Since I first began my journey to a career in the field of nutrition, many of the questions I’ve been asked revolve around protein. Protein is the most sought after macronutrient by athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness fanatics because of its role in building muscle. However, the role of protein goes far beyond building muscle and extends into just about every square inch of our body. Protein plays a role in:
- Formation of muscles, bones, blood, skin, and cartilage
- Production of hormones, vitamins, and enzymes
- Building and repairing tissues
Unlike carbs and fat, protein is not stored in the body for later use and must be supplied through your diet on a daily basis. While most people get more than enough protein in their diet, it’s not just about the quantity but more importantly the quality.
Quality of Protein
There are two major types of protein:
Complete sources of protein contain all the amino acids our body needs to make and use protein in the body. Complete proteins are primarily found in animal sources but also exist in some plant-sources. For specific sources of complete proteins, I have provided a list down below.
Animal Derived Complete Protein Plant Derived Complete Protein
- Meat • Quinoa
- Eggs* • Buckwheat
- Fish • Hemp & Chia Seeds
*One thing to keep in mind when choosing a protein source is that animal sources are naturally higher in saturated fat and cholesterol than plant-based sources. To maintain a healthy diet, it is a good idea to alternate between plant and animal sources of protein. Lean sources of protein that are found in plant-based sources can help give definition to the muscles.
Incomplete sources of protein lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids our body needs to make and use protein. Some common examples of incomplete proteins are those found in plant-based sources however, two different sources of incomplete proteins can be combined to make a complete source of protein. For a list of incomplete protein sources and combinations, refer to the table down below.
Incomplete Protein Sources Incomplete Protein Combinations
- Rice • Rice + Beans
- Beans • Nuts + Seeds
- Seeds • Peanut Butter + Toast
- Nuts • Lentils + whole-grain pasta
- Whole wheat pasta
Balance is key to ensuring protein adequacy and if following a plant-based diet, knowing the difference between incomplete versus complete sources of protein is absolutely essential.
Quantity of Protein
It is difficult to generalize how much protein you should be eating because everyone is a different size. However, as a general rule of thumb, the amount of protein with each meal should be roughly the size of the palm of your hand. Protein along with fat helps your body to feel full and satisfied so it is an important addition to any meal or snack.
As a recurring message, anything in excess is never a good idea. It is possible to overdo your protein intake and the number one sign you are getting in too much protein is in your urine. If you notice bubbles in your urine, it is a sign that your kidneys are spilling out protein. In other words, when your body has all the protein it needs, any excess is literally going down the drain. Balance is everything so listen to your body and if your muscles start to ache or feel weak, you may want to up your protein intake ever so slightly.
I hope this helps you to make a choice that will leave you feeling and looking amazing! As always any further questions, comments, or concerns can be left down below or in a direct message.