While second only to water in importance, the need for protein for the average American diet seems to be generally overstated these days. In some circles even, the belief that we are some how protein deficient is near epidemic. Whether new exercisers, dieters, or weekend warriors, many are chugging protein shakes and bars and increasing their meat intake thinking that somehow they need more than they're already getting.
In reality, most people consume a more than adequate amount, with 15% or more of their calories coming from a protein source. Keep in mind that these sources include meat, poultry, fish, legumes, soy product, and nuts; all of which are staples in the average American diet. There are also varying amounts of protein in our grain products and in plant based foods such as soy and legumes. When added up, most of us are getting plenty of the protein what we need.
What Is Protein:
In the body, protein is broken down into its smaller components called amino acids. Of the 20 amino acids your body needs, 9 are considered to be essential because your body can't synthesize them so they need to be eaten. High quality proteins are those that contain all of the essential proteins and include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Low quality proteins do not contain a balanced amount of essential proteins and must be eaten in together or within the same day to get the proper balance. Sources include nuts, seeds, and legumes (e.g. bean, lentils, split peas). Keep in mind that many fruits and vegetables also have varying proportions of amino acids and thus contribute to the overall amount of amino acids eaten.
What Does It Do:
Essential functions of protein in the body include:
1. Important component of every cell of your body
2. Repair and maintenance of body tissues (main purpose)
3. Blood clotting
4. Creation and maintenance of healthy muscle, skin, hair, eyes
5. Energy source (body prefers carbohydrates, however)
How Much Do You Need:
The FAO/WHO (World Health Organization) recommended daily protein intake is 0.75g of protein per kg of lean body weight,
or 45g for an average 60kg (133 pound) healthy adult female, and 56g for an average 75kg (167 pound) male. The average American eats about 79g per day, well over the recommended amount.
Calculate Your Protein Requirement:
To figure out your body's daily protein needs, follow this simple formula:
Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 (to find your weight in kilograms).
For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, then 150/2.2 = 68.2 kg.
Next, multiply this calculated number (weight in kg) by 0.8 (to get the number of grams of protein you need daily).
For example 68.2 x 0.75g = 51.2 g.
You would need about 51.2 grams of protein per day.
Before changing your daily protein intake, track how much you currently eat and then adjust only as necessary. Most people eat more than the amount necessary.
More on protein from WebMD.