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Protein is available in a wide variety of foods. Most people can adjust their intake of these protein foods to meet these needs, but sometimes it is difficult to meet protein needs for various reasons. When this is the case, there are several options for protein supplements that can be useful. These include:
This article discusses some of the health benefits of protein, the controversy over how much you need, and food sources.
What Is Protein?
Protein is an essential nutrient for our bodies, made up of smaller units called amino acids. There are many types of amino acids, but they all come together to build proteins. These proteins do many important jobs in our bodies. They are required for building and repairing muscles, making skin and hair strong, and ensuring our organs work properly.
Proteins also play a key role in making enzymes, which are special types of proteins that help our bodies break down food and perform other vital processes. They are like tiny machines inside our cells, keeping everything running smoothly.
Our immune system relies heavily on proteins too. Proteins called antibodies are made to fight off infections, targeting harmful germs like viruses and bacteria, and stopping them from making us sick.
Some proteins, like hemoglobin found in our red blood cells, are responsible for carrying oxygen all over our bodies. Other proteins help transport different nutrients, ensuring they get to where they are needed.
Our bodies can create many amino acids on their own, but there are some, known as essential amino acids, that we can only get from food. Foods like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products contain all these essential amino acids and are known as complete proteins. Plant-based foods like beans, lentils, and nuts also contain protein, but often they don’t have all the essential amino acids by themselves. By eating a variety of plant-based proteins, we can get all the amino acids we need.
The amount of protein we need varies with age, activity level, and overall health. Protein is a vital part of our diet, helping to keep our bodies strong and functioning properly. It’s important to eat enough protein to maintain good health and support our body’s many functions.
What are the Benefits of Protein?
Protein offers several health benefits for human health, including:
- Muscle growth and repair: Protein is rich in essential amino acids, including BCAAs, which are crucial for muscle protein synthesis, growth, and repair, making it an ideal supplement for athletes and bodybuilders. [PMID: 31565912]
- Weight management: Protein can help with weight management by promoting satiety, reducing hunger, and increasing calorie expenditure. It can help in maintaining lean body mass while losing fat. [PMID: 29087242]
- Improved recovery: Consuming protein after exercise can help enhance muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness due to its rapid absorption and high amino acid content. [PMC9963065]
- Enhanced immune function: Protein contains bioactive components, such as immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, and lactoperoxidase, which may help support immune function and overall health. [PMC9709612]
- Blood sugar regulation: Protein may help regulate blood sugar levels by increasing insulin secretion and improving insulin sensitivity, making it a suitable supplement for those with type 2 diabetes or at risk of developing diabetes. [PMC7504833] Researchers found that the addition of protein to meals with quickly absorbed carbs stimulates insulin release and reduces after meal blood sugar. [PMID: 16002802]
- Lowering cholesterol levels: Some studies suggest that protein may help reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels, potentially contributing to improved cardiovascular health. PMC7504833]
- Antioxidant support: Protein is a source of the amino acid cysteine, which helps produce glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that plays a critical role in protecting cells from oxidative stress and maintaining overall health. [PMID: 12537959]
- May Be Useful for Cancer Patients: Researchers have found that protein supplementation can increase glutathione levels and improve nutritional status and immunity in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. [PMID: 29565716]
- Wound Healing: Wound healing rates are highly dependent on adequate protein as well as overall nutritional status. Supplementation with protein has been extensively studied in animal models of wound healing. [PMC3254143]
Food Sources of Protein
Here’s the table showing the grams of protein per serving of various high-protein foods, along with the serving sizes:
|Protein per Serving (grams)
|Chicken Breast, Lean Beef or Pork
|1 large egg
How Much Protein Do We Need?
When it comes to protein intake, one size doesn’t fit all. The debate over higher versus lower protein consumption has been a topic of interest among nutrition experts, athletes, and those concerned about long-term health. Whether you’re looking to build muscle, manage a medical condition, or simply improve your overall health, understanding the advantages of different levels of protein intake can help you make informed choices tailored to your individual goals and needs.
RDA for Protein
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for healthy adults. This translates to about 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. Both men and women fall under this general guideline. These recommendations aim to meet the nutritional requirements for most healthy individuals. Older adults and those who are losing weight or exercising may benefit from higher levels. Women’s needs during the second and third trimester of pregnancy go up to 1.1 grams per kg (0.5 grams per pound).
Some Experts Call For Much More Protein Than The RDA
Recent research suggests higher protein needs than past RDAs indicated, especially for athletes, the elderly, and those healing from illness. Studies now recommend a protein intake that may be significantly above the standard guidelines, to support muscle health, weight management, and overall well-being.
