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Nutritional Focus: PROTEINS

Proteins come in many forms. Meat, plant, dairy, and supplemental forms all have there place and provide the proteins the body needs on a daily basis. Protein is present in every body cell and an adequate protein intake is important for healthy bones, muscles, and tissues. Protein plays a very important part in your body's many processes like blood clotting, immune system responses, vision, and hormones just to name a few. Hence the reason that getting adequate protein in your diet is so important.

Protein is made from 20+ basic building blocks called amino acids. Now because we don't store these amino acids our bodies make them in two different ways, either from scratch or by modifying others. Of the 20 amino acids nine are referred to as essential amino acids (or EAA's) because they cannot be made by the body and must come from food. There are two main sources (or categories) of proteins, animal and plant based. The main difference between animal and plant proteins is their amino acid profile. Most animal proteins are complete proteins, meaning they contain all 9 of the essential amino acids EAAs). Most plant proteins are considered incomplete proteins, meaning they are missing at least one essential amino acid. However, eating multiple plant proteins together can create the effect of complete proteins.

Another thing to consider when deciding on how and where to get your protein from is the "protein package". When we consume proteins we also eat everything that comes alongside it: the different fats, fiber, sodium, and more. It’s this protein “package” that’s likely to make a difference in your health. Here are a few examples:

A 4-ounce broiled sirloin steak is a great source of protein—about 33 grams worth. But it also delivers about 5 grams of saturated fat.

A 4-ounce ham steak with 22 grams of protein has only 1.6 grams of saturated fat, but it’s loaded with 1,500 milligrams worth of sodium.

4 ounces of grilled sockeye salmon has about 30 grams of protein, naturally low in sodium, and contains just over 1 gram of saturated fat. Salmon and other fatty fish are also excellent sources of omega-3 fats, a type of fat that’s especially good for the heart.

A cup of cooked lentils provides about 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber, and it has virtually no saturated fat or sodium.

So, how much protein do you need?

The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day, or just over 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight.

For a 140-pound person, that means about 50 grams of protein each day.

For a 200-pound person, that means about 70 grams of protein each day.

The National Academy of Medicine also sets a wide range for acceptable protein intake—anywhere from 10% to 35% of calories each day. Beyond that, there’s relatively little solid information on the ideal amount of protein in the diet or the healthiest target for calories contributed by protein. In an analysis conducted at Harvard among more than 130,000 men and women who were followed for up to 32 years, the percentage of calories from total protein intake was not related to overall mortality or to specific causes of death. However, the source of protein was important.

Many factors can effect how much protein a person needs, including their activity level, weight, height, or whether they are pregnant. Other variables include the proportion of amino acids available in specific protein foods and the digestibility of individual amino acids.

Other things to consider: if you are trying to lose weight, build muscle, recovering from an injury or surgery. All of these instances may require you to intake more protein than the NAM recommends. In some cases a gram per pound of body weight may be ideal. While consuming sufficient protein is important, the truly important metric is not how much we consume, but how much of the protein our muscles actually absorb. Research shows that the average person can absorb about 10g of protein per hour, and maxes out at about 30g per meal.

There are certain things we can do to bump up absorption and make sure we get the most out of our protein intake:

1. Space out Meals

Intuitively, the first step you can take is to space out your meals and consume appx. 20-30g protein (e.g. 100g chicken breast) per meal over multiple meals, instead of eating a few meals of 40-50g protein, since your body will not be able to process that amount of protein at one time.

2. Try a Protein Complex

A protein complex is a combination of different protein types that have different digestion periods. For example, combine whey (a fast digesting protein) with casein (a slow digesting protein) allows the body to continuously process the protein over a longer period of time than with just whey alone.

3. Supplement with Digestive Enzymes and HMB

Another option is to increase the absorption rate so that your muscles utilize more of the protein you consume. Research shows that digestive enzymes like protease and papain help your body break down protein more efficiently to allow for easier absorption.

An article from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition compared people who drank protein shakes with additional digestive enzymes to a control group that consumed only the protein shakes. They found that amino acid levels in the digestive enzyme group were 30% higher than the protein-only group.

Another nutrient that has been shown to increase protein synthesis is HMB (Hydroxy methylbutyric acid), which is a natural substance used by people ranging from elite athletes looking to put on muscle, to cancer patients suffering from muscle wasting that are hoping to preserve muscle. HMB also has shown to reduce muscle catabolism, meaning you lose less and hold onto more muscle.

As you can see, protein is incredibly important to our health, not only to build bigger muscles, but to heal better from injury, age better, and prevent certain disease conditions.

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