Protein makes up about 45% of the body and is a major component of muscles, bone, hemoglobin, hormones, antibodies, and enzymes. The general belief is that protein is used to create more muscle when exercising. As it turns out, muscle is approximately 70% water and only about 20% protein. If you want to increase muscle mass, you need extra water, extra energy in the form of carbohydrates, and some extra protein.
What else does protein do for you? It
- is required for the building and repair of body tissues.
- produces creatine, enzymes and hormones.
- regulates water balancing, transports nutrients and makes muscles contract.
- helps the body resist diseases common in malnourished people.
- prevents fatigue by producing stamina and energy.
Dietary protein requirements for an average person are 0.80 g/kg/day. Younger children have very different protein needs. Children age 4 – 13 need 0.95 g/kg/day and teenagers age 14-18 need
- Athletes need more protein to feed growing muscles and for energy and will range 1.4-2.0 g/kg/day depending on the activity. There are three main types of athletes:
- Endurance athlete – on the low end of the range at around 1.4 g/kg/day
- Intermittent athletes in sports such as basketball, soccer and volleyball – middle of the range around 1.7 g/kg/day
Strength athletes – on the high end of the range at 2.0 g/kg/day
A lack of an appropriate amount of carbohydrates for fuel will force your body to burn protein. Burning protein will cause an increase in water loss that can increase the risk of dehydration. This is a major concern for athlete as dehydration will decrease performance.
A common belief is that too much protein will leach calcium from your bones and can cause kidney stones. The majority of the studies that found these results were done on individuals with pre-existing renal disease or were based on animal models. The assumption is that healthy individuals will react the same way which is not appropriate. More studies need to be done to verify the findings.
Preliminary studies on the effects of a high protein diet have shown a benefit to individuals in battling hypertension, obesity and diabetes.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) are an important part of an athlete’s diet. Leucine, isoleucine and valine (in a 2:1:1 ratio) have been shown to improve protein and glycogen synthesis, slow protein degradation and aid in mental performance in endurance athletes. It is recommended that athletes consume 45mg/kg of body weight of leucine per day and half as much for the other two amino acids. Most proteins found in animal sources contain the correct ratio and eating a healthy diet will give you the proper amount. Those wanting to take more as a supplement should use the same 2:1:1 ratio.
Protein in Foods
Foods that contain all of the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. The best food sources are chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, milk, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt. Incomplete proteins are missing some of the essential amino acids and include fruit, nuts, vegetables, grains and seeds. Combinations of some of these incomplete proteins help vegetarians get their complete proteins.
How much protein is in each type?
Dairy: 8 grams of protein per:
- 1 cup milk (8oz)
- 1 cup yogurt (8oz)
- 1 ounce cheese
- 1/3 cup cottage cheese
- 2 cups ice cream
Meats: 7 grams of protein per:
- 1 ounce of fish or poultry
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup tuna
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- ½ cup baked beans, dried peas, and lentils
Breads and cereals: 3 grams of protein per:
- ½ cup rice, noodles, pasta, cereal
- 1 slice of bread
Vegetables: 1 gram of protein per ½ cup
Fruit: 0.5 grams of protein per ½ cup
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