When it comes to nutrition I know there are countless voices out there, all with conflicting messages, all with 'science-backed' arguments. They all are very convincing and therefore confusing as hell.
It may leave you in analysis paralysis unsure of where to start.
It may be giving you major food fear since everyone is demonizing something.
Or it may just leave you wanting to throw your hands in the air and say 'fuck it, it's too confusing, I'm going to mess it up, so why even bother trying?'
The truth is there are perfectly good reasons for all of that push-pull in the nutrition world: every body is different and therefore reacts to food differently regardless of what one study says, experts are trying to stand out in the crowd to sell their programs, and frankly nutrition is a fledgling science that's being updated constantly.
But none of that helps you.
What will help?
Taking the emotion, complexity, and sales out of it and breaking nutrition down to its most basic components so you understand how to apply it to your life in the simplest way possible.
In this 3-part series I'm going to share some universal truths about the different macronutrients you need to concern yourself with (and how too much or too little of each will impact the body), plus we'll dive into some very basic habits anyone and everyone would benefit from adopting.
What is protein?
Proteins are large molecules made up of smaller building blocks called amino acids. They are one of the fundamental types of nutrients your body needs to function properly.
When it comes to eating protein you want to make sure you're consuming complete proteins, meaning they contain adequate amounts of all 9 essential amino acids and are easier for your body to absorb. This is one benefit of getting your protein from animal based sources as opposed to plant based sources.
There are 4 calories per gram of protein.
Benefits of Getting Enough Protein:
Growth and Repair: Protein helps your body grow, repair damaged tissues, and build new ones. It's especially important for kids and teenagers who are still growing and for adults who want to maintain their muscles and tissues.
Energy: Your body can use protein for energy when there's not enough from other sources like carbohydrates or fats.
Immune System: Proteins help your body fight off infections and illnesses since immune cells use amino acids to properly function. For example, antibodies are specialized proteins produced by the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens and adequate protein intake is essential for the synthesis of these antibodies.
Hormone Balance: Proteins make up the building blocks of hormones that regulate countless bodily functions. For example, thyroid hormones are synthesized from the amino acid tyrosine.
Dangers of Getting Too Little Protein:
Muscle Loss: If you don't get enough protein, your body may break down muscle tissue to get the amino acids it needs. This can lead to muscle weakness and loss of lean body mass. This is particularly damaging to us as we age since we lose 3-5% of our muscle mass every decade starting at 30.
Slow Wound Healing: Collagen is a structural protein that forms the framework for new tissue. During the wound healing process, the body needs to create and repair damaged collagen structures. So without enough protein, the healing process becomes compromised.
Fatigue and Weakness: Not having enough protein can make you feel tired and weak because your body isn't getting the amino acids it needs to function optimally, your blood sugar is spiking and dropping, and hormones responsible for energy production like your thyroid are negatively impacted.
Cravings: Remember those blood sugar imbalances that happen when we don't get enough protein? Well, when blood sugar drops our body will crave processed carbs and sugar to quickly raise it back up.
Dangers of Getting Too Much Protein:
Kidney Strain: Excess protein places additional stress on the kidneys, as they need to filter and process the byproducts of protein metabolism. Over time, this can lead to kidney strain and potential kidney damage, especially in individuals with pre-existing kidney issues.
Dehydration: High protein intake may lead to increased water loss through urine. This can result in dehydration if you don't compensate by drinking enough fluids.
Calcium Loss: High-protein diets have been associated with increased calcium excretion in the urine, potentially leading to reduced bone density and an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Digestive Issues: Very high protein diets may lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, such as constipation, due to a lack of fiber and other nutrients found in carbohydrate-rich foods.
Increased Risk of Chronic Diseases: Some high-protein diets may be associated with an increased risk of certain chronic diseases like heart disease and certain types of cancer. This can be due to excessive intake of saturated fats and cholesterol from animal-based protein sources.
Bad Breath and Body Odor: High-protein diets can lead to bad breath and body odor, as the breakdown of proteins can produce unpleasant-smelling compounds.
Nutritional Ketosis: Some very high-protein diets may induce a state of nutritional ketosis, which can have side effects like nausea, fatigue, and bad breath. This is different from the ketosis that occurs in ketogenic diets, which are high in fats and very low in carbohydrates.
Ideal Protein Sources: chicken, beef, fish, turkey, liver (an average of 20 g of protein per 3 oz serving of meat)
Ok Protein Sources: eggs, grains paired with legumes, grains paired with nuts and seeds (only about 5-10 grams of protein in a 3 oz serving of plant-based protein)
How Much Protein Should You Eat?
Don't overcomplicate this. About a palm-sized portion of animal-based protein at each meal for women (that comes out to about 20-30 g, so adjust your portion if you're a vegetarian or vegan), about 2 palm-sized portions for men.
Next week we'll be diving into all things fat! Just like today we'll be covering it's benefits, the dangers when you consume too much or too little, and the best and worst sources!
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