A growing body of research indicates that protein intakes well above the current Recommended Dietary Allowance help to promote healthy aging, appetite regulation, weight management, and goals aligned with athletic performance. Higher protein intakes may help prevent age-related sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass, and strength that predisposes older adults to frailty, disability, and loss of autonomy. Higher protein diets also improve satiety and lead to greater reductions in body weight and fat mass compared with standard protein diets, and may therefore serve as a successful strategy to help prevent and/or treat obesity. Athletes can also benefit from higher protein intakes to maximize athletic performance given the critical role protein plays in stimulating muscle protein remodelling after exercise. … Despite persistent beliefs to the contrary, we can find no evidence-based link between higher protein diets and renal disease or adverse bone health… Current evidence indicates intakes in the range of at least 1.2 to 1.6 g/(kg·day) [0.55-0.8g per lb.] of high-quality protein is a more ideal target for achieving optimal health outcomes in adults.Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health [PMID: 26960445]
Protein Recommended for Resistance Exercise and Muscle Building
If you’re engaged in muscle-building exercises like weightlifting or strength training, your protein needs are generally higher than those of the average person. For optimal muscle growth and recovery, it’s commonly recommended to consume between 1.2 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This translates to about 0.54 to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This higher protein intake supports muscle protein synthesis, aids in muscle repair, and helps you gain lean muscle mass more effectively. Timing also matters; consuming protein before or after workouts can maximize muscle growth. However, individual needs can vary, so consulting a sports dietitian for personalized advice is a smart move.
To increase muscle mass in combination with physical activity, it is recommended that a person that lifts weights regularly or is training for a running or cycling event eat a range of 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight.American College of Sports Medicine
Protein Recommended For Weight Loss Diets
If you’re aiming to lose weight, increasing protein intake can be beneficial. Protein can help you feel fuller for longer periods, reducing overall calorie intake. It also helps preserve muscle mass, ensuring that most of the weight you lose is from fat. A common recommendation is to consume between 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day when you’re on a calorie-restricted diet. However, the specific amount can vary based on individual factors like activity level and metabolic rate. Consult a healthcare provider for personalized advice tailored to your weight loss goals.
Protein Recommended For Elderly
For elderly people, protein intake becomes especially important to combat age-related muscle loss, known as sarcopenia, and to support bone health. The general protein recommendation of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight may not be sufficient for older adults. Some experts recommend a higher intake of around 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day or about 0.54 g per pound. This helps maintain muscle mass and strength. Adequate protein can also play a role in reducing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.
What Are the Health Advantages to Lower Protein Intake?
Lowering protein intake can have some advantages, especially for certain groups or in specific conditions:
- Kidney Health: Reduced protein intake can ease the workload on kidneys, which is particularly beneficial for people with kidney issues. Anyone with low kidney function should seek out a registered dietitian nutritionist to discuss the much wider scope of nutritional requirements.
- Lowered Cancer Risk: Some research suggests that lower protein intake, particularly from animal sources, may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
- Longevity: Studies on animals have shown that reducing protein intake may extend lifespan, although evidence in humans is not conclusive. Experts think that in humans, lower protein over the lifespan with higher protein later in life might be optimal.
- Environmental Impact: Lower protein intake, especially from animal sources, can reduce one’s carbon footprint, contributing to environmental sustainability.
What Are The Advantages of Higher Protein Intake?
Increasing protein intake has several health benefits for specific groups and conditions:
- Muscle Gain: Higher protein levels help with muscle repair and growth, beneficial for athletes and bodybuilders.
- Weight Loss: Consuming more protein can make you feel full longer, useful for those trying to lose weight.
- Elderly: Increased protein can help maintain muscle mass and also support bone health. Adequate protein is essential in reducing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis in older adults.
- Post-Surgery Recovery: After an injury or surgery, increased protein aids tissue repair and recovery.
- Athletic Performance: Athletes may need more protein to help with muscle repair and boost performance.
- Pregnancy: Protein needs go up during pregnancy to support the growing baby.
Consult a registered dietitian nutritionist for tailored advice, as protein needs can differ from person to person.
Are Protein Supplements Safe?
Protein supplements are widely regarded as safe for most individuals when used appropriately. These supplements, including whey, casein, soy, and pea protein, are generally well-tolerated and can be a convenient way to ensure adequate protein intake, especially for athletes, individuals with higher protein needs, or those with dietary restrictions. For most people, incorporating these supplements into their diet rarely leads to adverse effects. However, people with kidney conditions or serious medical conditions should consult a registered dietitian or healthcare provider when considering supplements.
Medication Interactions with Protein
- Levodopa (used in Parkinson’s Disease Treatment): Protein can interfere with the absorption of levodopa, a medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease. It’s often recommended to take levodopa on an empty stomach or separate from high-protein meals.
- Certain Chemotherapy Drugs: Some chemotherapy drugs may interact with dietary components, including proteins.
- Thyroid Hormone Replacement Medications: Thyroid medications must always be taken on an empty stomach.
