In this article I’m going teach you everything about the benefits of protein for the body. You’re going to learn exactly how much protein to eat to build muscle, stay satiated, and support your health goals.
Now before you scroll down just to get a few example protein sources, I need you to promise me to read this article in its entirety. You’re going to learn a lot, so play close attention.
Take notes, bookmark this article, and share it with a friend. Now, let’s talk about the benefits of protein for the body.
Body composition changes after only two months of eating a high protein diet (in a calorie deficit).
Benefits Of Protein For the Body
Protein is by far the most important macronutrient. It’s essential, meaning that you need to get it from your diet to, well.. survive. It builds, maintains and repairs your cells. It builds muscle tissue, hair, nails.. It builds you. It’s involved in almost every process in your body, including sending signals between and within your cells and cellular metabolism.
While fats (0-3%) and carbs (5-10%) have a low thermic effect, protein has a thermic effect of 20-30%. Meaning that even though you get about 4 calories per gram from consuming protein, you’ll burn about 0.8 – 1.2 calories in the process of digesting it.
It’s also almost impossible for your body to store protein as body fat. Does it get any better? Yes, protein is the most satiating macronutrient, making it a secret weapon for when you’re dieting.
What Is Protein?
Proteins are made up of different combinations of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 21 different amino acids, of which 9 are considered essential amino acids (EAAs). It’s pretty awesome that your body can make so many of the amino acids itself, it does most of the work for you. You just have to make sure to get the other 9 from your diet.
Ever heard about BCAAs? You’ll often see them printed really big on cans of energy drinks, marketing at its finest.. These ‘branch-chained amino acids’ are the three most important EAAs that your body needs for muscle protein synthesis, aka muscle building. Thing is, your body still needs all of the EAAs to do the actual work, so just supplementing with BCAAs won’t necessarily do the trick.
Let me save you some cash and tell you that you don’t need to supplement with BCAAs and EAAs at all if you’re already eating a high protein diet. Whole food protein sources will give you a much bigger return on your investment.
Different foods contain different amounts of different amino acids, aka amino acid profile. Depending on the amino acid profile, certain foods are considered high quality or ‘complete’ proteins. This simply means the food contains all the essential amino acids. Some examples of complete proteins are meat, fish and other animal products like dairy and eggs.
Many protein sources come with additional nutrients like carbs and/or fats, and micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, zoonutrients and phytonutrients.. You’ll find that different foods can be applicable to different scenarios.
Need to get your calories up? Fatty coldwater fish like salmon can be a great option (P+F). Trying to cut calories? Grab some chicken breast (P) instead of chicken thighs (P+F). Want to increase protein but also get your carbs and fiber up? Plant options like beans can be a great alternative (P+C).
getting enough protein on a plant based diet
Many people go vegetarian or vegan for the animals or the environment these days, which is beautiful. If that includes you, awesome! You can most definitely get plenty of protein on a plant based diet, just keep the following in mind! Most plant based options are considered of less quality because they do not contain all essential amino acids, and are poorly digested and absorbed by the body. If your diet is mostly/completely plant based, consider increasing your protein intake and invest a little more time to come up with healthy food combinations that when combined will provide you with all amino acids. A common example would be rice and beans. Use Cronometer to find out exactly which foods contain which amino acids. Be aware that this is going to require some more puzzling.
Sidenote: If you specifically want to focus on building muscle, this could actually be a moment where you could include EAAs during your workout. You may also require additional supplementation, but let’s stick to protein for the purpose of this article.
how much protein do you need per day?
Protein requirements need to be personalized and depend on body composition, activity, goals, energy balance and more. About 1.5g/kg of body weight is considered enough, but that doesn’t mean optimal. To get all the benefits of a high protein diet, you probably want to aim for about 1.8-2.6g/kg (based on your goal weight or lean body mass). 2.2g/kg seems to be the sweet spot in most cases. Just know that as you age, your body requires more amino acids to do the same amount of work. Depending on age, you may want to go as high as 2.6-3.2g/kg.
how much protein is too much?
Short answer: you don’t have to worry about consuming too much protein. You might’ve heard it can ‘mess up’ your kidneys. But unless there’s already an existing kidney condition, this doesn’t seem to be the case in healthy individuals. Is there an amount that might be considered ‘too much’? Maybe, but physically you would not be able to even consume that much. This 2014 protein overfeeding study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, had resistance – trained subjects eat as much as 4.4g/kg. The result? It had no effect on body composition. I didn’t seem to have an additional benefit however, so you should be fine sticking to the ranges I mentioned in the previous section.
A common myth is that your body can’t absorb more than 30g of protein per sitting. This is not the case. What this claim is likely based on, is that after 30g per sitting there doesn’t seem to be an additional benefit when it comes to muscle protein synthesis. But if you eat protein, your body will absorb it, it might just take longer to digest.
How to know if you’re eating enough protein
There’s a good chance that at this moment, you’re not eating enough protein. And that’s ok! Most (9/10) of my online coaching clients are not eating enough protein yet by the time they contact me. They often aren’t aware of their current protein intake either, which is why they always start with a food diary. That’s what I’d like you to do as well. Because it’s not just about how much you need, it’s also about how much you’re currently getting. Go ahead and download Cronometer, and log your food for at least a week or two to get a good idea of your current diet (don’t change anything yet). Then calculate your needs (if you’re unsure, 2 – 2.2g/kg should do the trick).
Once you know your requirements you can start to increase your protein intake step by step. Your body is an expert at getting used to whatever you do. If you have been undereating protein for a while, it’s going to feel like a lot. It’s probably going to take some time to get to your protein target, but then it becomes the new norm and you go “Oh it’s actually not that much at all!”. Remember that change is hard, us humans don’t like change, it’s scary. But if nothing changes, nothing changes, and you’ll still be under eating protein.
High Protein Foods
Down below you’ll find shopping lists of whole food protein sources, as well as a limited amount of minimally processed foods and recommended supplements. Before you get too excited with those protein shakes, just stick to one a day. Unless your diet’s (mostly) plant based, or your protein requirements are around 200g – in which case you could have two a day – you don’t need more. Try to prioritize whole foods. Real food over powder, always.
Also check out this protein cheat sheet which shows exactly how much you need for 20 grams of protein. Are you currently not tracking your macros? Simply aim for 1-2 servings the size of the palm of your hand at every meal.
Land animal sources:
- Lean beef
- Local wild game (e.g. venison, moose)
Sea animal sources:
Other animal sources:
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Seitan (wheat gluten)
- Beans *
- Nuts & seeds**
* High protein carbohydrates
** High protein fat sources
- Quality whey protein powder
- Quality combined plant based protein powder
- EAAs (optional, not necessary)
benefits of protein for the body
Congrats! You now know pretty much everything you need to know about protein. You now know that protein isn’t just for people who lift weights and build muscle. It’s for everyone, young and especially old. It’s the most important macronutrient, and getting enough is essential for overall health and longevity.
As a last little nugget to take home, try planning out your days and consider meal prepping! This will help you get enough protein in, while saving time during your already busy weekdays. Even if you don’t feel like preparing complete meals, bulk prep your healthy whole food protein sources and have them ready to go in the fridge. Planning ahead brings clarity and structure to your nutrition.
If you liked this article, go ahead and share it with a friend or family member who might have questions about their protein intake. If you need additional help and accountability, feel free to schedule a free discovery call and ask away!
*Wanna learn more about protein? Click here to learn more about how it can help you keep your metabolism in a good spot as you age.
Now let’s get that protein!