Protein is one of the basic building blocks of the human body, making up about 16 percent of our total body weight. Muscle, hair, skin, and connective tissue are mainly made up of protein. However, protein plays a major role in all of the cells and most of the fluids in our bodies. In addition, many of our bodies’ important chemicals enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and even our DNA are at least partially made up of protein. Although our bodies are good at “recycling” protein, we use up protein constantly, so it is important to continually replace it.
Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. Our bodies cannot manufacture nine of the amino acids, so it is important to include all these amino acids in our diets. Animal proteins such as meat, eggs, and dairy products have all the amino acids, and many plants have some of them.
In the athletic world, there is no greater debate than how much protein you require on a daily basis. There are a number of varying recommendations and calculations when it comes to how much protein you should be consuming. On closer inspection, the daily intake of protein depends on age and activity level. For example, weight trainers and teenagers require more protein than a sedentary individual.
Adults in the U.S. are encouraged to get 10% to 35% of their day’s calories from protein foods. That’s about 46 grams of protein for women, and 56 grams of protein for men.
It’s not hard to get this amount if you eat two to three servings of protein-rich foods a day, according to the CDC.
- A small 3-ounce piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein. A typical 8-ounce piece of meat could have over 50 grams of protein.
- One 8-ounce container of yogurt has about 11 grams of protein.
- One cup of milk has 8 grams of protein.
- One cup of dry beans has about 16 grams of protein.
Most people with a well-rounded diet eat enough protein, but it’s important to include complete proteins, which contain all nine of the essential amino acids. Sources of complete protein include meat, fish, eggs, most dairy products, and soybeans. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are often missing certain amino acids, but they can be combined to make a complete protein meal.
And although meats contain high amounts of protein, be sure to consider how much saturated fat is in your cut. One serving of steak can contain up to 75% of your saturated fat for the day! Here are a few good examples of low-fat, protein-packed foods:
|Protein source||Amount of protein (grams)||Serving size|
|Tuna (yellowfish)||33||4 oz.|
|Roasted chicken||32||3/4 cup, diced|
|Lean flank steak||31||4 oz.|
|Non-fat plain Greek yogurt||15||6 oz.|