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Does Protein Do Anything Besides Build Muscle?

Protein. You know it’s an important part of your diet, but do you know why? Sure, protein is necessary to grow those big, strong muscles that everyone is after, but it may surprise you to learn that protein does a lot more than simply help you get shredded.

Protein offers a variety of benefits besides building your muscle. Is it right for you? Probably.

Let’s take a look at what protein is, why it’s important, and how much you really need to be your best self.

WHY PROTEIN?

Protein is a crucial part of any healthy diet and is absolutely vital for the health and well being of your body. All proteins are made up of individual amino acids, and each type of protein contains a different number or sequence of amino acids that makes it uniquely suited for various functions in the body. Amino acids are often called the building blocks of protein because they can be assembled in numerous ways to create different types of proteins, depending on how and where your body needs to use them. Of the 20 different amino acids, 11 are “non-essential” amino acids that can be manufactured by the body and 9 are “essential” amino acids that cannot be made by the body but must be obtained through your diet.1

Not only does protein build muscle, it helps regulate hormone production, skin & hair health as well as proper immune function.

Foods like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products each contain all 9 essential amino acids, making them complete proteins. Plant based sources of protein including beans, lentils, grains, and veggies, are usually missing one or more essential amino acid, making these sources incomplete proteins. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, it is possible to get plenty of protein and amino acids. But since most plant-based protein sources are “incomplete”, you need to eat a wide variety of different foods to ensure you are getting all of the essential amino acids your body needs.23

PROTEIN IN YOUR BODY

When you eat protein, it is broken down into individual amino acids that, together with other amino acids, can be reassembled to create around 50,000 different body proteins. Each of these different proteins plays a critical role in nearly every chemical reaction and function in the body, including:

  1. 1. Hormone Production
  2. 2. Lean Muscle Growth
  3. 3. Immune Function
  4. 4. Skin and Hair Health
  5. 5. Chemical Reactions in the Body
  6. 6. Bone Health
  7. 7. Enzyme Function
  8. 8. Satiety

When the proteins you eat are digested, the amino acids are separated and stored in the tissues and fluids of the body. Your body is made up of about 15% proteins and amino acids that are constantly being assembled and reassembled as needed. Eating foods with enough proteins and amino acids, and keeping your body stocked with adequate levels, is vital to maintain health and well-being.4 This means protein needs to be a daily fixture in your diet. But how much protein do you really need?

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HOW MUCH PROTEIN IS ENOUGH PROTEIN

The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine has established a guideline stating that the average man should consume at least 56 grams of protein and the average woman at least 46 grams of protein each day for adequate health. This guideline is based on the equation of .8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight or .36 grams per pound.5 The key to remember here when working out how much protein you need is that the above guideline is just that: a minimum guideline for the average person. There are many additional factors besides simply gender or body weight that will determine how much protein your body needs to thrive. Age, physical activity, and lifestyle also play a part in determining your true protein needs.

Everyone needs different amounts of protein. Which category of fitness do you fall into?
The everyday gym goer, or the weekend warrior... Everyone NEEDS a minimum amount of protein.
  • Pregnant or nursing women fall into the camp of people who actually need more protein than the typical recommendation. Growing a tiny human is hard work! Pregnant women should make sure that they eat about 10 grams more protein each day and nursing women need slightly more to support babies. A more accurate guideline is 1.1g/kg for pregnant women and 1.3g/kg for nursing women to ensure the health of their body and the growth and health of their baby during and after pregnancy.67
  • Athletes and bodybuilders also might want to up the ante on their protein intake. The continual breakdown and rebuilding of muscles from strenuous activities and training regimens requires higher amounts of proteins and amino acids to keep things working smoothly. Endurance athletes like distance runners and cyclers may need at least 50% more protein than those leading a more sedentary lifestyle, while bodybuilders may need to more than double their protein intake to support and maintain those cut physiques. Aim for 1.2-2 g/kg for endurance athletes and 1.7-2g/kg for strength and power athletes to support optimal performance.
  • Older individuals over the age of 50 also need more protein than the younger crowd. As you age, lean muscle is not only harder to add to your body, but holding on to your existing muscle becomes increasingly hard as well. Boosting your protein intake to around 35% of your overall diet, or 1-1.2 grams/kg, will not only help stave off muscular atrophy and support growth, but will also support strong and healthy bones.
  • Weekend Warriors and those that are even slightly active may also require more protein to support overall energy and health. Recreational athletes should aim for 1.1-1.4 g/kg to ensure their ability to enjoy life to the fullest.8

