Protein plays an important role in our diets: it’s an essential macronutrient that helps make up your skin, hair, bones, muscles and more. Protein powers chemical reactions and helps you carry oxygen in your blood. Or, as the Harvard School of Public Health puts it, “At least 10,000 different proteins make you what you are and keep you that way.”
If you’re not getting enough protein in your diet, you’re cheating your body out of a macronutrient that helps fuel your everyday functions. Generally, a person needs seven grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. That means that if you weigh around 200 pounds, you’ll need to consume a whopping 70 grams of protein per day. Your protein intake should make up anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories—but other than that, it’s up to you.
Choosing the right type of protein
Keep in mind that all proteins are not created equal—so yes, it does matter what type of protein you consume. For example, while red meat is delicious, it’s also full of saturated fat. That’s bad for your heart health. Nor should you aim to get your protein from ice cream. Luckily, there are plenty of plant and animal-based proteins, including protein powders. You should be able to get plenty of healthy proteins no matter what kind of diet you eat—especially the kind that allows you to indulge in a cheeseburger every once in a while.
The main thing to remember is to look at your protein source’s entire dietary value, including fat, sugar and carbohydrates. That 16-ounce ribeye might contain 115 grams of protein, but it also contains 950 calories and 100 percent of your daily recommended intake of saturated fat. That’s a far cry from a four-ounce piece of grilled salmon, which has 24 grams of protein, 180 calories and only 10 percent of your saturated fat intake. Choose wisely.
The occasional indulgence is great, but woman cannot subsist on delicious, fatty steak alone… no matter how much she wishes she could.
Turning to protein powders
If your diet is more restrictive, you might want to get your protein from protein powders. They’re easy to throw into smoothies, shakes and more, so you can get an extra boost alongside your fruits and vegetables.
Protein powders are often derived from animal or plant sources, like peas, eggs, rice and dairy. There are three main types: concentrates, isolates and hydrolysates. Protein concentrates are extracted from whole foods using heat and enzymes. About 60 to 80 percent of the powder is protein, with the remaining made of fat and carbs. Protein isolates contain about 90 to 95 percent protein, thanks to their additional filtering process. Finally, protein hydrolysates further heat the protein with acids or enzymes, making it easier for your body to break down and absorb.
If you’re new to protein powders, it’s important to ask yourself why you’re using them. This will help you select the right type. For example, if you’re vegan or vegetarian and need to add more plant-based protein to your diet, look for a plant-based, mixed-source protein powder. They use multiple plant sources to improve your protein intake, and pack 20 to 25 grams of protein per scoop.
On the other hand, if you’re turning to protein powders as a way to build muscle, whey protein is the whey to go. Whey protein is consistently rated as the best form of protein to increase muscle mass and assist in recovery. The only drawback is that whey concentrate, which is cheaper than whey isolate, has less protein per scoop.
Finally, if you’re adding protein to assist in weight loss, opt for whey and casein powder. A mix of the two is ideal. These types of proteins are excellent for promoting fullness and boosting fat loss.
Healthy sources of protein abound
When protein powders are neither practical nor appetizing, focus on lean sources to get your daily intake. Eggs, broccoli, nuts, fatty fish, oats and chicken breast are all common sources of protein. Quinoa packs plenty of protein, making it a great substitute for rice, and even broccoli has a surprising amount of the nutrient.
Bottom line: while protein intake is important, the way you get it is just as key. Opt for leaner sources—and save the ribeye for a special occasion.