Protein is absolutely essential for life. While most microorganisms and plants can biosynthesize (check out that fancy word!) the amino acids in protein, most animals, us human-folk included, must get it through our diet.
What is typically the first thing people think of when they hear protein? We're willing to bet it is something like this:
- legumes (dry beans and peas)
- nuts and seeds
- milk and milk products
- grains, some vegetables, and some fruits (provide only small amounts of protein relative to other sources)
Proteins are made up of amino acids. Think of amino acids as the building blocks. There are 20 different amino acids that join together to make all types of protein. Some of these amino acids can't be made by our bodies, so these are known as essential amino acids. It's essential that our diet provide these.
In the diet, protein sources are labeled according to how many of the essential amino acids they provide:
- A complete protein source is one that provides all of the essential amino acids. You may also hear these sources called high quality proteins. Animal-based foods; for example, meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and cheese are considered complete protein sources.
- An incomplete protein source is one that is low in one or more of the essential amino acids. Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein sources that together provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids. For example, rice contains low amounts of certain essential amino acids; however, these same essential amino acids are found in greater amounts in dry beans. Similarly, dry beans contain lower amounts of other essential amino acids that can be found in larger amounts in rice. Together, these two foods can provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids the body needs.
How much protein you should take in depends on your sex, age, and goals. The USDA recommends that protein make up between 17% - 21% of your total daily calories (~46 grams for adult women, ~56 grams for adult men). In our case, where we do strenuous workouts on a daily basis, we consume much more protein than that. Feel free to email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for some personal consultation to help figure out how much protein you should be consuming.
SOOO....That might be more information than you feel like you need to know, so let's K.I.S.S. it.
- You need protein....
- You should mostly get your dietary need of protein through high quality/complete proteins, but can supplement with incomplete proteins, and....
- You should at the very, VERY least be consuming 46 (women) to 56 (men) grams of protein each day.
And that concludes Part 2 of the Nutrition 101 series - Part 3 will go into the supposedly dangerous waters of the land of CARBS!
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Timothy and Lindsay