- Diabetes Medications: As protein can impact blood sugar levels, adjustments to diabetes medications might be necessary.
Supplement Interactions with Protein
- Calcium: Combining whey protein, which has high calcium content, with calcium supplements might push calcium intake above recommended levels.
- Magnesium: Taking whey protein and magnesium supplements together can result in a higher intake of magnesium than necessary, as whey also contributes about 130 mg of magnesium per 200 calories of whey.
- Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs): Since whey protein includes BCAAs, adding more via supplements to the same meal can lead to an unnecessarily high intake of these amino acids.
- Creatine: While safe to use with whey protein, if creatine supplements are taken in the same meal as whey, it might promote increased water retention.
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Whey Protein Natural Vanilla by NOW Sports
- No Artificial Ingredients, Ultrafiltered, Microfiltered, With Branched-Chain Amino Acids, Added Glutamine
NOW® Whey Protein is a delicious blend of three of the highest quality whey protein concentrates and isolates from around the world: ultrafiltered, microfiltered and enzymatically hydrolyzed (partially predigested). This blend of specially processed whey proteins is designed to maximize amino acid absorption and biological value (BV). In addition, extra glutamine has been added (460 mg per serving) to this blend.
Whey protein is considered to have the highest biological value (BV) of any protein source – superior in essential amino acid content to beef, milk, casein or soy.
Add 1/3 cup daily to 8 oz. of cold water, milk, or your favorite juice. Stir or blend.
Serving Size: 1/3 cup (43g)
Amount Per Serving
Calories … 170
Total Fat … 2g
Saturated Fat … 1g
Trans Fat … 0g
Cholesterol … 55mg
Sodium … 135mg
Total Carbohydrate … 7g
Dietary Fiber … 2g
Total Sugars … 2g
Added Sugars … 2g
Xylitol … 2g
Protein … 26g
Vitamin D … 0mcg
Calcium … 123mg
Iron … 0.4mg
Potassium … 186mg
Ingredients: Whey Protein Concentrate, Natural Vanilla Flavor, Xylitol, Whey Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Hydrolysate, Xanthan Gum, L-Glutamine, Organic Stevia Leaf Extract.
Contains: Milk and soy.
Does not contain: Wheat, gluten, egg, fish, shellfish or tree nut ingredients. Produced in a GMP facility that processes other ingredients containing these allergens.
Typical Amino Acid Profile:
L-Histidine … 467
L-Isoleucine … 1668
L-Leucine … 2730
L-Lysine … 2364
L-Methionine … 555
L-Phenylalanine … 831
L-Threonine … 2042
L-Tryptophan … 471
L-Valine … 1533
Non-Essential Aminio Acids:
L-Alanine … 1370
L-Arginine … 677
L-Aspartic Acid … 3171
L-Cysteine … 504
L-Glutamic Acid … 4884
L-Glutamine … 460
Glycine … 513
L-Proline … 1671
L-Serine … 1449
L-Tyrosine … 563
Although this article discusses supplements in detail, don’t forget that we are absolutely committed to the “Food First” approach to nutrition. When it comes to your health, the totality of your eating habits far surpasses the impact of individual nutrients or any single supplement you consume. Even though this article doesn’t delve into the broader picture of your overall diet, it’s crucial to keep this element at the forefront of our minds. Your food needs to provide all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals to nourish your body systems down to the cellular level.
Food choices, rather than supplements, are the most critical factors for a healthy gut microbiome. These trillions of tiny inhabitants in your gut affect your brain waves; they orchestrate your immune system. They possess the power to create molecules that can switch genes on or off and are even capable of synthesizing neurotransmitters. Opting for organic foods and steering clear of plastic packaging (including those labeled BPA-free) is a smart move to limit toxin exposure. The sum of all these parts leads to a powerful conclusion: the ultimate key to your health lies in the quality and balance of the food you consume. Supplements are secondary.
To Sum It Up
Protein can support weight management, improve post-workout recovery, and give your immune system a boost. Food sources of protein are usually the best option both nutritionally and economically. When that is not practical for whatever reason, protein supplements have a high nutritional value and generally safe profile. Whey Protein, Egg Protein, and Plant-Based Protein supplements can be a worthwhile addition for many people.
To make sure you are meeting all your nutritional needs, consider meeting with a registered dietitian.
This Article is Not a Substitute for Medical Advice
Dietary supplements are not designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The Supplement Sciences website seeks to provide comprehensive access to the most relevant supplement information along with convenient online ordering. We do not provide medical advice and cannot guarantee that every product suggested is completely without risk. Since each person is unique in their health history and medication use, it is important to discuss supplements with your personal physician. Specifically, pregnant women and individuals being treated for cancer or liver or kidney problems must consult their physician about every nutritional supplement they plan to take. People taking medications for the treatment of HIV or with a history of organ transplant must not take supplements without consulting with their physician.