January 16, 2018 Jeffrey Bernstein

Let’s talk about protein. You may already be familiar with protein, the building block of life. But maybe you only have a passing knowledge of “protein” as the word athletes, bodybuilders, and gymgoers throw around regularly.  Hearing the word “protein” may make you think of oversized tubs filled with protein powder for mixing into protein shakes. It might remind you of choosing between chicken, fish or tofu with your salad. Or it may conjure up images from high school science classes.

Now, set that idea aside for a minute. In whatever way you may have heard of protein, it’s clear this popular macronutrient is more than a part of our culture. Believe it or not, protein powder isn’t only for workouts. Every person – young or old – needs protein in their diet whether they work out each day or live a sedentary life. It’s vital nutrition that everybody needs, and is just as essential to life as water.

Why do we need protein?

No matter what age you are, your body relies on protein – and the amino acids that are in it – to stay healthy and functional. Everyone from growing children to adults to those in retirement need proper nutrition. Without protein, your body would be unable to repair damaged tissue, fight disease, or stay healthy.

But don’t worry! Most people have protein every day without even thinking about it. Plenty of the foods you eat provide your body with the amino acids you need to function. Some foods have significantly more protein than others, for instance, meats, dairy, and fish have more per pound than vegetables. Diets that consist of fast foods and processed foods may have adequate protein, but they typically lack some of the most important nutrients, and can be high in unhealthy sugars and sodium.

For adults, the Institute of Medicine recommends 0.4 grams of protein for every pound you weigh. You can use an online health calculator to figure out how much protein you’ll need each day based on your age, weight, and activity level. The USDA website has a tool to calculate all types of vitamins and macronutrients you need.

But how do you get protein?

Protein isn’t a vitamin, so you won’t find it in a pill. We’re going to bring in the fancy science for a second here: protein consists of groups of amino acids, which are essential to life. Our own bodies make some amino acids, but can’t produce all the different types on its own. That’s why we need to get a significant amount of amino acids from the foods we eat.

Some foods have “complete proteins” which means they have all the amino acids we need. You can find complete proteins in meats, fish, and dairy. You may have heard of whey protein: it’s made from milk and is an amazing source of complete protein.

You can find protein in vegetables too, but most of these are “incomplete proteins.” This means you’ll need to combine different veggies together in a meal to get a full serving of complete proteins. If you eat a variety of foods on a daily basis then you’re probably already getting enough complete protein.

What if you don’t have enough protein?

If you completely cut protein out of your diet, then your overall health would deteriorate. Yes, you need protein to live. If you aren’t consuming enough protein, then your body will have to find amino acids another way – in this case your body will begin breaking down muscle tissue. Some results of not getting enough protein include:

  • You won’t be able to heal after an injury, or the healing process will go much slower.
  • Whether you have enough protein or not, your body will still need amino acids. Your own body will take those amino acids from somewhere, and that starts with your muscle tissue. Eventually this means decreased mobility, less overall strength, and a much higher risk of injuring yourself in falls or other accidents.

Now that you know the effects of not having enough protein, you should know the benefits of getting the right amount:

  • The amino acids in protein build, maintain, and repair your body.
  • They strengthen your immune system so you’re not sick all the time.
  • It gives you energy. Not like the energy you get from caffeine, but the energy to move.

If children don’t get the necessary amount of protein then they aren’t going to experience a steady level of healthy growth. If they get the right amount of protein then they’ll have the energy to get through the day, whether that’s at school or in sports and activities.

I don’t think I’m getting enough protein each day. How can I fix that?

Like we said earlier, you probably have enough protein from the variety of foods you eat. But kids can be picky eaters and they might not be meeting the minimum recommended daily protein. You can start by:

  • Increasing the amount of dairy, meat, or soy they eat.
  • Including protein shakes/smoothies and protein bars to supplement regular foods.
  • But if somebody is a picky eater, then another option is Instapro Natural Protein Powder, which can be mixed into a wide variety of foods without impacting the flavor or texture. Anyone in your family will get the boost of protein needed without having to switch up their diet.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Institute of Medicine. Retrieved January 2018.
Thalacker-Mercer, Anna E et al. “Inadequate Protein Intake Affects Skeletal Muscle Transcript Profiles in Older Humans.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 85.5 (2007): 1344–1352. Print.
Dhillon, Jaapna et al. “The Effects of Increased Protein Intake on Fullness: A Meta-Analysis and Its Limitations.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics , Volume 116 , Issue 6 , 968 – 983.