You know the word protein. You understand that muscles are made up of protein. You know that protein is objectively “good” for you if you’re working out, but after that it gets a little fuzzy… Well, we are here to help you understand the basics of what protein is, what it’s used for, and how it helps fuel your body!
Protein is one of the three main macronutrients. This means that your body needs protein in large amounts in order to function properly. Protein provides on average 4 calories per gram of energy. It helps build and repair muscle tissue as well as other tissues, enzymes, and hormones. Ample protein can help build strong muscles and help reduce muscle loss as we age.
Protein is also the most thermogenic of the macronutrients. This means that protein requires the most energy to break down and digest. As much as 15-30% of the calories in a protein based meal can be burned digesting the meal. Additionally, protein helps you feel full and a high protein diet is associated with a better body composition (percentage of body fat to other body tissues).
Animal proteins, such as meat, fish, cheese, eggs, whey, and milk are great sources of high quality protein. Fatty meats can be high in saturated fat which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Thus, you will want to choose leaner cuts of meat, poultry, and fish.
There are also great sources of vegetable protein. Soy and soy products, legumes, beans, seeds, and seitan are relatively high in protein. These products are traditionally low in saturated fat, but may contain more calories than animal proteins. Thus, you will need to be cognizant of your total calorie intake when choosing the best vegetable protein sources.