Protein Primer: Everything You Need To Know About The Muscle Macro

What Is Protein?

  • Protein is one of the three macronutrients that provide energy, aka calories, for the body. The other two macronutrients are fats and carbohydrates.
  • Each gram of protein contains 4 calories, as compared to a gram of fat, which contains 9 calories. Note: a gram of carbohydrate has 4 calories too.
  • Protein is made up of molecules called amino acids. Some amino acids can be synthesized, aka produced, by the body but others must be obtained through diet. These are known as the essential amino acids and we need them to survive.
  • There are nine essential amino acids and they are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
  • Protein makes up around 15 percent of a person’s body weight.

Why Do We Need Protein?

  • Protein is vital to our body’s wellbeing. Not only do we need protein to build muscle and repair tissue, protein is vital for brain function and development. 
  • Protein also plays a vital role in the production and functioning of our organs as well as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and other molecules that perform essential body functions.
  • Protein is the main building block for hair, nails, tendons, bones, skin and cartilage. 
  • Protein helps to maintain a healthy weight. It leaves you satiated, so you feel fuller longer and snack less overall. Eating the right amount of protein can also help to increase your metabolism. 
  • As mentioned above, we also need to eat protein so that our body can produce the essential amino acids that we can’t live without.

Where Can You Get Protein?

  • In the plant world, the best natural sources of protein include hemp, soy, seitan (also known as wheat gluten) legumes (including peanuts, pulses and beans), nuts, seeds, grains and certain types of seaweed (such as spirulina). Make sure to check out our best sources of vegan protein roundup.
  • Non-plant sources of protein include meat (including beef, pork and lamb), poultry products (including chicken and eggs), fish, seafood and dairy products (milk, cheese and yoghurts).

How Much Protein Do You Need?

  • According to the World Health Organization, you should be getting between 10 to 15% of your daily calories from protein; the US Institute of Medicine quotes 10 to 35%
  • Most people want to aim for between 20 and 30 grams of protein per meal but the exact amount depends on individual dietary and fitness requirements.
  • According to WebMD, the average sedentary men needs 56 grams of protein per day is recommended and the average sedentary women requires 46 grams of protein per day.
  • Athletes need more protein than the average person, though exactly how much depends on their sex, their level of activity, their sport of choice and other variables. Overall, endurance athletes need more protein than non-endurance athletes.
  • Elderly people also need significantly more protein in order to help stave off osteoporosis and sarcopenia (a condition causing reduction in muscle mass), both health conditions with risk factors that increase with age.
  • People who are recovering from injuries may also need more protein.

What About Protein Powders & Protein Bars?

  • You can also supplement with protein powders, bars and snacks. If you are looking for a post-workout or between meal snack, protein bars can be a useful choice but ideally, don’t use them to replace a meal and check the ingredient label for sugar content. Lots of protein bars are filled with sugar, even the organic ones! 
  • Most protein powder consists of whey protein, itself made from whey, a liquid byproduct of making cheese. Whey protein is a popular supplement in the body-building and general weight-lifting community as it packs a real protein punch: a single serving usually contains between 20 and 25 grams of protein. Whey protein is also very easily and quickly absorbed by the body, making it an efficient protein choice.
  • Most plant-based protein powder on the market comes from soy, though other popular alternatives including hemp protein, pea protein and brown rice protein. Plant-based protein powders will average around 15 to 20 grams of protein per serving, and while they offer a lower carbon footprint, there is a compromise in terms of the fiber and carbohydrate content, which will be higher than the equivalent serving for whey protein.
  • Be prudent when choosing a protein powder brand. Independent non-profit org Consumer Reports tested various protein powders and drinks on the market and found that several had excessive levels of arsenic, cadmium, or lead.

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