“Protein is for your muscles.” Pretty much everyone knows that this vital macronutrient, along with carbohydrates and fats, are essential to your diet and overall health. But what’s in the stuff? Proteins contain important components called amino acids, otherwise known as their building blocks. These contain oxygen, nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen atoms that we need. As we digest different types of protein from our foods, they’re broken down into small amino acid chains that our body uses in various ways – everything from building muscle, to creating antibodies for the immune system, to aiding in digestive functions. They do a lot for us, so what’s not to like?


The wide array of functions that these tiny molecules do for us is incredible. Almost every part of your body contains a type of protein – from the enzymes in your gut, to the iron-carrying hemoglobin in your blood – even your bones need protein to remain healthy! Broken down protein molecules are recycled and are used to form even more amino acids, many of which are expended as energy for the body. The essential amino acids that are supplied by your diet, along with the nonessential ones that your body makes by itself, all have useful and important roles in the body’s systems. That’s why a well-balanced diet is necessary!


The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for the average adult is about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (g/kg/bdywt). This is a guideline for the general population to make sure they’re eating enough protein daily for their basic metabolic needs. The average amount for a male is 56 grams per day, and for a female is 46 grams per day. Usually this equates to about 10-35% of your daily calories coming from protein sources. However, these amounts can fluctuate for everyone, so sometimes it’s best to take into account your level of physical activity and adjust your protein needs accordingly.


Yes! Depending on your exercise levels, your intake might be different from the average Joe. The AMDR recommendations for athletes can increase to 1.2-1.7 (g/kg/bdywt) for endurance, strength and power athletes. There are even some studies that suggest even more protein is needed for more intense activity levels – up to 2 (g/kg/bdywt). That’s a lot of protein!


Don’t worry, you have tons of options to choose from. Including a wide variety of plant-based protein sources is the key to getting all of the essential amino acids that your body needs. These can include adding extra servings of nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, and whole grains to your daily meals. Recent studies have come out that show how soy and tofu products can be extremely beneficial to the vegan and vegetarian diet because they contain protein, calcium, and iron. Other studies even suggest that adding a supplementary protein powder (whey, casein, or soy) can be beneficial. Adding more protein into your diet, whether it’s from an animal or plant source, can be vital for your increased athletic performance. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different recipes and serving sizes. You might find a dish you never thought you’d try!


Eating a well-balanced diet can be easier said than done, but making a few additions or substitutions in your meals can make all the difference. Protein is an essential component to any diet plan, and may be able to enhance your athletic performance if you’re smart about it. Your protein intake will not only keep you strong, but will keep you moving, too. And there’s nothing more satisfying than that!

AUTHOR: Karina Marshall, B.S. Nutrition Sciences



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