Protein shakes, protein bars, protein powder, and more… what’s the deal with protein? Obviously we need it, but what exactly does it do for our bodies, what are the best forms to eat, and how much do we need?
Why do we need protein?
The body uses protein to build and repair tissues, including muscle tissue, after exercise and everyday wear and tear. Protein also contributes to a healthy endocrine system, helping with hormone production. Your entire body relies on protein – from your bones and skin to your hair and toenails.
Protein is a major component of the diet, called a “macronutrient” or casually known to close friends as a macro. Your macros are the major components of your dietary intake: fat, carbohydrates, and protein. We all know that the body stores fat (in the form of, well, fat) and carbohydrates (in the form of glucose and glycogen); however, the body does not keep a long-term reserve of protein so it is important to eat a healthy and balanced diet each day to maintain appropriate protein levels for your body to do its thing.
How much protein do we need to eat?
Recommendations vary based on who you ask. Fitness experts recommend different amounts of protein based on activity level and your fitness goals (build vs. maintain muscle), while government guidelines may outline a more basic approach to protein needs.
Your protein intake should take up between 10% to 35% of your daily caloric intake depending on your needs.
According to the USDA “My Plate” guidelines, you need the following amount of protein daily:
Children age 2-3: 2 ounces
Children age 4-8: 4 ounces
Girls age 9-18: 5 ounces
Boys age 9-13: 5 ounces
Boys age 14-18: 6.5 ounces
Women age 19-30: 5.5 ounces
Women age 31 and up: 5 ounces
Men age 19-30: 6.5 ounces
Men age 31-50: 6 ounces
Men age 51+: 5.5 ounces
These recommended protein levels assume that the individual participates in under 30 minutes of moderate activity per day. The more physically active a person is, the more protein they will need in their diet.
In a journal article in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Drs. Robert R. Wolfe and Sharon L. Miller explore the recommended daily allowance of protein. They found that the minimum protein requirement for adults over 18 years of age is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This equates to roughly 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, your protein requirements are calculated like this:
150 x 0.36 = 54 grams per day
This really does not seem like a lot of protein, because this is truly a minimum level of protein required to avoid muscle loss and degradation. The 0.36g/lb/day rule is what you need to eat to maintain the muscle mass you have – no loss, no gain – and for people who are sedentary.
The more activity you do throughout the day, the more protein you need to recover your muscles from their daily work. Pregnant and nursing women get some bonus protein too, because their bodies are busy being superheroes that can grow and nourish small humans.
To explore your particular protein needs, you can speak with a qualified nutritionist or do your own research with online calculators such as this one from the University of Maryland Medical System.
High protein diets for weight loss
You may have heard about high protein diets as an option for weight loss, but a healthy diet is one with a moderate amount of protein. Even the paleo diet, which is widely assumed to be an excuse to eat bacon for three meals per day, is not a high protein diet. Paleo dieters eat their fruits and veggies too, maintaining a healthy mix of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. No one out there is saying you should eat the majority of your calories from protein. In fact, too much protein can actually be toxic for the body. Stay between 10%-35% depending on your activity level and your needs.
Sources of protein
Protein can come from animal products or vegetable products. Obviously meat and eggs are good sources of protein, but it is possible to have a protein-rich meal that is completely vegetarian. Animal-based protein sources should be clean and healthy food products, like grass fed and pastured meats, eggs from pastured chickens, and cheese from pastured cows, goats, or sheep.
Beyond the phrase “You are what you eat,” you truly are what your food eats. And if your food was raised on a diet of inflammatory and genetically modified grains, then your food is not clean and healthy and able to be processed effectively by your body.
Recommended sources of protein include:
Meats such as beef, bison, elk, goat, pork, venison
Poultry such as chicken, duck, turkey
Fish and shellfish
Dairy (if tolerated)
Nuts and seeds
- Organ meats
It is very important for your health that you ask questions about your meat, eggs, and dairy products. For instance, do you know the difference between “Grass fed, grass finished” and “Grass fed, grain finished” as methods of feeding livestock?
When grazing animals consume grass, this is their natural diet and creates a healthier meat product for the consumer. Sometimes, grass-fed livestock is allowed to graze on grass for its entire life, but other times the meat is “grain finished,” which means that it is fed corn and other grain in order to fatten it up faster for sale to the consumer. This results in an unhealthy meat product for the consumer because the animal’s body cannot adequately process corn and grain, and the inflammatory nature of the grains makes its way to you through the magic of the food chain.
Moral of the story: Grass fed, grass finished is the way to go.
(Side note: “Vegetarian fed” hens eat corn. You want pastured hens that can forage for bugs and goodies in the earth – chickens are not vegetarians!)
Dietary benefits of protein
Besides the overall bodily need for protein to repair ongoing damage and growth, there are many benefits to adequate dietary protein. Protein helps with the satiety response, the signal that tells your body that you are no longer hungry. This helps keep your appetite even throughout the day.
Have you ever noticed that if you eat a piece of fruit, you often feel even hungrier when you are done? That’s because a banana is basically sugar and your body burns through it fast. To keep yourself feeling satisfied and full, eat some healthy protein and fat with your snacks, such as a nut butter or a protein bar.
Benefits of protein bars
A protein bar is a great way to keep your protein levels optimal while still having a healthy snack you can take on the go. We live in a world of convenience foods, but often times a healthy serving of grass fed beef or pastured turkey takes a long time to prepare. When you have to be out the door in minutes, you don’t have time to make an omelet or roast a chicken leg. This is when your arch nemesis starts playing games with your head, telling you that it’s ok to just get one dollar menu burger from Random Fast Food Joint.
Say it with me: It’s not ok to get the dollar burger. It’s not! Say it with me!
The obvious solution is protein bars, the easy way to get the quality protein and nutrition of a home cooked meal in the convenience of a pre-made bar.
If you look in the protein bars section of the grocery store, you will likely be overwhelmed with choice. Let’s be real, half of those “protein bars” are glorified candy bars, filled with things like sweeteners, soy protein isolate, and grain fed whey protein. Soy is a touchy subject in the health community, so you want to stay away from the soy protein and look for soy free protein bars. If you are following a paleo diet, you need to be aware of grain free and gluten free protein bars.
Bricks Bars are different from all the rest. We begin with only the highest quality grass fed (and grass finished) beef and pasture-raised pork and turkey. Then we add wholesome vegetables, fruits, and seeds.
We use high quality protein sources because they provide better nutrition for your body. Grass fed meats contain up to five times more Omega 3 fatty acids than grain fed meats. Quality grass fed proteins also contain CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid), a natural fatty acid produced from Omega 6 fatty acids. CLA is abundantly available in grass fed animal products – up to three to five times as much as grain fed! Furthermore, Bricks Bars do not contain meat from animals administered antibiotics, keeping your food (and your body) healthier.
Bricks Bars are made by people, not machines, and that makes each one a unique experience of taste sensation while you get your Paleo on. We believe in clean eating and want you to benefit from a quality protein bar that meets all of your dietary needs, quirks, and beliefs that animals are to be respected for their contribution to our lives, dude. Party on with Bricks Bars.
The Concept of Protein Stores and Its Implications in Diet. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=328197
UMMS: Protein Calculator. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.healthcalculators.org/calculators/protein.asp
Daley, C., Abbott, A., Doyle, P., Nader, G., & Larson, S. (n.d.). A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Retrieved June 1, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846864/
Estimates of Energy and Protein Requirements of Adults and Children. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/aa040e/AA040E06.htm