Protein is an incredibly important nutrient to ensure proper functioning in everything from the immune system to the musculoskeletal system, not to mention its presence in every cell of your body.
Why is it Important?
Protein is a very filling and satisfying nutrient, and has an important role in most biochemical reactions. The satiation factor is in part due to its effect on blood sugar- stabilizing it (along with fiber and healthy fat) and thus reducing cravings, as well.
Thus, protein is great for blood sugar stabilization (for diabetes, metabolic syndrome, weight management, and even simply cravings). It is also great for muscle gains in exercise (muscle is composed of protein). It is extremely important for the elderly and those experiencing chronic illness to get sufficient protein, as these states induce sarcopenia, or muscle wasting. Also, your immunoglobulins (antibodies to fight illness) are composed of protein, so it will help keep your immune system strong!
How Much Do I Need?
The amount of protein needed depends on a variety of factors including your age, weight, activity level, body composition, goals, pregnancy, vegetarian etc., but the most basic way to calculate your approximate protein requirement is to input your weight into the following formula:
For sedentary: 1.2g X Your Weight (kg) = Protein Requirement (g)/day
For moderately active: 1.4-1.6g X Your Weight (kg) = Protein Requirement (g)/day
(If you're calculating from pounds, divide pounds by 2.2 to get kg).
For extensive detail, see here.
It's a lot. Until the evidence-based protein review from examine.com, I used to recommend just the RDI for protein, which is about 30% less than the above, and even that was hard for patients to hit. Just try your best to get as close as you can to your requirement, and know that you're not alone in that being a feat!
Different Protein Types and Qualities
All protein formations are constructed by amino acids. Many amino acids are essential, meaning that they need to be obtained through the diet; your body cannot form these amino acids. In order to acquire the essential amino acids, and form all the different proteins in your body, you need to vary your protein intake. Meat and fish tend to have more “complete” proteins, which means that they contain all essential amino acids to some degree, whereas non-meat protein tends to be “incomplete”, meaning that it may be lacking some of the essential amino acids (and they are not absorbed as well). Thus, if you are consuming all or mostly vegetarian protein sources, you should increase your protein intake beyond the recommendations, and vary the sources as much as possible.
Non-vegetarian protein sources include: Beef, pork, turkey, chicken, fish, seafood, etc- generally 20-30g per serving.
Vegetarian (lacto-ovo) protein sources include: Beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, eggs, dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)- generally 5-15g per serving, and not absorbed as well as non-veg proteins.
For a list of the amounts of protein in each source, see here. You can then keep a diet diary for a couple weeks to see what your protein goal looks like in terms of food. There are also apps/websites that can calculate it for you, such as My Fitness Pal.
Whole foods are always the best way to consume your macronutrients, obviously. However, If you find that it is hard to get your protein requirements in one day, a simple and effective way to achieve your protein goal is with a protein powder.
There are many different types of protein powder. In terms of vegetarian protein powder, to achieve the widest range of amino acids, the more varied the sources (i.e. a powder containing soy, hemp, rice, and pumpkin seed protein altogether), the better. Fermented or sprouted proteins also make the vegetable proteins much more digestible. Egg and whey protein may also be suitable if you're lacto-ovo vegetarian.
Whey protein is an excellent option for many as it has a complete amino acid profile, if you tolerate it well. Whey is one of the proteins in milk. When one has a poor reaction to milk, they could have lactose intolerance, a sensitivity to casein, or a sensitivity to whey. Many food sensitivity tests can distinguish which of the proteins you're sensitive to (this test will not diagnose a lactose intolerance, though), so you could figure it out that way, or just try whey protein and see if you have a reaction. Only buy whey protein isolate if you go this route, as it does not contain the other milk proteins, and is more concentrated protein per gram.
There is also a beef protein powder available, another excellent source which is paleo, and would have the least food sensitivities associated with it.
Just add your protein powder to water, fiber, juice, berries or other fruit, etc. and blend away! See my Balanced Smoothie Blueprint here! Most protein powders provide approximately a whopping 20-25 g/scoop. Also, pay attention to the quality of the product- try to stay away from ingredients for added bulk, chemicals, words you don’t recognize, and added sugar (call me judgemental, but I generally recommend staying away from protein powders with muscles on the label!). Stevia is the best sweetener (it's a very sweet herb that has no calories and actually helps balance blood sugar and improve your dental bacteria!).
I hope this helps you get your protein requirements and make you feel strong and energetic, with properly functioning enzymatic reactions and immunity! If you need any further support with feeling incredible, feel free to book a consult with yours truly :)