, ¼ cup – 6 grams
Pumpkin seeds, ¼ cup – 8 grams
Flax seeds – ¼ cup – 8 grams