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How Much Protein Do You Need?

What is protein?

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Updated March 28, 2014

Are you confused about how much protein you need? Many athletes and exercisers are increasing their protein intake to help them both lose weight and build more muscle, but is that the right way to go? It makes sense that, since muscles are made of protein, eating more protein will help you build more muscle. However, science tells us that isn't always the case.

A Little Bit of Science

Proteins are the basic building blocks of the human body. They are made up of amino acids, and help build muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails and internal organs. Next to water, protein is the most plentiful substance in the body, and most of it (around 60% to 70%) is located in the skeletal muscles.

There are 20 amino acids that are required for growth by the human body and all but eight can be produced in your body. These eight amino acids, called essential amino acids, must be supplied by food and/or supplements. The other twelve non-essential amino acids are made within the body, but both essential and non-essential amino acids are needed to synthesize proteins. What does all this mean? It means that if you don't supply your body with the essential amino acids it needs, your body may be limited in the amount of protein it can use to build muscle.

Getting the Right Kind of Protein

Foods that contain all of the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. These foods include beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk and just about anything else derived from animal sources. Incomplete proteins don't have all of the essential amino acids and generally include vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds and nuts. So, if you're a vegetarian, does this mean you can't get complete protein? Not at all. Below is a chart listing some incomplete proteins. To get all of the essential amino acids, simply choose foods from two or more of the columns.

 

Grains Legumes Seeds & Nuts Vegetables
Barley Beans Sesame Seeds Leafy Greens
Corn Meal Lentils Sunflower Seeds Broccoli
Oats Peas Walnuts  
Rice Peanuts Cashews  
Pasta Soy Products  Other Nuts  
Whole Grain Breads      


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