Macros Made Simple Part 3: Protein
And now, for the final part of this series on the macronutrients, I'm dishing on the macronutrient of choice for bodybuilders, toners, and carnivores everywhere: protein.
Protein, when broken down into amino acids, is used to make hormones, enzymes, immune response proteins, hair and nails, tendons, and many more goodies your body is always producing. However, people tend to only associate protein with its role in building muscle. It's like a girl or guy you only like for their looks. There could be so many great qualities about that person, but you only focus on one thing. Poor protein.
Unfortunately, I can't help with superficiality in your dating life, but I can help you understand there is more to protein than just muscles.
I still remember back in high school biology class how my teacher drilled in my head, "protein = structure and function." So there you have it, if you have any kind of structure or function (if you're reading this, you do), you're going to need protein.
Once metabolized, protein supplies the body with 4 calories per gram, and a host of amino acids. Different protein sources provide different amino acids, meaning the goodness you might get from an egg, for example, is different than what you'd get from an almond. These amino acids can then be used to reform new proteins performing different roles around your body.
With this in mind, it's important to make sure you're getting all your essential amino acids, meaning the ones your body can't make on its own. The best way to make sure you get your essential amino acids is to look for sources of "complete protein," such as beef, chicken, eggs, dairy, or fish.
Although animal sources are a popular source of complete protein for most people, some plant-based foods like quinoa or hemp also contain complete proteins. Also, if you're clever, you can combine incomplete protein sources to ensure you get all the essential amino acids (think bread and peanut butter, or rice and beans).
So, to put it all together, the big question: How much should I eat every day?
Well, unlike carbs and fats, which your body manages well, you need a fairly consistent protein intake to replenish your amino acid stores, since your body is constantly using them up for, as you might guess, structure and function. To picture this, imagine maintaining the amino acid content of your blood as trying to fill up a bathtub without plugging the drain.
Basically, you're better off taking a shower. Of protein.
For this reason, minimum protein recommendations tend to be pretty consistent among people even with different fitness goals. For example, an athlete looking to build muscle and keep a low body fat percentage might receive 30% of his calories from protein, while somone more overweight and training to lose body fat takes in 35% of calories from protein. Not too much difference there.
Another rule of thumb you can follow is to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day to safely hit your minimum required intake. Unless you're trying to look like The Rock (a fine goal, I might say), that should be plenty of protein.
Again, keep in mind these are general examples; I recommend talking to a health or fitness professional (*cough* probably Jaron *cough*) to find adjusted numbers for your particular goal.
So that concludes the nutrition series on the macronutrients, be sure to look at the parts on carbs or fats if you haven't already. I hope that was helpful for you, and as always, feel free to ask any questions!
Now hit the showers.