The idea for this blog came from a FFF member who thought it would be important to break down each macro individually and go in depth on why we need them. Seemed like a no brainer topic, right?! That’s what we do after all- we give you a specific amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates to eat daily, so we should probably take the time to explain what they are and give you a tad bit of insight on how we pick the quantities we do.
We are starting with the newly controversial protein! Keep reading on, as we go from the basics to the science behind protein, touch on the link between cancer and protein, and follow it up with our favorite protein sources.
How do we choose protein quantities for our clients? We use an estimate of lean body mass to calculate the amount of protein needed. Since protein is associated with repairing and building muscle, there is no need to eat more than what is needed to repair/build the amount of muscle you currently have (~1g per lb of LEAN body mass, not overall body weight). We program individually for each client and adjust based on specific needs, but this is a great general baseline to use.
Why do we need protein in our diet? For one, protein is the building block of cells. Muscle growth is attributed to protein, but is also necessary for all cell growth and repair in our bodies including hair, nails, bone, and skin. Protein is also great for aiding in losing weight because of its high thermic effect. This means that when you eat protein, your body uses more energy to digest than it would with the other macros, therefore burning more calories overall. Its thermic effect also helps with satiety (keeping you feeling full for longer).
What happens if we eat too much protein? Eating protein produces acid and causes oxidative stress, so eating too much animal protein without balancing it with antioxidant rich veggies and fruit could have negative health effects. Higher consumption of animal protein is also linked with cancer in individuals with at least one unhealthy lifestyle factor (obesity, excess alcohol consumption, smoking, and physical inactivity). *We discuss this topic further below*
What happens if we don’t eat enough protein? You may start experiencing muscle soreness, weakness, cramping, and overall fatigue and GI issues. It can cause your body to swell by affecting your fluid and electrolyte balance, as well as cause poor skin, hair and nail quality. Lack of protein weakens the immune system and its ability to generate new white blood cells, therefore increasing risk of infection and delayed wound and ulcer healing.
When does our body need the most protein?
- If you are trying to build muscle (for example body builders)
- If you are trying to lose weight, as protein aids in satiety
- If your diet is high in carbohydrates and fats. If you add in protein, you will likely eat less of the other macros.
- If you are aging to help combat muscle loss and other cell damage associated with aging
Before we give you a list of our go to protein sources, we want to spend a moment touching on the above mentioned link between the consumption of animal protein and cancer, as so brilliantly discussed in this podcast by Dr. Rhonda Patrick. It is important to first know a little more on how protein works and what your actual risk is before deciding for yourself where you want to source your protein from in your diet.
The Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) found in protein is the primary mediator of the effects of growth hormone (GH). Essentially, IGF-1 is the mechanism that stimulates, supports, and maintains the necessary cell growth that we have previously mentioned. Because it is such a potent growth factor, it also allows damaged cells to survive. In other words, cancer cells may otherwise die off if IGF-1 was not present.
Studies show that animals and humans with decreased IGF-1 have been shown to have lower rates of cancer with increased longevity, whereas those with higher IGF-1 have an increased cancer risk. That sentence alone may be enough to convince you to give up animal protein, however, we must keep in mind that there is a balance to everything and in order for animal protein to have a cancer causing relation, cancer cells must first thrive. To combat this, we must adhere to a healthy lifestyle to mitigate DNA damage in the first place. One way to lower IGF-1 levels is to start incorporating exercise if you have not already, as those with active, healthy lifestyles are not at an increased risk.
Meat, unlike plants, is a dense source of protein and the essential amino acids in protein directly increase our IGF-1 levels. It is interesting to note that the essential amino acid Leucine (often used as a supplement in weight training) has been known to especially increase IGF-1. The reason for the hype over this in the bodybuilding world is because IGF-1 increases lean muscle mass while simultaneously reducing adipose tissue– this is definitely a positive in regards to achieving a healthy body composition.
IGF-1 from animal protein also increases the growth rate of new brain cells and prevents brain cells from dying. It prevents hair loss, muscle atrophy, thinning of the skin, brittle nails- all of which are related to aging.
As far as deciding where to get your protein from, if you are inactive, overweight, abuse alcohol, drugs, and nicotine, then perhaps an animal based protein diet is not ideal and a plant based diet would make more sense. If you live a generally healthy lifestyle and incorporate physical activity most days of the week, then animal protein can be beneficial for you to aid in cell repair. A good rule of thumb would be to use plants as the base of your diet with animal sourced protein as the side for active individuals. We highly recommend that you take some time to research this for yourself so you can make the most educated decision on your specific food choices.
Now that we have shed some light on the topic, here are our go to vegan and animal protein sources. These are the foods that the Food For Fuel coaches choose to eat, and if you have other preferences, that is fine. We just figured we would make things easy for you by providing the approximate amount of protein in each food!
- Vegan protein sources:
- Spinach– 1c cooked has 7g protein
- Kale– 2c cooked has 5g protein
- Peas– 1c boiled has 9g protein
- French beans– 1c cooked has 13g protein
- Hemp seeds– 3tbsp has 10g protein
- Nut butters– 1tbsp has ~4g protein
- Quinoa– 1c has 7g protein
- Tofu– 4oz has ~9g protein
- Lentils– 1c cooked has 18g protein
- Beans–1c has ~13-15g protein
- Sprouted grain bread– 2 slices has ~8-10g protein
*Keep in mind that vegan protein sources will often contain higher amounts of either fats or carbohydrates.
- Animal protein sources:
- Pasture raised chicken breast– 3oz raw has ~27g protein
- Lean, grass fed beef– 4oz raw has ~24g protein
- Canned tuna– one can drained has ~20g protein
- Wild caught salmon– 3.5oz raw has ~24-27g protein
- Pasture raised eggs– 1 whole egg has ~6g protein
- Greek yogurt– 4oz has ~12g protein
- Fairlife Whole milk– 1c has 13g protein
- Cottage cheese– 1c has ~26g protein
- High quality collagen & whey supplements from Vital Proteins
*Quality protein sources can be a bit expensive sometimes- we’ve found great cost savings by buying in bulk. You may want to consider investing in a deep freezer and buy half a cow (or a whole cow if you have the space). Stock up on deals when you find them at the store, and if you’re a hunter or have friends who hunt, stock up on those meats!
Well, there you have it! We hope this protein blog was beneficial in more ways than one! Stay tuned next week as we delve into the glorious world of FAT!