The Power of Protein

Everyone’s talking about protein, but why is the macronutrient so important? Simple—it affects pretty much everything. 

“Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle, bone, skin, hair and nails,” says Lea Pizzarelli, nutritionist at Wellness One of South Bergen in East Rutherford. 

So it only stands to reason—knowing more about protein can help put you on the road to better health. Read on for the all the latest information.

Q&A

Will a high-protein diet make me lose weight?
Despite the popularity of diets like the age-old Atkins plan, Pizzarelli says the answer is no. “Eating a high-protein diet does have some benefits linked to weight loss, such as curbing your appetite and increasing your metabolism,” she allows. “However, there’s no way to get around it: To lose weight, you need to expend more calories than you take in—your body must be in a caloric deficit.” 

Can a vegetarian get enough protein?
“It is definitely possible for vegetarians to obtain enough protein in their diet,” says Pizzarelli. “Foods such as soy, quinoa, nuts, seeds and legumes are all sources of protein.” 

Is it possible to consume too much protein?
“As long as you are not eating more calories than your body requires, eating more protein than other macronutrients will not negatively affect you,” says Pizzarelli. “If your body is at its limit for amino acids, the protein will be converted into glucose and used as energy.” But what about the belief that excess protein is hard on the kidneys? Experts say those with impaired kidneys should avoid a high-protein diet, as the kidneys do work harder to clear metabolites of protein from the body—but those in good health needn’t worry. 

What should I look for in a protein supplement?
Pizzarelli offers this general rule of thumb: The fewer ingredients, the better. “If you look at the label and there’s a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce, it’s probably not good for you,” she says. Proteins containing maltodextrin, which is a filler that increases shelf life, should be avoided—studies show it not only has a high glycemic index rating that can spike your blood sugar but it can also suppress the healthy probiotics in your body. Some more additives to avoid? Sucralose, saccharin and aspartame—aka artificial sweeteners that have been proven to cause weight gain.

How Much Do You Need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams for every kilogram of body weight; this formula is the same for both men and women. For example, a 150-pound person would need 54.5 grams of protein every day. Some other guidelines: 

  • Strength athletes, such as weightlifters, should take in 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
  • Endurance athletes, such as runners, should get 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight, says the ACSM.
  • Those 65 and older should consume 1.2 grams per kilogram of body mass per day, according to the Mayo Clinic, because we naturally lose muscle mass as we age.

True or False?

Don’t fret about all the conflicting information you hear about protein— we’re busting common myths and setting the record straight.

Eating extra protein means you’ll gain extra muscle.
False. Experts say that consumption beyond the recommended amounts is unlikely to result in further muscle gains, as the body has a limited capacity to use amino acids to build muscle.

Protein contained in eggs is some of the highest quality protein of all foods.
True. In fact, one study says that based on the essential amino acids it provides, egg protein is second only to mother’s milk when it comes to human nutrition.

Whey and casein protein supplements will make women put on bulky muscle.
False. Only one thing can cause a woman to gain a bodybuilder’s physique: training in the gym like a bodybuilder.

Most adults in the U.S. do not get enough protein from their diets.
False. People typically receive enough protein in their diets to satisfy the needs of their bodies.

You need protein right after a workout.
False. A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that ingesting protein right after a workout had no beneficial effects on muscle growth or strength, compared with eating the same amount of protein with meals at a later time.

Protein powders can cause gas.
True. Since many protein powders are made with dairy (milk isolate, casein, whey), those with sensitivities can experience flatulence.

After water, protein is the most plentiful substance in the body.
True. Protein is essential for life and plays a key role as enzymes in a cell.

Chart Toppers

Here are some foods that are packed with protein—with choices for carnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike.

Meat
Chicken Breast
27 g. per 3 oz. serving

Fish
Sockeye Salmon
23 g. per 3 oz. serving

Dairy
Greek Yogurt
24 g. per 8 oz. serving

Nuts and Seeds
Peanut Butter 
8 g. per 2 Tbs.

Legumes
Edamame
13 g. per 1/2 cup

Grains
Amaranth
9 g. per cup

Vegetables
Green Peas
7 g. per cup

Categories: Bergen Health & Life