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Health Benefits of Protein

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health benefits of protein
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The Many Benefits of Protein

With so many protein options available, it can be difficult to know how much and what kind of protein will be the best option for maximum results. The decision should begin with the question of what specific results an individual expects to achieve through the use of protein products or supplements.

The health benefits of protein range from muscle building attributes to immune system protection. Depending on the intended use for high protein foods or protein supplements, there are several options for obtaining the recommended daily intake of protein. First, it is important to learn what protein does, how the body benefits from it, and which forms are most effective for specific functions.

The Purpose of Protein

Protein is vital in all living organisms and operates on a cellular level to perform functions necessary for survival. In humans, proteins help move the body by creating movement between receptors that cause movement of enzymes within the cell, which in turn creates energy for the body.

In more practical terms, protein is the substance that the body uses to fuel activity. The breakdown of proteins is an especially important feature for muscle retention and can be utilize before, during, and after workouts to ensure there is enough fuel to achieve maximum potential of muscle activity. This physiological function applies in virtually all cases, whether an individual is looking to lose weight, build lean muscle, or train for an athletic event. Protein levels from birth are especially important to develop memory, immune system function, and other cognitive functions in newborns.

How Much Protein is Sufficient?

The amount of protein a person needs will vary based on many different criteria. Since one of the benefits of protein is that it decreases hunger, people often choose high protein, low carbohydrate diets when they are seeking to lose weight or shed excess fat.

Generally speaking, men need more grams of protein than women in their daily caloric intake. The average 2,500 calorie diet should include at about 75-125 grams of protein for normal production levels, with more added throughout the day if seeking to reduce fat or build muscle. Using protein as a body weight builder typically requires about 90-140 grams per day.

There is also a helpful formula for those utilizing natural protein or protein supplements to reach a target body weight. For example, a man should consume about 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of target bodyweight. This means that to maintain 180 pound frame, between 100 and 130 gram of protein per day are required. There are several sources of protein that can be consumed to achieve this goal.

Sources of Protein

When possible, each meal should contain about 30-40 grams of protein. This is considered ideal because meals are obviously larger than snack food items but they also include other items such as complex carbohydrates and vegetables. These combinations help the food digest more slowly and break down the proteins in such a way that they are active from the time digestion processes begin with saliva in the chewing phase.

Keeping in mind that protein rich foods are useful for both losing weight and building muscle mass, it is important to know how and where to find and prepare these foods. Lean meats are of course the most popular and arguably the most delicious way to incorporate protein into the daily schedule. Some of the easiest foods to prepare may also be high in protein. Here are some examples that fit well into a variety of great tasting recipes:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Dairy
  • Soy

Chicken

Chicken breast is a great standby option for a quick and versatile protein option. They can be grilled, baked, sautéed, braised, or shredded. Chicken essentially goes with every other food group and takes on the flavor of a number of different marinades and spices with great efficiency. It can be eaten alone, added to salads, or mixed in with virtually any number of favorite ingredients. Chicken thighs, legs, and wings are also high in protein but do have more calories and fat than the lean breast meat.

Turkey

Turkey may not be as flexible as the chicken when it comes to preparing delicious meals, but this lean poultry should not be discounted too quickly. When seasoned properly, turkey can be added to vegetable casseroles or served with side dishes that complement it well and provide high nutritional value. Turkey can be eaten hot or cold and works well as a snack food between meals.

Beef

When choosing beef and other red meats as a source of protein, it is important to remember that lean cuts provide the best benefits for building muscle mass. Lean beef does not necessarily have to be organic, but like with many other foods, reducing exposure to growth hormones provides a better overall flavor as well as increased health benefits. Beef pairs well with hearty vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and simple carbohydrates such as potatoes and pastas. Many people report feeling full after a meal containing beef, so perhaps this should be avoided before a workout.

Fish

Among the many health benefits of fish, it is a superb source of natural protein. The omega oils contained in many fish are believed to help increase brain and heart function as well, which serves to further improve the productivity of any post meal workout. Although virtually any type of fish is high in protein, tuna and shrimp are among the highest grams per ounce of any seafood product. A word of caution though, some fish are relatively high in fats and oils. This may upset digestive tracts or leave some diners feeling sluggish after a meal containing fatty fishes such as salmon or mackerel.

Beans

Beans are truly the magical fruit. They provide an excellent source of protein and a host of other great health benefits. Beans and lentils are often lumped together, although technically speaking lentils are more closely related to nuts than beans. Both provide a quick and easy to serve energy source that is also high in protein. Beans and lentils are also a great option for vegetarians who want to increase their protein intake or build muscle mass. Beans and lentils are also very versatile and can be added to soups, side dishes, and even served as a main entrée when properly prepared. Their versatility and filling nature make them a great choice for those looking to lose weight without feeling hungry.

