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What Is Protein and Why Should I Care?


Thanks for being here. This article is a bit dense, but it's worth it, I promise.

Proteins break down to “amino acids” which you may have heard of. The body produces a host of its own amino acids, but needs to get some from outside sources. Getting enough protein is very important, because our body is constantly regenerating cells, and to do that we need protein and fats. If we’re not consuming enough protein and fat in our diet, we’ll be unable to support the growth of new cells (remember from nutrition earlier) with fresh new materials. Instead, we’ll need to rely on breaking down our existing protein rich tissue (our muscles) to supply the much-needed amino acids.

If you’re training with any kind of frequency, it’s important to ensure that you’re getting enough protein, and for most people that equates to 0.8-1.6 g/lb of bodyweight.

So, if you’re a 150 pound woman, and you’re trying to get 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, you’ll be trying to get 150 grams of protein per day. What does that equate to in actual food?

Great question, let’s explore a few options:

  • 1 Egg has about 7 grams of protein

  • 1 5 oz chicken breast has about 38 grams of protein

  • 1 3.5 oz chicken thigh has about 24 grams of protein

  • 1 8 oz striploin steak has about 52 grams of protein

  • 1 scoop of most protein powders has between 20-25 grams of protein

  • 1 cup (8oz) of soybeans has about 15 grams of protein

  • 1 cup (8oz) of rice has about 4.5 grams of protein

  • 1 cup of cottage cheese has 25 grams of protein

There are lots of ways to get protein. The important thing to consider is how much you need to get, and how you want to eat. Because if you're someone who struggles to eat a large volume of food, but you like eating meat or animal products, you can see from the list above that it will require significantly less food/eating to get the same amount of protein vs. trying to get it from rice and beans.

Protein is pretty energy demanding to break down, and while it CAN be used as an energy source when other nutrients (carbohydrates and fats) aren’t available, it’s not your body’s preferred method of fueling itself.

Typically when proteins are used for energy it requires breaking down existing muscle tissues, converting them into their base amino acids, and using different amino acids for different purposes. Some convert to the base materials required to make cellular energy (go go juice), some are repurposed for other cell regeneration, and some are excreted as waste.

In other words: the process of getting energy from proteins to make you move is not very efficient. Your body likes to be efficient, and as a result will choose to get energy from protein last wherever possible.

Protein contains 4 calories per gram, but because it’s predominantly utilized for regenerating cells, it’s typically a good idea to think of protein more as a necessary total volume (in grams) than a place to try to reduce calories. Again, for active people it’s usually a good idea to try to get 0.8-1.6 grams per pound of bodyweight.

“If I’m trying to build muscle, wouldn’t more protein be better?”.

Great question! More is great to a point, but once you start getting beyond that 1.6g/lb of bodyweight, you start asking a lot of your digestive system.Our digestive system relies on a lot of different phases of breakdown and absorption. Food digestion starts in the mouth with chewing and our saliva, then continues with the acid in our stomach and enzymes in our stomach and intestines. We only produce a certain volume of these enzymes, so once you cross a certain threshold you start to absorb less and less of the protein you’re ingesting.

This isn’t inherently an issue as you’ll still digest some of it, but it’s important to think about your eating habits as a whole, not just in “macronutrients.” If you eat more protein, you’re going to have less room to eat other stuff, and those other macronutrients (fat and carbohydrates) are your body’s preferred energy source. They also contain a lot of good vitamins and minerals that are crucial to good health, vitality, sexual performance, etc.

So while enough is better than not enough, and an optimal amount is better than enough, more is not better than an optimal amount. Cool? Cool.

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