You can question many statements regarding health and fitness. But there's one fact you can't dispute: your body needs protein. According to Healthline, "Most people eat enough protein to prevent deficiency, but some individuals would do better with a much higher protein intake." Meaning if you exercise, your body needs more protein. When you work out, your muscle fibers suffer from damage like tearing and inflammation, which then needs to be restored by the body.
Protein is crucial for post-workout healing to help recover, develop, and strengthen muscles and tissues. Plus, protein increases muscle strength and fat burning, boosts metabolism, and helps maintain weight loss. And if that wasn't enough, protein also supports the immune system to defend the body against illness.
“When working with athletes, we are constantly trying to make sure they are consuming enough protein to help their bodies recover properly, and to stay healthy and lean,” said Bryan Snyder, director of nutrition for the Denver Broncos. “Protein is extremely important for anyone leading an active lifestyle. Not getting enough can increase the risk of injury. And if you do get injured, it’s going to affect how long it takes to get back to it.”
There are two main sources of protein: animal-based and plant-based. Animal-based proteins from meat, eggs, and dairy are complete proteins consisting of the nine essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Plant-based proteins such as soy, lentils, beans, pistachios, and rice are considered incomplete proteins because they are missing at least one fundamental amino acid. Why do you need all the essential amino acids? You need all the essential amino acids for vital processes such as stimulating muscle growth and regeneration, energy production, nitrogen balance, detoxification, tissue growth, and more.
Since the body can't produce or easily store protein, it must be consumed through food. And the way to absorb all the essential amino acids is through a nutrient-dense, complete protein diet. This can be easy for your average meat-eater. But if you're on a plant-based or plant-heavy diet, it takes a little more thought. For entirely plant-based eaters, you may get your protein from a combination of soy, lentils, beans, split peas, or black-eyed peas. Vegetarians can add eggs, plain Greek yogurt, and cultured cottage cheese to the list. And pescatarians can add fish and shellfish. But the key for plant-based or plant-heavy diet eaters is to make sure you get a mix of protein types to make up for the missing essential amino acid from each protein.
According to the Nutrition Source from Harvard University, "The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day, or just over 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight." For a 140-pound woman, that proposes about 50 grams of protein each day. And for a 200-pound person, that involves roughly 70 grams of protein each day. But those needs may be a bit higher for those with a more active lifestyle.
For a physically active woman weighing approximately 150 pounds, around 82-109 grams of protein has been suggested. And a physically active person weighing around 175 lbs. might need between 96-128 grams of protein per day. If you're not getting enough during meals, healthy, high protein snacks could help to prevent muscle loss and cell damage that come from a lack of protein. If your hair and nails are brittle, you're losing muscle weight, feel week, or prone to stress fractures, it could be a sign that you're not getting enough.