A Macronutrient Primer on Protein

A Macronutrient Primer on Protein

Protein MoleculeProtein intake with regards to health, muscle gain, and body composition is one of the more interesting topics I’ve ever come across. From everything such as “perfect” protein, essential amino acids, and nitrogen balances in the body, protein is a very complex, very important, and often very misunderstood macronutrient.

In this article we will cover:

  • Protein daily requirements,
  • Counting protein, and
  • Proteins effects on body composition.

These are basically the most important facets regarding protein intake. If you care to learn more, I strongly recommend that you buy Lyle McDonald’s “The Protein Book,” as it is hands down one of the more informative books on the subject.

What is Protein?

Protein is an organic compound mostly made up of made carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. What sets protein apart from other macronutrients is the nitrogen aspect of the compound. Unlike plants, humans cannot make nitrogen from the air, so we need to obtain our protein and amino acids through the diet.

What are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Amino acids attach together in a chain to form protein. There are 20 standard amino acids, and 8 of which are essential amino acids. Essential means that the body cannot make it on its own, and therefore it must be obtained from the diet. The essential amino acids are: Lysine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Valine, Threonine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, and Tryptophan.

Protein Requirements

Everyone will tell you something different when it comes to protein requirements. The FDA says you only need 50 grams per day, based on a 2,000 calorie diet. I believe this is ridiculously too low for anyone, especially for someone trying to build muscle. 

Research has shown you only need 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight to build muscle. In my opinion, male or female, protein intake should be set at 1 g/lb as a minimum. Check out this article, which explains different studies on various protein intakes: Protein Intake Studies. The reason why I think protein should be higher is because not only is protein beneficial in building muscle, it has other benefits as well. It has a greater thermic effect on metabolism and has a larger effect on satiety, for two quick reasons. Lyle McDonald recommends a minimum of 1.1 g/lb for male or female. Some men can even go up to 1.5 g/lb of bodyweight. Again, everyone has to do what’s right for them, so simply experiment and see what you like best.

Counting Protein from Food Sources

Counting protein from food sources is a very easy task, if you have a scale. I strongly recommend weighing your food to get correct serving sizes and measurements. If you’d rather not do so, try weighing it once or twice to get a rough idea of what 3oz or 4oz looks like, and then, just estimate. Do what works best and is convenient for you.

Protein comes from a myriad of food sources. Meat, some vegetables, dairy, legumes, whole grains, eggs and protein powders are some sources of protein. I personally take in my protein from all of the above and use as many different sources so I can keep a balanced diet.

Meat, eggs, and dairy are usually more “complete” protein sources, meaning they contain all of the amino acids. Here’s a table I use (Values found from Google Searches) to measure calories and macronutrients for certain food sources:

Food

Calories

Fat

Carbs (Fiber)

Protein

3 oz Grilled Chicken

130

2

0

24

4 oz Atlantic Salmon

170

8

0

23

4 oz Tilapia

110

2

0

23

1 Large Whole Egg

75

5

0

7

1 Large Egg White

20

0

0

4

4 oz Cod

100

0

0

20

4 oz Flounder

110

1

0

24

4 oz 99% Lean Ground Turkey

120

1.5

0

26

4 oz Sea Bass

120

2

0

21

 

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About Daisy

My passion is to inspire women to realize their potential and get the body they really want through fitness, yoga and nutrition.
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