#44: Everything to know about Protein
Updated: Feb 26
What is protein?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients (protein, carbs and fats). No matter how much or how little muscle you have, your body must receive protein from your diet to maintain this muscle, and additional protein if you’re looking to build muscle. Protein also makes up hormones and muscle tissue that’s essential for your immune system, skin, hair, nails and more.
Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids total, 9 of which the body can’t produce on its own. These 9 amino acids are called “essential amino acids.” This includes histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. (Don’t worry, you don’t need to remember those.) Protein is found in meat, eggs (egg whites), Greek yogurt, lentils, beans, brown rice and more.
However, not all sources of protein are created equal. There’s complete protein and incomplete protein. Complete protein means that it has all 9 essential amino acids. Whey protein sources such as whey powder, meats and eggs are complete protein. Incomplete protein sources don’t have all 9 essential amino acids. This includes beans, brown rice, vegetables and other plant-based protein. According to a study by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, if you’re a vegetarian, you can still get enough protein by combining a variety of plant-based proteins to get all 9 essential amino acids, and they don’t have to be eaten at the same time.
Why is protein important?
Protein controls your body composition. Because it’s the building blocks of muscle, swapping out carbs and fats for more protein in your diet enables your body to maintain and build muscle more efficiently. Protein is not an energy source. Carbs and fats are still necessary as primary energy sources.
It’s the most satiating nutrient, so it curbs hunger and keeps you feeling full for longer, leading to less overeating and a higher chance of success at weight loss.
Protein is proven to increase muscle synthesis when eaten before a workout, and improve recovery time when eaten directly after a workout. These studies demonstrate that after eating adequate protein for 10 weeks, study participants significantly improved their one rep maximums.
Protein has higher thermic effect of food, which means your body burns more calories digesting protein than any other macronutrient, which also aids weight loss.
Getting enough protein reduces age related sarcopenia, also known as age-related decreases in skeletal muscle mass (muscle).
How much protein do I need based on my goals?
There are 4 calories per gram of protein. In general, you should have 0.8-1.2g of protein per pound of lean muscle mass. It’s difficult to accurately track lean muscle mass, so a good starting point is 1g of protein per pound of goal body weight, no matter what your goal is. I’d be happy to make more specific recommendations from there.
Do I need to supplement my diet with protein powders, etc?
If you’re able to get enough protein through whole foods throughout the day, then no, you don’t need to supplement with protein powder. However, if you aren’t getting enough protein throughout the day and want to lose weight or build muscle, a complete protein powder is an efficient way to meet your goals to ensure results.
Not all protein powder is created equal, either. Some protein powders are highly processed, use filler ingredients, hard to digest, or simply taste terrible. I spent years trying a variety of different protein powders. Most of them were so chalky that I couldn’t convince myself to drink a shake of any kind.
I’m grateful that I found the 1st Phorm protein powders—I use a quickly digestible protein powder called Phormula-1 after my workout to get the amino acids to my muscles as quickly as possible post workout. For meal replacement, I use a slower digesting protein powder called Level-1 to feel full for longer. My favorite flavor is mint ice cream. (Yes, it actually tastes like ice cream.)