Everyone knows that protein is an essential part of your daily diet, and meeting a minimum protein level throughout the day is vital for having the energy you need as the day rolls on.
Some people, however, are unaware of the fact that there is also such thing as having too much protein in your diet, because your body doesn't know what to do with excess protein and this can cause more harm than good.
Having excess protein in your diet can cause just as many harmful effects for your health as not getting enough protein can. If you are increasing your protein intake but your calorie intake or exercise habit is not increasing along with it, you can actually put your body through more stress than it needs or than it can handle for that matter.
Your body requires protein on a daily basis in order to repair and build your muscles along with other vital body tissues. Protein allows your body to create the hormones that it needs for optimum health, and to make the enzymes that are needed for metabolic and digestive processes. If you do not consume enough protein on a daily basis, your body may turn to your muscle instead, breaking it down to find the energy it needs.
Proteins are comprised of amino acids, which are essentially building blocks, and there are somewhere around twenty different amino acids, some of which are actually created by your body. There are nine different amino acids, however, that cannot be synthesized by the body, and these are known as essential amino acids. The only way to get these essential amino acids is by eating whole foods that contain them. It is vital that you eat a variety of different protein foods every single day so that your body can get all of the essential amino acids that it needs.
There are a number of excellent whole food sources of protein that offer all nine of the essential amino acids, including meat, turkey, fish, eggs, chicken, cheese, milk, soy and yogurt.
You can also find some, but not all, of the nine essential amino acids in plant food sources such as beans and peas and other legumes, nuts, peanut butter and some seeds. If you are a vegetarian, then it is vital that you find the right balance of whole food plant sources including vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts and grains in order to get all of the essential amino acids that you need.
The amount of protein that you need is dependent upon your age, the size of your body, and how active you tend to be, or how much energy you burn throughout an average day. (see our daily calorie and protein calculators)
Most teenagers, for example, need between 40 and 50 grams of protein per day. The best way to get an estimate of how much protein you need is to take your weight and multiply it by about 0.40, and you will have the number of grams of protein that you need for a day. So if you weigh 150lbs for example, and you multiply that by 0.40, you will need 60 grams of protein every day for optimum health. This is just an estimate however, and there are a number of characteristics that will impact this number, such as whether or not you are an athlete or play sports.
Many of the whole food sources of protein are excellent at delivering the protein that you need.
For example, fish, beef, chicken and shrimp can provide as many as 21 grams of protein per 3 oz serving.
A single cup of yogurt can provide 11 grams of protein, and cooked lentils and tofu can provide 9 grams of protein with only a half cup of food.
Other excellent sources for protein include bulgur, kashi, oats, millet, cooked egg, hummus, soy milk, cooked beans, cheese and cow's milk.
There are a number of different protein supplements that come in the form of bars, powders and shakes. Usually though, most people get their much needed protein, rendering these supplements unnecessary in most cases. But if you need to put more protein into your diet, make sure your protein supplement contains several forms of protein (not just whey protein) AND the protein includes an enzyme additive for protein digestion. This will ensure your body can digest the protein and you acheive maximum benefits from taking the supplement.