Here’s Everything You Actually Need To Know About Protein – BuzzFeed News


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Health

Starting with: WTF is it and what does it actually
do?

1. Let’s
start at the beginning. WTF is protein
actually?

Let's start at the beginning. WTF is protein actually?

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Protein is a broad term for molecular chains of
amino acids, the organic compounds that the
body needs for a variety of different
functions. The foods we eat contain a variety
of different proteins, all with different
amounts and kinds of amino acids. During
digestion these proteins are broken down into
their component amino acids.

“The body absorbs these amino acids, then
reconfigures them into different proteins to
meet the body’s needs,” registered dietitian
Brian St. Pierre, director of performance
nutrition at Precision
Nutrition, tells BuzzFeed Health.

Some proteins play a role in hormone signaling,
others in muscle and tissue growth, still
others in digestion, and so on. “Protein is
critically important for the immune system to
work properly, for bone health, for body
composition, for almost everything,” says St.
Pierre.

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2. When
dietitians talk about proteins they generally
mean any food (or food product) whose dominant
macronutrient is protein (as opposed to fat or
carbohydrates).

When dietitians talk about proteins they generally mean any food (or food product) whose dominant macronutrient is protein (as opposed to fat or carbohydrates).

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Take a can of tuna fish. One serving has

13g of protein and 0g of carbs and 0g of
fat. So, tuna fish is considered a protein.
Same deal with turkey (a serving has
0g of carbs, 0g of fat, and 10g of
protein), tofu (2g
of carbs, 3.5g of fat, 10g of protein), and
roast beef (<1g
of carbs, 3g of fat, 15g of protein). A
large egg has less than
1g of carbs, 4.75g of fat, and about 6g of
protein. So, even though the egg and the
beef provide some fat, they’re considered
proteins.

On the other hand, protein-containing foods
might not be considered proteins per se
when their dominant macronutrient is fat (like
peanut butter, which has about
16g of fat and 8g of protein per serving)
or carbs (like black beans,
which have about 18g of carbs and 6g of protein
per serving).

You want to get protein from a variety of
protein-containing foods (more on that
shortly), so it helps to get a little familiar
with what other macronutrients come along for
the ride as you think about your protein
intake.

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3.
Protein is kinda special because of its ability
to keep you full for a long time.

Protein is kinda special because of its ability to keep you full for a long time.

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Protein is, by far, the most satiety-promoting
macronutrient, says St. Pierre, which means it
helps you feel full after you’re done eating.
In fact, when people eat enough protein, they
tend to eat fewer calories overall, which makes
it important for anyone interested in weight
management.

So whether you’re interested in losing weight,
not being hangry, or both, having protein at
meals and snacks will help.
Here are some great high-protein snacks.

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4. Most
Americans are probably getting enough protein —
just maybe not from the healthiest sources.

Most Americans are probably getting enough protein — just maybe not from the healthiest sources.

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For most people who more or less eat a standard
American diet where meat and cheese figure
pretty prominently, getting adequate protein
isn’t usually an issue, says St. Pierre.

But because fast and processed foods are a
significant part of the diet, we’re also taking
in a lot of sugar, salt, and additives with all
of that important protein. And if you’re eating
a lot of, say, cheeseburgers, you might also be
taking in a good amount saturated fat, which

probably isn’t as detrimental to health as we
used to think, but from a heart-health
perspective, it shouldn’t be the main type of
fat you eat. So, when figuring out your protein
needs, it’s not just about how much you’re
getting but also about what kind you’re
consuming.

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5. Vegans
might have to put a little more thought into
their protein intake, especially if they’re
super active.

Vegans might have to put a little more thought into their protein intake, especially if they're super active.

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Because vegetarians can eat Greek yogurt, eggs,
and cheese, it’s not as tough for them to meet
their protein needs as it would be for a vegan.
If you’re 100% plant-based you might need to be
extra mindful that you’re eating enough
protein.

Lots of whole plant-based foods (like beans and
lentils and nut butters) have decent amounts of
protein, as do more processed foods like tofu
and seitan. But because you’d have to eat large
amounts of whole plant-based foods to get
adequate protein, some vegans (especially
athletes) use protein powder or supplements to
ensure they’re getting what they need, says St.
Pierre.

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6. As you
might already know, the more active you are,
the more protein you tend to need.

As you might already know, the more active you are, the more protein you tend to need.

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You probably know that weightlifters love
protein because it helps repair muscles and
facilitate their growth after any kind of
resistance training. But cardio enthusiasts
should get involved with protein, too. Long
cardio workouts temporarily suppress the immune
system, says St. Pierre. Because protein plays
an important role in immune system support, it
can help runners, cyclists, and endurance
athletes in general, recover and stay healthy.

Protein’s role in maintaining bone health,
repairing muscles, facilitating muscle tissue
growth, and supporting the immune system make
it crucial for basically anyone, whether you’re
pursuing general health and fitness, weight
loss or management, or body composition goals
like getting swole or decreasing body fat.

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7. And if
you’re a regular exerciser, have some protein
after you work out.

And if you're a regular exerciser, have some protein after you work out.

