Contributor: Kylene Guerra, RD
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Protein is the rage these days, touted on many a power bar wrapper and used to fortify various cereals, crackers, bread – and even water!
This is a slow-burning fuel. Because protein takes longer to digest, it keeps you feeling full: good news for people trying to lose weight. It’s also a champion for your muscles, helping your body build and maintain them.
Do you know how much protein you need and what the best sources are? Here are seven tips to harnessing your protein-power.
1. Focus on ‘the essentials’
Protein is made up of essential and non-essential amino acids. A complete protein source is one that contains all nine essential amino acids to support human dietary needs.
Not only does a complete protein contain all essential amino acids, but it also contains them in perfect proportion in terms of biological function.Great examples include whey (dairy sources), lean meat, egg whites and soy.
2. Average 46-56 grams per day
Protein should represent about 10 percent to 35 percent of your daily calories, depending on your overall health and activity level. The average healthy adult should have .8-1.0 g/kg of protein each day. This means that an average woman weighing 150 lbs. should aim for 54-68 grams of protein each day. It’s also best to eat a consistent amount of protein each day rather than load up on them one day and go without for the next two. Your body loves consistency, especially in protein intake.
3. Don’t worry about special food pairings
We used to say that each meal had to be balanced between complete and incomplete protein sources, but that’s not necessary. What’s most important is that your body gets balanced nutrition over the course of the day, according to studies cited by the Centers for Disease Control.
4. Animal proteins are most ‘bioavailable’
This means that the proteins you get from animal products are the most easily absorbed and used by your body. For instance, 20 grams of protein from eggs deliver more of a protein punch than the same quantity of protein from plant sources. This doesn’t mean you can’t get the protein you need from non-animal sources. It just means that if you eat protein from animal sources, your body can more easily harness it.
5. Beyond animal protein, also try other sources
Other great sources of protein are legumes (dried beans and peas), quinoa, nuts, seeds and low-fat dairy products like Greek yogurt.
6. Consider whey protein powder
I recommend this to all of my patients who don’t like other protein-rich foods, and it’s great when you’re on the go. Be careful not to use whey protein in addition to a meal to avoid gaining weight. Use it on its own as part of a meal replacement.
7. Eat protein to ‘get your burn’
Protein is thermogenic. This means that it creates a slight calorie burn as it’s digested. When compared to many carbohydrate rich foods, protein has a greater thermogenic effect. Think of it as giving your digestive system a good, hard run.