Protein Decoded

Protein Decoded

Written by Hannah Grenfell

Often when we hear the word “protein,” we think about the food–usually meat– that helps our muscles grow. But protein does a whole lot more for our bodies than repair our muscles after a workout. Protein is a key ingredient to almost every element of our bodies, so eating the right amount of protein daily from the right sources will keep us healthy and strong.



Protein: What Is It?

Building Blocks Protein is present in virtually every part of our bodies and is key in rebuilding tissue. From our muscles, fingernails, and bones to our blood, skin, and hair, you’ll find protein in almost every system of the body. Protein builds new cells, is responsible for many chemical reactions that happen in our bodies, and makes up the hemoglobin that carries our blood cells. In short, it is absolutely essential your body gets the protein it needs every day.


Whole Protein – A protein is made of essential and non-essential amino acids. Non-essential amino acids are made inside our bodies while essential amino acids have to come from our food. When a food contains all nine of the essential amino acids, it is considered to contain a “whole protein”.


Protein In Terms Of Fitness And Weight Loss

Dieting – So what is all the hype about the protein-based diets? It’s true, protein helps your body burn calories. The amino acids in protein are bound together by super strong peptide bonds. In order to use those amino acids, your body has to break the bonds, working harder and burning more energy in the process.


It’s important to note here that a balanced diet is very important. Removing all carbs and replacing them with protein isn’t necessarily the answer to your weight loss problems. Certain types of carbs are also essential to our body’s function. It’s important to understand good nutrition and the benefits and ramifications of your dietary choices before making them.


Protein and MuscleEating protein along with some carbs post workout helps damaged muscles refuel and repair. Protein provides damaged muscle fibers with amino acids which are used by the body to build muscle.


How Much Protein Do I Need And Where Do I Get It?

In the United States, the recommended daily allowance of protein is dependent on your gender, age, and amount of activity. In general, 46 grams are recommended for women and 56 grams are recommended for men. This is equivalent to about 3 servings of protein per day. A serving is usually about two to three ounces.


USDA – The USDA website is a great resource for nutritional information. They measure protein portions in term of “ounce equivalents.” According to their website an ounce equivalent is equal to “…1 ounce of meat (about 7g), poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans (about 10g), 1 egg (about 6g), 1 tablespoon of peanut butter (about 4g), or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds (about 6g)…”


Portions Made Easy – The USDA recommendation might be useful when you’re cooking at home, but how do you remember those numbers when you’re eating on the go? Here’s a chart for easy reference and comparison:



A portion of lean meat or poultry

(2–4 oz, 50-100grams)




One deck of playing cards or the palm of your hand


A serving of cooked fish (3 oz)




The size of your checkbook


A serving of cooked beans (1/2 cup)




One light bulb



A serving of nuts (1/4 cup)




One golf ball


A serving of hummus or nut butter (2 tbsp)




One golf ball


A serving of lunch meat (1 oz)




A compact disk (CD)


One serving of tofu (3 oz)




A cassette tape


A serving of tempeh (1/2 cup)




One cassette tape


Keep your Choices Healthy

Meats, Dairy, Eggs – You’ll notice from the chart above that protein can come from a variety of sources. If you depend largely on animal products as your primary protein resource, make sure you’re choosing lean, non-processed meats and products that are low in fat. Consider healthy fats versus harmful fats.


If you eat a 6-oz. porterhouse steak as your protein fix for the day, you’re getting a ton of protein but you’re also getting about 12 grams of saturated fat. That’s over 60 percent of your recommended daily intake. (5) If you’re choosing to eat a hot dog or ham steak, consider the concentration of sodium you’re also putting into your body.


Plant Sources – Remember that protein can also come from a variety of vegetable sources: beans, peas, nuts, quinoa, tempeh and tofu are just a few. You can even find protein in green leafy vegetables; a cup of broccoli for example contains over 8 grams of protein.


Protein is essential for a whole healthy body. By understanding what protein is and how to identify healthy portion control, you’ll be better equipped to make good decisions that will keep your body strong and healthy for the rest of your life. Keep researching and make sure you’re eating a variety of whole, healthy foods that will provide a range of nutrients. Thank you for reading and stay healthy!

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  1., “14 Best Vegan and Vegetarian Protein Sources” –,,20718479_9,00.html


 14.   The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Protein Sources.











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