BEST PROTEIN FOODS

Now that you know how why you need protein and have a better idea of how much protein your body actually requires, the next step is getting that protein into your body! Chances are there are many amazing protein-rich foods that you already love. Take a look at a few of the best, healthy sources of protein:

  • Eggs - one egg contains 6 grams of complete protein and clocks in at only 70 calories. Eggs are also loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Start your morning off right with a healthy dose of protein by whipping up 2-3 eggs in your favorite style.
  • Chicken Breast - skinless chicken breast is a lean and delicious source of body boosting protein. A 3-ounce serving will provide a whopping 24 grams of protein. Add some greens or steamed veggies for an easy, complete meal.
  • Oats - if eggs aren’t your style, you can still start your morning off with a great source of protein by eating a piping hot bowl of oatmeal. Just half a cup of raw oats will provide you with 6 grams of protein, along with 4 grams of fiber. Boost the protein content of your oatmeal by stirring in a spoonful of peanut butter or topping with hemp or chia seeds. Or swap out your oats for quinoa to add an extra 2 grams of protein.
  • Beans/Lentils - if you’re seeking to add variety to your diet or cut down on your meat intake, lentils and beans are a great and delicious way to still get your protein. One cup of lentils contains 18 grams, while 1 cup of black beans contains 15 grams of body supporting protein.
  • Salmon - Make this versatile and delicious fish a part if your diet to get heart healthy omega-3s and 23 grams of protein in every 3 ounce serving. Get wild salmon when available for more delicious flavor and nutrition.
  • Almonds - munch on these delicious nuts for a protein boost at snack time. 1 ounce, or about 23 almonds, is a quick and tasty way to add 6 grams of protein into your diet.910

SUPPLEMENTING TO MEET YOUR PROTEIN NEEDS

Worried that you aren’t getting all the protein you need? If you’re concerned that you aren’t hitting your protein goals each day, consider adding protein supplements and powders to your diet. Convenient and cost effective, you’ll find plenty of protein powders that can help you achieve your goals and support overall health. From Whey Protein Isolate to Casein, for packing on pounds to supporting weight loss, let eSupplements.com help you find the right protein powder for you!

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Erin Dyer
Erin Dyer is a freelance writer for dietary supplements and proper health & nutrition. She is also a massage therapist, focusing primarily on sports injuries & deep tissue massage. She currently resides in Pleasant Grove, Utah and when she isn't writing or hitting the gym at 5am, she's chasing after her two sons.

REFERENCES

  1. Why do we need protein in our diet?. EatBalanced.com.
  2. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. 2007, World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research.: Washington, DC.
  3. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. 2007, World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research.: Washington, DC.
  4. What Roles Does Protein Play in the Body?. SRGate.
  5. How much protein do you need?. Discover Good.
  6. How Much Protein Do You Need?. WebMD.
  7. Athletes and Protein Intake. Today’s Dietitian Vol. 16 No. 6 P. 22.
  8. Protein for Fitness: Age Demands Greater Protein Needs. Today's Dietitian Vol. 17 No. 4 P. 16.
  9. Top 10 High Protein Foods You Can't Miss. HealthAliciousNess.com.
  10. 20 Delicious High-Protein Foods (No. 1 and 3 Are Best). AuthorityNutrition: An evidence-based Approach.

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