Dairy

Many dairy products like eggs, cottage cheese, milk, yogurt, and other cheeses are packed with natural proteins and often probiotics as well. The health benefits of these dairy products vary depending on the source, but overall they are an acceptable addition to any well balanced diet. Eggs are a pure source of protein and do not contain much fat. Other dairy products, especially cheeses and milk based product could potentially be a source of hidden fats. Most items come with the option of low fat or skim milk, making them less calorie laden. Those individuals with high cholesterol should monitor their intake of these products, especially those that are prepackaged or heavily processed.

Soy Products

No discussion on protein would be complete without considering the options of soy based products. Edamame makes a terrific snack or stir in for other ingredients in many different meal options. Soy or tofu based meal alternatives can easily take the place of meat products and are easy to work into favorite recipes. They both offer a hearty supply of protein with little fat and relatively few calories. Soy based products come in many forms and are flavored in a variety of ways. Tofu tends to have a softer consistency and essentially tastes like whatever marinade was used in the preparation. It can be added to supplement meals without adding a specific or unique taste.

Protein Supplements

When daily mealtimes alone are not enough to meet the target protein intake, it may be necessary to increase grams of protein through snacks or supplements. Hardcore workouts are also improved by the use of supplements, and recovery time can be aided with the right protein products as well. Before beginning a new regiment by adding supplements, it is necessary to review some basics about protein supplements and determine which option is the best avenue for particular dietary goals.

Milk contains a combination of two proteins, casein and whey, which are byproducts of the milk protein manipulated in the process of making creams and cheeses. Whey protein can be further separated from the casein and is the most commonly used protein for dietary supplements. There are three basic types of whey proteins, with whey protein isolate being the most common and the most popular for protein powders and shakes.

Creatine and other synthetic nutritional supplements are frequently used in protein products and snacks. These nutrients may boast a great number of health benefits and many even claim to enhance workouts. Although these may be true statements, they are not considered true or whole proteins on their own. When using these products or supplements, be sure to also include plenty of whole proteins in the diet as well. Read packaging carefully as some product instructions will actually advise users on how to use the product with or without additional protein intake solutions. If a product is going to require the use of a supplement with a supplement, it may not be the best option available. Whatever type of protein supplement is chosen, it will come in one of only a few general forms.

Protein Shakes

Protein shakes are one of the most popular choices for busy men and women who want to increase their protein intake. Shakes are available in prepackaged options in a variety of flavors and are made for convenient travelling. They can be chilled, frozen, or mixed into other beverages, such as coffee. Most individual servings will require refrigeration after opening, so plan ahead if using one of these protein shakes as a boost for the morning java.

Protein Powders

Protein powders are slightly more versatile than premade shakes, although they can be used to create a protein packed shake. Powders can be mixed with a variety of other products, including almost any other food or drink option. They work well on the go, especially when added to a bottle of water during a workout. Although some settlement may occur during the process, they are easily reformed by a vigorous shaking. Powdered drinks can typically be refrigerated and reused if not consumed in one serving.

High Protein Snacks

Natural protein sources are generally still the preferred way to reach maximum protein intake for the day. Most popular snack brands have attempted to meet customer demand for protein by enhancing their existing products with protein boosting ingredients. Virtually all products are clearly marked, several clever market techniques ensure that packaging effectively advertises the protein content and other health benefits of a particular snack.

Dried meat products such as turkey or beef jerky are a quick way to add a few extra grams of protein, and many are prepackaged to include cheese as well. Protein bars are a popular option, especially in the morning, for busy professionals who do not have time for a proper breakfast but want to avoid high sugar, high carbohydrate options. Almonds, walnuts, edamame, and cheeses or yogurts are easy snack options that are both filling and inexpensive.

Potential Protein Traps

Despite the obvious benefits of a diet that is high in protein, there are some common pitfalls that may plague individuals who are new to the workout strategies that include protein supplements. Simple moderation is the key to any diet and exercise plan. Any adverse reactions to soy products or whey proteins may just require a reduced intake of those products.

Some common side effects of protein overload, in any form, may include:

  • Bloated feeling
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Cramping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fatigue or heaviness

In most cases, these symptoms are mild to moderate and are not signs for concern. An increase in protein intake may be difficult for the body to handle, especially if the increase happened suddenly or after a period of fasting. Sensitive digestive systems may also have a bit of difficulty handling excess protein intake. This results in a feeling of heaviness or fatigue and may be accompanied by bloating or nausea.

The easiest course of action is to reduce the amount of protein for a short period to see if symptoms change. If multiple products were introduced into the diet at one time, try stopping them all for a few days then reintroducing them one at a time. Severe headaches, nausea and other uncomfortable side effects may indicate a more serious problem. Food allergies, digestive track disorders, and other medical conditions may have been uncovered through the use of dietary supplements or additional protein intake. A well balanced diet includes a variety of food products and was meant to be enhanced with additional protein or supplements, but not anchored by them.

Alessandra.Kessler

Alessandra is the mother of two daughters, ages 13 and 23. Natural medicine and a holistic living have been an focus of her life for many years. She has been studying with The Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a Certified Holistic Health Coach, and is a big part of the wellness community. She is an big fan of yoga, practices meditation, and is presently a nutrition and healthy lifestyle mentor for adults.

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