The Importance of Protein in Your Diet

Protein here, protein there, protein everywhere. When it comes to discussing nutrition and fitness, no discussion is worth its weight in gold without a thorough understanding of the importance of protein.

Protein forms the very foundation of our body’s structure, effectively the building blocks for muscle, skin, hair, organs and cellular function. Protein is one of three macronutrients — fats and carbohydrates being the other two — that enables your metabolism to function at its best, balances your hormone production and helps your cells grow and repair themselves.

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Why is protein good for the body

Our body is composed of protein and as such requires it to function. So, exactly how and why exactly is protein good for the body? Here’s the science: Proteins are complex biomolecules consisting of long chains of amino acids — you can visualize them like Lego blocks — that enable a wide array of bodily functions and biochemical responses such as building muscle tissue, keeping harmful antibodies at bay and you safe from infections, as well as balancing the water in our veins and arteries. Our DNA  is also reliant on protein agents so that it can reproduce and synthesize. That’s one hardworking macronutrient, huh? Guess the importance of protein is a bit clearer now.

Now that we’ve established why protein is good for the body, the next thing to contemplate is just how much and what kinds of protein you need to eat to keep your body working at it’s best. Of course, each body is different and will have different requirements depending on your sex, age, activity level, and state-of-health, as well as any health and fitness goals you might be working on, e.g. managing or losing weight (i.e. burning fat), building muscle or maintaining healthy bones.

How much protein do I need?

Theoretically, eating a balanced diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and of course minimally processed protein — animal or plant-based — should have you reaching your recommended protein intake, which comes to a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.  An example of this would be as follows according to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA):

A 30-year-old woman who weighs 80 kilograms, would need 64 grams of protein per day to prevent malnutrition. The equation for this is 80 kg x 0.8 g = 64 g.

Following the recommended daily allowance — give or take a few grams — will help you navigate whether you’re eating too much or too little protein. Here are some additional guidelines to help you establish just how much protein you need:

  • Sedentary lifestyle: 11-15%  of total calories from protein per day
  • Active lifestyle with regular exercise: 15-20% of total calories from protein per day
  • Competitive athletes: 20% of total calories from protein per day, ideally more
  • Bodybuilders: Up to a maximum of 35% of total calories from protein per day

Symptoms of too much protein

Like anything, too much of a good thing can also be counterproductive and in some cases, adverse. There are a host of signs you can look out for to know whether you’re consuming too much protein.

Bad mood, brain fog or afternoon slump

Got out of bed feeling grumpy or hangry for no good reason? Are you anxious and unfocused throughout the day? Can you barely keep your eyes open in the afternoon? These are tell-tale symptoms of too much protein in your diet. Protein overconsumption often is the result of being on a high-protein or low-carb diet. The brain requires sugars in the form of carbohydrates to function. Adding a few complex carbs like wholemeal grains, beans,oats and brown rice to your meal plan can help alleviate this and balance out the issue.

Weight gain

So you’ve been eating a more nutritious, wholesome diet packed with protein and working out — for all intents and purposes, you’re doing everything ‘right’. However, when you step on the scale or slip into your clothes, you noticed that you have in fact bulked up even though your calorie intake may not have increased. Studies have found that high-protein diets can actually lead to fat gain when eaten in excess.

Constipation

If you’re a little backed up as of late, or your number twos are irregular at best, then you might be lacking the fiber needed to keep things moving, which can be the result of eating too many high-protein foods and not enough fruits and complex carbs.

Dehydration

Feeling thirsty? Mild dehydration is another indication that you may be consuming a little too much protein than you need. Too much protein puts added pressure on those poor kidneys of yours, requiring them to work overtime to eliminate any excess protein or nitrogen as waste.

Bad breath

Has a good friend, family member or colleague politely taken you aside to offer you a breath mint because your breath isn’t all that Colgate fresh? Then you might actually be in a state of ketosis and that delightful fume exuding from your mouth is the smell of your body converting fat into fuel.

