Why Protein is Important

Nutrition
why is protein important for your health

It’s time to learn why protein is important and how it helps maintain a healthy weight and keep your body functioning properly. Read on, then download the 8fit app to get recipes with the perfect amount of protein for your body.

The word “protein” comes from Greek language meaning “of primary importance.” Protein is a macronutrient, which means that our bodies require large amounts in order to function optimally. Proteins make up our beautiful body structure including muscle, skin, organ tissues, hair and nails. It helps create enzymes that regulate our metabolism, hormone production, antibodies, neurotransmitters, and the growth and repair of cells.

Basically, we can’t function without it.

What is protein exactly?

To really understand why protein is important, let’s dig a little deeper. Protein is built out of amino acids, which are typically called “the building blocks of life.” Amino acids are broken up into three groups: essential, conditionally essential and nonessential.

  • Essential amino acids: These are amino acids that the body can’t produce on it’s own, so we must consume them in our diet.
  • Conditionally essential amino acids: These amino acids must also be consumer in the diet, but are only necessary under certain conditions like when the body is under stress.
  • Nonessential amino acids: The body is able to produce the nonessential amino acids it needs on its own.

It is important to eat balanced and good quality protein foods, in order to get these amino acids working together to form the solid foundation and structure of you.

Will protein help me lose weight?

Protein shouldn’t be skipped because it is an important part of healthy nutrition and will help you maintain a healthy weight. However, it is important to mention that if your diet is already rich in protein, eating more protein doesn’t mean you will lose more weight or burn more fat. Protein still adds calories and if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.

It is often thought that our bodies are more likely to burn fat when consuming high quantities of protein because insulin isn’t released during digestion and therefore doesn’t block the fat metabolism. That’s only half the truth. Studies show that some proteins are highly insulinogenic. For instance, the insulin response after consuming whey protein is higher than the insulin response after eating white bread.

More on macronutrients

You need all macronutrients – protein, fat and carbohydrates — in order to maintain long-term health. Every meal should include some source of good, healthy fat. Without fat, your body can’t absorb the vitamins you consume which will have a negative impact on your health and on your weight. The brain, the heart and the nervous system require carbohydrates to function properly and the advice to “cut down carbs completely” should only refer to refined and processed sugars.

Protein increases satiety – that full feeling – to a greater extend than the other macronutrients and therefore plays a key role in body weight management.

How do I make sure I get enough protein?

Suggested protein intake depends on several individual factors. The minimum amount you need to keep from suffering malnutrition and getting sick is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.36 g/lb) according to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). However, this RDA number should be treated with caution because it was originally developed to prevent malnutrition. The amount you need to survive is different from the amount you need to be at optimal health and performance.

According to the 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.

This number will likely be too low for this individual because it doesn’t take these important factors into account:

  • Activity level
  • Age
  • Muscle mass
  • Total calorie consumption
  • Current status of health

Sedentary healthy adults might be fine with 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, but endurance runners or strength training athletes will require more protein.

In 2013, more than 60 nutrition scientists gathered in Washington, DC, for a “Protein Summit” to discuss research on protein and human health. As a result, the Institute of Medicine established an Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) that suggests an adult get 10–35% of calories from protein.

We know, that’s quite a wide range. So, how much protein do you really need?

Here is some rough guidance for individuals with no health issues or special medical conditions:

  • If you follow a sedentary lifestyle you’ll most likely be fine with a protein ratio of 11-15% per day.
  • Someone who exercises regularly should try to get around 15-20% of daily calories from protein.
  • A competitive athlete should aim for at least 20% protein per day, ideally more.
  • Bodybuilders will require more protein and should aim for the maximum range of 35% or around 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight.

Let’s revisit the same example as above. A 30-year-old woman who weighs 80 kg might work out regularly and therefore, require more protein than if she would follow a sedentary lifestyle. According to 8fit’s calculation tool, with a height of 1.7 meters she would require around 1,900 calories per day to lose weight in a healthy way. According to the AMDR, she should aim for 71-95 grams of protein per day.

Keep in mind that there are still additional factors to take into account. More protein is required during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. To prevent from loss of muscle mass, muscle strength and muscle function, elderly individuals should also increase protein intake protein, even if they follow a sedentary lifestyle.

High-protein meal for the vegan

Sesame tofu and vegetable bowl

Sesame tofu and vegetable bowlPreparation time: 10 min.
Nutrition: 500kcal.

Ingredients:
  • 1 ½ cups broccoli (chopped) (~5 oz)
  • 5 oz tofu (raw, firm)
  • 1 tomatoes (~3 ½ oz)
  • 1 ½ tbsp sesame seeds (~½ oz)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin)
  • ¼ tsp curry powder (dry)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce, without sugar

Directions:
  1. Wash the broccoli thoroughly, pick and remove free leaves from it. Cut the broccoli crowns into small pieces.
  2. Cut tofu into small cubes. Make sure the broccoli is as dry as possible. Film a skillet with olive oil and set over high to medium-high heat. Add the broccoli, tofu, curry powder and soy sauce. Cook, stirring frequently, for around 5 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, wash the tomato(es) and cut into cubes. Add to the pan and cook for another 3 minutes.
  4. Serve in a bowl topped with sesame seeds.

High-protein meal for the vegetarian

Yogurt with fig and walnut

Yogurt with fig and walnutPreparation time: 5 min.
Nutrition: 400kcal.

Ingredients:
  • 1 fig (~1 ¾ oz)
  • 1 ¼ cups Greek yogurt, plain (low-fat) (~13 oz)
  • 1 ¼ tsp fresh mint (chopped)
  • 5 walnuts (~⅔ oz)

Directions:
  1. Remove tip of fig and chop into small pieces.
  2. Place yogurt in bowl and top with chopped walnut, fig, and mint.

High-protein meal for the meat-eater

Garlic chicken with beet mash and wilted spinach

Garlic chicken with beet mash and wilted spinachPreparation time: 30 min.
Nutrition: 500kcal.

Ingredients (makes two snack portions):
  • 1 chicken drumstick
  • 1 garlic clove (~⅛ oz)
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs (no salt added)
  • 1 ¼ cups beets (cooked and chopped) (~6 oz)
  • 1 potato (~8 oz)
  • 2 cups spinach leaves (raw) (~2 oz)
  • a tiny bit of salt
  • a tiny bit of black pepper
  • 1 ½ tsp olive oil (extra virgin)

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Bring water to a boil in a saucepan.
  2. Peel and roughly chop garlic. Score the chicken, add to a bowl and combine with garlic, oil, salt, pepper and herbs. Leave to marinate (Tip: try stuffing the garlic pieces inside the cuts you've created).
  3. Once oven is hot, add the chicken to a lined baking tray and roast for 20 mins or until browned.
  4. Meanwhile, peel and cut potato. Then add to boiling water for about 10 mins, or until soft.
  5. Heat a pan on medium heat, add spinach and let wilt. Season with salt and pepper (you can add other spices, like nutmeg if you want).
  6. Once potatoes are ready, drain, add beets and either mash by hand or with a blender. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Plate everything and enjoy!

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