If you have been trying to lose fat or gain muscle, you have probably heard a lot about protein and how it is one of the most important nutrients in your diet. There is also a common misconception among the general masses that only those who lift heavy weights at the gym need a diet rich in protein. So why is protein so important? Why is there so much hype around it?
What is protein?
Widely regarded as the building block of life, it is a macromolecule that is made up of amino acids (organic molecules). These amino acids are linked to each other to form long chains. 20 types of amino acids are linked in various combinations and sequences to make up all the different types of protein in our body. 9 out of these 20 amino acids are known as essential amino acids because our bodies cannot make them on it’s own. Our body gets these 9 essential amino acids from food!
What does it do?
Your muscles, bones, skin, hair, and every other body part, tissue, and cell contains protein. It plays a major role in how your body looks and functions. Here are a few of its many functions in the human body:
- Constructing enzymes that power essential chemical reactions and regulate body functions like digestion, blood sugar, sleep-wake cycle, etc.
- Transporting oxygen and nutrients in the body
- Regulating hormones
- Supporting the immune system and health
- Building and maintaining muscle mass and aiding muscle repair and recovery
- Stimulating collagen production that helps maintain skin, hair, nails and connective tissues
- Providing energy to the body and much more
How much protein should I eat every day?
Your intake depends on a variety of factors like your age, body weight, gender, activity levels, and health and fitness goals. Research indicates that an average individual needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of their body weight to meet their basic nutritional needs.
People who lead a very active lifestyle, exercise frequently or are training for marathons need additional protein in their daily diet. Their intake should be between 1.1 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of their body weight. Your intake also varies during pregnancy and breastfeeding (please consult your doctor to better understand your nutritional requirements during these stages).
If you get hungry soon after having a heavy meal, feel sluggish throughout the day, or are constantly craving snacks and savoury foods, there is a high chance that your diet is low in protein and you need to increase your intake.
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What are the best vegetarian sources of protein?
If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, include the following foods in your diet to meet your daily dietary needs:
- Chia Seeds
- Soy Milk
- Vegetables like Broccoli, Spinach, Asparagus, Artichokes, Potatoes, and Sweet Potatoes
What are the best non-vegetarian sources of protein?
Animal products are naturally high in protein which makes it easier for people who eat a non-vegetarian diet to meet their daily needs. Some great animal-based sources are:
- Seafood like Salmon, Shrimp, Tuna, and other fish
Are there any side effects of eating too much protein?
While it is important to eat a proteinn-rich diet, anything in excess can be harmful to health, and the same applies to eating too much protein. Some common side effects (over 2g per kg of body weight) are bad breath, dehydration, constipation, and weight gain.