What Is Protein?
One of the three macronutrients your body needs to function properly (along with fats and carbohydrates), proteins are primarily important for tissue growth and repair, but also necessary for digestion, metabolism, and the production of antibodies to fight infection. We are literally made of proteins. Proteins comprise 10% of your brain and 20% of your heart, liver, and skeletal muscles. Even blood is made of proteins. Protein is obviously the key to maintaining a strong, healthy body.
Complete vs. Incomplete Protein Sources
Your body needs 22 different types of amino acids to function properly. Adults can synthesize 13 of those within the body (known as non-essential amino acids), but the other 9 must be obtained from food (known as essential amino acids). It’s these essential amino acids that derive the classification of protein as either complete or incomplete.
Complete Protein Sources
Complete proteins are those that contain all essential amino acids in sufficient quantity. These are typically animal-based proteins, but a few plant sources are also considered complete. Examples of complete proteins include:
Dairy products (milk, yogurt, whey)
Hemp and chia seed*
Incomplete Protein Sources
Incomplete proteins are those that don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids, or don’t have sufficient quantities of them to meet the body’s needs, and must be supplemented with other proteins. These include:
Nuts & seeds
Just because they are incomplete doesn’t make them inferior, but rather they must be combined in order to provide the right balance of essential amino acids. Proteins that, in combination, make a complete amino acid profile are known as complementary proteins.
Here are a few tasty examples:
Whole Grain Rice and beans
Spinach salad with almonds
Hummus and whole-grain pitas
Whole-grain noodles with peanut sauce
Complementary proteins don’t necessarily need to be eaten at the same time, but eating a variety of protein sources that are complementary throughout the day insures that one has the necessary amino acids to create the complete proteins our bodies need.
How Much Protein Should You Eat?
The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein for adults is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. This translates to 64 grams of protein for an 180lb man. Athletes will need more protein.
For your reference:
· 1 cup of milk has 8 grams of protein
· An 8-ounce container of yogurt has about 11 grams of protein
· A 3-ounce piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein
· 1 cup of dry beans has about 16 grams of protein
So How Exactly Should You Eat Your Protein Sources?
Although animal products and beans are the densest sources of protein, don't forget that just as we are made of protein, so are all plants. Eating a variety of plants contributes to the total grams of protein our bodies need.
As with so many things, the key to getting the necessary amount of protein is variety and balance. It is a vital and often-misunderstood part of our diets, but we need to remember that the quality and type of protein can be as important as how much we consume. Making sure you have a good combination of high-quality proteins in your diet is a good step towards a healthy body and mind.
Stephanie Wilkins is a friend of Forte Fitness and is a registered dietician. She contributed this blog. If any of you have nutrition questions feel free to contact Stephanie at email@example.com.