The Power of Protein

protein2The Importance of Protein: 

You have probably heard that you need protein in your diet, but do you know why? Protein is made up of building blocks also known as amino acids that help grow and maintain the body’s tissues. Protein is not only important for the growth of skeletal muscle but of all muscles in the body, including the heart, in addition to tendons, blood vessels, skin, hair and nails. It is also involved in synthesizing and maintaining enzymes and hormones to keep the body’s systems function properly. So as you can see, protein is pretty important when it comes to proper nutrition.

Amino Acids: 

  • 13 Non-Essential Amino Acids- Body can make these
  • 9 Essential Amino Acids- Must eat these in order to utilize them in the body- found in protein sources
    • Arginine
    • Histidine
    • Isoleucine
    • Leucine
    • Lysine
    • Methionine
    • Phenylalanine
    • Threonine
    • Tryptophan
    • Valine
  • It is important to remember amino acids (protein) cannot be stored in our body that’s why we must eat these foods everyday!

Nutrients in Protein: 

  • B Vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and B6)- help the body release energy, function of the nervous system, formation of red blood cells, help build tissues
  • Vitamin E- antioxidant protects body tissue from damage.
  • Iron- used to carry oxygen in the blood. Especially important for teenage girls and women in their child-bearing years. Remember to increase intake of Vitamin C as well because it aids in absorption of Iron.
  • Zinc- biochemical reactions and immune system function
  • Magnesium- protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, blood pressure regulation
  • EPA and DHA- Found in seafood, reduce inflammation and risk for heart disease.

Protein: Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) 

  • Women (19-70+)= 46 grams/day
  • Male (19-70+)= 56 grams/day
  • *Recommended Daily Allowance
  • Remember that these are the minimum requirements. Some protein needs will be higher especially if you are physical active.

Protein Sources: 

  • Animal Protein- Meats, Poultry, Seafood, Eggs, and Dairy 
    • Best sources: Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs/egg white, low fat dairy products, steak (loin and round), 90% ground beef, pork chops, chicken breast, turkey, fish or shellfish
  • Plant Protein- Nuts and Seeds, Beans and Peas 
    • Best sources: Lentils, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, quinoa, peanut butter, oats, almonds, spinach, and brown rice

Protein and Exercise: 

Protein is important for the building and repairing of muscle tissue especially after exercise. Food should be your first line of defense but protein powders are used for an easy access protein option.

  • Whey Isolate- Quick absorbing protein. Best used as pre and post workout because they are absorbed quickly and supply the muscle the nutrients to recover and grow.
  • Casein Isolate- Takes 5-7 hours to fully breakdown. Best taken before bedtime so your body continues to absorb and utilize protein while you sleep.
  • Soy Protein- Vegetarian source of protein. Used both pre and post workout or anytime throughout the day.

Campus Tips: 

Look for the carvery section in the resident dining halls for a healthy protein option. Add lean protein to salads, pastas, and rice bowls. Grab a yogurt or milk as a snack or a quick breakfast. Don’t forget to look for the protein packed vegetarian options.

Websites to Check Out: Protein Needs by Harvard, Protein: Are you getting enough?,,

Created by: Regan Anthony, TTU Graduate and Dietetic Intern

For Questions: Mindy Diller, MS, RDN, LD Registered Dietitian


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