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What’s for dinner? In the U.S, this question is usually answered with some type of meat like pot roast, chicken, salmon or meatloaf. Meat, because it’s rich in protein, is usually central to the meal, and vegetables and grains are frequently the afterthought. This may give the impression that a meal isn’t complete without meat and that we need lots of meat or protein for good health. The truth is, most Americans eat much more protein than their bodies require. And even if you choose to eat no meat at all, you can still meet your protein needs.

The first group of macronutrients is proteins. Proteins consist of amino acids and are the building blocks of your body. Every muscle in your body is made out of proteins. Without proteins your body will be unable to repair itself: when you cut yourself on something sharp your body will require proteins to repair the damage. Or when you have a great workout and your muscles need to recover it will need proteins to do this. Proteins are even so important for your body that it will do anything it can to have an adequate supply of them. This goes even so far that when you finish training and your body lacks the necessary amount of proteins to recover the exhausted muscles it will go to the only supply available: other muscles. It will break down some of your current muscles to help recover your exhausted muscles. As you can imagine the effect of this on your body will be that no matter how hard and how often you train, you will not increase your muscle strengths, muscle density, or total muscle mass.

Proteins: maintains and repairs – 4 calories/gram
Proteins have major roles in our body. It maintains and repairs body tissue (especially muscle), makes hemoglobin that transports oxygen, forms antibodies to fight infection, and produces enzymes and hormones to keep the body in balance and working properly. Protein takes longer to digest than carbs, providing you with a feeling of satiety (feeling full). Protein also helps to maintain muscle mass and assists in repairing muscles after your workouts. It is recommended that 15-35%* of our diets are comprised of protein. Keep in mind that our bodies can only process a certain amount of protein in one sitting- the rest is excreted in our urine. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, it is recommended that our bodies only need 0.8g/kg of protein. Also be mindful of consuming protein in food forms- not just powder and bars.

shape and size, some consisting only of ^20-30 amino acids and others of several thousands. They are present in every living cell. In the skin, hair, callus, cartilage, muscles, tendons and ligaments, proteins hold together, protect, and provide structure to the body. As enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and globulins, they catalyze, regulate, and protect the body chemistry. Important biomolecules like hemoglobin, myoglobin and various lipoproteins, that carry oxygen and other substances within the body are also proteins.

Besides providing energy to the body, dietary protein is also required for growth—especially by children, teenagers, and pregnant women, tissue repair, immune system function, hormone and enzyme production, and for lean muscle mass and tone maintenance. When eaten, the proteins contained in foods are broken down into amino acids, an important dietary source of nitrogen. To make the proteins that it needs (protein biosynthesis), the body also needs them. There are 20 amino acids and the body can make some of them from components within the body, but it cannot synthesize nine of them, accordingly called the “essential amino acids” since they must be provided in the diet. They include: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Protein that comes from animal sources are called “complete proteins” because they contains all of the essential amino acids while protein from plants, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables are called “incomplete proteins” because they are lacking one or more essential amino acid(s).

Proteins are complex molecules and the body needs time to break them down. This is why they are a slower and longer-lasting source of energy than carbohydrates. According to the Dietary Reference Intakes (RDI) published by the Unites States Department of Agriculture (USDA), adults need to eat about 60 grams of protein per day (0.8 g per kg of weight). Adults who are physically very active or trying to build muscle need slightly more. Children also need more. If more protein is consumed than is needed, the body stores its components as fat, which can be broken down and used for energy as need arises. Proteins are broken down during digestion, which exposes them to acid in the stomach and to degradation by the action of enzymes called proteases. Some ingested amino acids are converted to carbohydrates (gluconeogene-sis), which is also used under starvation conditions to generate glucose from the body’s own proteins, particularly those found in muscle.

In general we can state that proteins coming from meats, seafood, poultry, milk, yoghurt, and eggs contain these essential amino acids while proteins from vegetables do not. It is therefore recommended to combine eating proteins from vegetables with eating proteins from animals to make sure your body can make use of these macronutrients.