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Unless you exercise hard frequently or are a
competitive athlete, you probably don’t need to
obsess over the number of minutes that elapse
between your workout ending and when you
consume a super precise amount of protein. But
because protein does play such an important
role in exercise recovery and muscle repair,
physician assistant Bobby
Hold of NYU Langone Medical Center
recommends having some protein (up to about
20g, which would be about four slices of deli
turkey, a few eggs, or a scoop of protein
powder) within about 30 minutes of doing a
resistance training workout. “This will prevent
your body from using its own muscle tissue for
energy and help encourage muscle synthesis,”
Hold says.

Hold says that having the protein long after
that 30-minute window will still support muscle
repair and growth, just not as effectively as
when your body is most ready to make use of
that abundance of protein.

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8. Aim to
get your protein from a variety of sources,
including plant-based sources.

Aim to get your protein from a variety of sources, including plant-based sources.

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Bhofack2 / Getty Images

The best protein intake strategy is to get a
good mix of all different sources, says St.
Pierre. “Don’t try to hyper-focus on one
particular source,” he says.

Eating a variety of foods means you’re getting
a variety of nutrients, says Hold. Beans will
provide fiber, red meat will provide iron,
peanut butter and almonds provide vitamin E,
while fatty fish, tofu, and walnuts provide

essential fatty acids.

And, of course, making sure you’re not getting
all your protein from foods that are also
sources of saturated fat (cheese, milk, red
meat) means that you’re also keeping an eye on
your heart health.

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9. Just
because adequate protein is good, it doesn’t
mean a ton of it is way better.

Just because adequate protein is good, it doesn't mean a ton of it is way better.

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It might seem like if 20g of protein after a
workout will help gains, 40g will help your
gains twice as much! But St. Pierre says that
once you’re meeting your body’s protein needs,
there comes a point when consuming more of it
doesn’t really do much for you.

And there’s actually a reason to chill on the
protein intake as long as you’re getting
enough. St. Pierre says that usually when
people are super focused on protein, they end
up not getting enough of the other stuff they
need, like carbs and fat, and all the nutrients
in those foods.

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10. You
can do a bit of math if you want some hard
numbers on what your protein intake should look
like.

You can do a bit of math if you want some hard numbers on what your protein intake should look like.

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For most people who aren’t that active, the
usual equation for how much protein you should
eat daily is 0.8g of protein per kilogram of
bodyweight. So, a 150-pound person would
convert their weight to kilograms and multiply
that number by 0.8. It would look like this:

0.8 X 68 = 54.4g of protein per day.

The more active you are, the more protein
you’ll need. St. Pierre says that active people
should aim for 1.4 to 2.2g of protein for every
kilogram of bodyweight. You can also use

this handy USDA calculator that does all
the math for you.

Here are some common foods and how much protein
they have per serving:

1 large egg:
6.28 grams
1 slice cheddar cheese:
6.4 grams
1 can of tuna:
40.73 grams
1/4 package of tofu:
7 grams
1/2 cup of black beans:
6 grams
2 slices of roasted turkey breast:
10 grams
2 tablespoons peanut butter:
7.7 grams
1 container plain Greek yogurt: 18
grams
1/2 cup of lentils: 8 grams

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11. But
you can also basically eyeball it.

But you can also basically eyeball it.

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If you don’t want to count, St. Pierre
recommends a more visual way of keep track of
your protein intake. Use the palm of your hand
to estimate one serving of protein and count
the number of “palms” you eat daily.

St. Pierre recommends that active women eat
four to six palms of protein per day and active
men six to eight per day. Because your hand
size tends to be consistent with the size of
the rest of your body, this should be a
reliable way to get the protein you need. You
can get more info on eyeballing your portions
the Precision Nutrition way
here.

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12. Don’t
be afraid to snag a protein bar when you’re in
a pinch.

Don't be afraid to snag a protein bar when you're in a pinch.

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Even though St. Pierre suggests not relying on
packaged foods like protein bars to make up a
significant part of your protein intake, there
will be times when a protein bar is your
healthiest option and best chance at staying
fuller for longer.

If you’re in a pinch and all that’s available
is fast food or packaged snacks, a protein bar
is likely to be your best choice.
Here are some guidelines for choosing
healthier packaged snacks (including bars) and
you can also check out
this list for bars that have protein and
aren’t terrible for you.

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13. When
it comes to protein powders, choose one that’s
high in protein and low in crap.

When it comes to protein powders, choose one that's high in protein and low in crap.

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If you’re super active, super busy, and/or
vegan, you might be in the market for a protein
powder. No matter where the protein comes from
(whey, pea protein, etc.), make sure that it
contains 20 to 25g of protein per scoop and
less than 5g of carbs, says St. Pierre. And the
fewer the ingredients, the better because that
means it has less additives.

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14. And
if you’re too busy to cope with balanced meals,
turn a protein shake into an actual meal by
adding a bunch of delicious stuff.

And if you're too busy to cope with balanced meals, turn a protein shake into an actual meal by adding a bunch of delicious stuff.

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A protein shake can become a super shake, aka a
whole foods meal, if you throw in some
delicious stuff to make it heartier, says St.
Pierre. Instead of just protein powder and
water or milk, a super shake also contains
fruit, vegetables, a healthy fat like nut
butter or avocado, and a topping like cinnamon,
coconut, or yogurt.

Basically you’re getting a lot of nutrition,
including protein, in a portable, convenient
way. Again, if the choice is between grabbing a
fast food breakfast or snack or whipping up a
super shake with protein powder, the latter
will provide more nutrition and satiety.

Get some ideas to mix-and-match super shakes

here.

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