Without protein, our bodies wouldn’t be able to function properly.
Protein is a structural molecule composed of amino acids, which our bodies typically can’t produce on their own. Not only do proteins make muscles, tendons, organs and skins, our bodies rely on proteins for enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and other important functions.
According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, a sedentary adult should eat 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. That amounts to approximately 56 grams per day for the average man and 46 grams per day for the average woman.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s not hard to reach this amount if you’re eating two to three servings of protein-rich foods per day.
Athletes, however, may need up to 50 percent more protein than a sedentary person depending on the frequency and intensity of their workouts. Exercising breaks down muscle during activity, and the body requires protein to repair it afterward.
When eating protein-rich foods, consider what else you are consuming. Choose lean cuts of meat over fattier cuts to limit saturated fat; both options are equally high in protein. Salmon, tuna and eggs — all good sources of protein — are also enriched with omega-3s, a healthy, plant-based fat.
While red meats are a popular protein source, this year’s Dietary Guidelines advisory committee recommended a “shift toward other protein foods” — eating more nuts and seeds and about 8 ounces of seafood per week.
The committee found that most American males between the ages of 14 and 70 consume more meats, poultry and eggs than the recommended weekly intake range. But recent surveys found that older women often hover around the minimum recommended intake, with many actually deficient in protein.
When you consume more protein than your body needs, the extra protein is used for energy or may be turned into fat. Because your body cannot store extra protein for later use, you may gain weight when you try to increase protein intake and consume too many calories.
Because of the important role protein plays in maintaining your health, make sure you’re consuming the right amount of protein for you.
Sources: authoritynutrition.com, Harvard Health Publications, NPR