High-protein foods list

Grass-fed beef

This protein source is rich in vitamins A (for strong immune system and eye health) and vitamin E (combats free radicals). As indicated in the header, aim for grass-fed beef, as it contains up to five times more omega-3 than corn-fed varieties.

Tip
When cooking avoid high-heat like frying or charring, which can damage the proteins and actually render your meat carcinogenic

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Free-range chicken

This high-protein food will have you clucking for joy! Loaded with B vitamins for brain health, lower risk of cardiovascular disease and LDL cholesterol levels. Just like grass-fed beef, make sure to choose free-range, organic chicken or as a second-best option, free-range chicken, if organic isn’t an option. This reduces the risk of ingesting any pesticides or antibiotics.

Free range eggs

What came first the chicken or the egg? Doesn’t matter, as long as both are organic and free-range for wholesome high-protein goodness. Free-range chickens are generally healthier and therefore produce healthier eggs. This, in turn, will lend you better health, enriching your system not only with protein but omega-3 fatty acids.

Tip
Boiling or poaching eggs are the healthiest methods to cook them, however, if you choose to fry them let them cool on a lower temperature.

Wild salmon

As you can see, when possible and affordable, we at 8fit recommend aiming for animal foods that have lived happy, healthy, free lives — salmon is one of those . In addition to being high in the daily recommended protein intake, it provides your body with those mood-enhancing vitamins B and D, and a boat load of omega-3.

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Lentils and black beans

Not everyone wants to consume animal foods as part of their daily diet, but this doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on eating high-protein foods. Lists of proteins for those on a plant-based diet include legumes like lentils and beans. Protein-packed pulses (i.e. the seeds of various legume plants) will deliver more than just plant-based protein to vegetarians, vegans and those wanting to reduce their animal consumption. Lentils and black beans will keep you satiated and contain nutrients such as vitamin B, iron, manganese and fiber amongst others.

Yogurt

Yogurt can be a good source of protein that will aid digestive health, for a happy gut and will maintain an optimally running immune system. Despite this, it’s essential to select the right kind of yogurts. Always choose unsweetened and if you’re on a ketogenic meal plan, you should opt for full-fat yogurt, while those looking to lose fat or manage their weight, should choose low-fat variants.

Cheese

Not all cheeses are created equal from a protein standpoint. With this in mind, it’s best to add parmesan, feta, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese and mozzarella to your high-protein food list. Cheese can get a bad rap due to it being high in calories or fat, but it’s a great source of calcium, protein, and vitamin D. The key is, as always, to eat in moderation. If you’re lactose intolerant or have a general sensitivity to dairy, give sheep or goat milk cheese a try.

Tip
When choosing your cheese, opt for minimally processed versions -- think local cheese shop versus Kraft cheese slices. Pay attention to added preservatives and high-sodium content and, if possible, go organic.

Nuts and seeds

Almonds, walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds and their nut butter cousins are fantastic protein-dense snacks when you’re on the go or need an afternoon pick-me-up (instead of reaching for that candy bar). It’s worth noting that though they’re loaded with protein as well as minerals like magnesium, they’re also high in unsaturated fats and should be eaten in moderation.

Are protein shakes bad for you?

Whether protein shakes are good or bad for you, is a hotly debated topic in the wellness and fitness world.  At 8fit we’re proponents of getting your protein from fresh, unprocessed foods; however,с some people may not be able to meet their minimum protein requirement solely through food. In this case, protein shakes can be a useful supplement to an existing balanced diet rather than used as a regular meal replacement. For instance, if you just can’t stomach the thought of eating before a morning workout or have a hectic day ahead of you, a protein shake can provide you with what you need to keep going and feel full between your meals.

Before you reach for the protein shake, let us inspire you to get all the protein your body needs with these delicious and nutritious 8fit protein-forward meals straight out of the 8fit recipe book, and available to you when you go Pro.

Protein-rich breakfast: Pear, blueberry & ginger breakfast bowl

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Protein-packed lunch: Mexican tofu & broccoli wrap

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Protein-potent dinner: Sesame seared tuna with broccoli

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