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Protein 101

What is protein, what role does it play, how much to eat, and where you can find it.

When we eat food, we eat a collection of chemicals, molecules and compounds.

The most abundant nutrients in each bite are macronutrients. These are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

If you have been in the gym setting long enough, you probably have heard body builders and those dieting refer to these as "macros"

I am sure you have heard people say things like.

"Yo bro, what macros are you on"

Or even, "I can't eat that because it will put me over my protein macro limit"

I am joking around with this, but the point is, it is a good idea to have a baseline understanding of what macronutrients are, how much you should be having, and where you can incorporate them in your diet.

So that being said, lets take a look at protein.

When we take a bite of a protein rich food source like steak, our bodies break the protein down into amino acids.

These amino acids are then repurposed in the body to build things like muscle, collagen, ligaments, skin hair, and nails.

In addition, these amino acids can also function as enzymes, transport for other substances, aid in the immune system, and help to build hormones such as insulin.

Needless to say, protein is pretty important, and does a lot more than just help you build and maintain muscle.

Each person will have a different amount of protein they need based on their goals, resistance training level, age, and what their tolerance or preferences are.

However, a good starting point is about 0.8 grams per pound of body weight, to 1.6 grams per pound of body weight.

For example, for a person weighing 185 lbs would be aim for between 148 grams and 296 grams of protein.

Now I understand that is a big range, which is why it is important to either make adjustments based on how your body is responding. This where working with with someone who can monitor your progress and make changes can really help you get the best results.

For most people, aiming for 20-60 grams of protein per meal should provide them with enough protein for the day. However, more does not always equal better.

If you decide that you want up your protein intake, and you don't make any adjustments to your carbohydrates, or fats, than you total caloric intake may skyrocket. Which could be problematic if you are trying to maintain a specific body weight or even lose weight or body fat.

That being said, if you decide to up your protein, be sure to reduce your consumption of other macronutrients so you don't over do it.

In addition, if muscle building is your goal, the 20-40 range seems to be the sweet spot. And more than 40 grams per meal, really doesn't show that much difference in terms of muscle building.

Okay, so the next logical question is what foods are good choices for protein, and how do you know what protein sources are best?

The best way to start is to simply look at the nutrition label. You should be able to find the protein content pretty quickly on the nutrition facts on any food you by.

They key for selecting good protein sources is to pick foods that are as minimally processed as possible. This way, you getting the full scope of the other nutrients that the protein foods source provides.

Here are some examples that are high quality protein sources.

  1. Beef

  2. Chicken

  3. Fish

  4. Eggs

  5. Soybean (and soy products like tofu and tempeh)

  6. Dairy milk

  7. Whey protein powder

  8. Soy protein powder

Protein also comes in foods such as nuts, beans, lentils, and other plant based sources. However, these often come with other nutrients such as carbohydrates for beans and lentils, and fat for nuts. This is not a bad thing, it is just something to be aware of when selecting protein. Otherwise, you may be unexpectedly eating more calories than you planned on.

You can certainly measure out your steak and your chicken to make sure you are hitting the right amount of protein.

A simple food scale will do the trick here. Lets say 4 ounces of chicken is 20 grams of protein. All you'd have to do is put the chicken on the scale and measure out 4 ounces. and there you go. You may need to do a little math if you need more.

For example, if your program calls for 30 grams. Multiply 30 and 4 to get 120, then divide 120 by 20, and you'll get 6 ounces of chicken.

Multiply the desired protein amount (30) by the original serving size (4) and then divide that by the amount of protein in the original serving size (20).

But for some, that may not be practical.

Instead, I really like the hand portion guide that is shown below.

Precision nutrition

This is a great option for those that are not looking to weigh and count each gram of protein, but still want to hit a protein target.

One palm sized portion of protein is about 20-30 grams.

So, if you were a client of mine, and we want to hit 150 grams of protein per day, spread across 4 meals. We would shoot for about 1.5 to 2 palms portions of protein in each meal you have.

As a bonus for reading this whole article, here is a shopping list of hgih quality protein sources you can download!

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