The building block to muscle is more than just proteins, its nutrients as well. A ‘high quality’ protein food is technically one that has all the amino acids you need, along with nutrients and healthy fats. These properties need to be available in a way that can easily be broken apart and reused by the body to nourish and strengthen it.
Protein is found in animal meats, such as red meat, seafood, poultry, eggs and dairy products as well as plant sources such as beans, lentils nuts seeds, whole grains and soy foods. Many plant sources are low in one or more essential amino acid but when you combine a variety of 3-5 brightly colored vegetables together, they can provide all nine of the amino acids on a protein chain. Eating a variety of ALL of these sources ensures that your body gets all the amino acids along with the nutrients it needs to build muscle, heal damaged cells, build new cells and maintain cell health and function.
The amount of protein a person needs depends a lot on age, size, gender and physical activity. With this said, there is no one size fits all recommendation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends women get 40-60 grams of protein a day and men to get 50-70 grams of protein a day. The average American easily meets these goals according to Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, FAHA, FNLA, CLS, Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at Penn State University. Even the most protein obsessed athlete at the peak of health can only absorb 20-30 grams of protein per meal. Excess protein intake can increase the work and stress on kidneys to filter and remove proteins that are not absorbed. Kwashiorkor is the name of the condition that refers to protein malnutrition. This condition is rare and mostly non-existent in America and only found in low-income countries almost entirely in small children as a result of fad diets, ignorance or in extreme cases of protein allergies or chronic disease.
Here are four ways to make sure you are getting a high quality protein source to maximize your nutrition and overall health.
- Include Variety
- Eating a variety of proteins from plants and animals ensures you get not only all the necessary amino acids, but also the other nutrients such as fiber, phytochemicals and healthy fats your body needs.
- Go Lean
- Choose lean, trimmed cuts of meat, high quality low-fat dairy and plenty of plant-based proteins such as whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and soy.
- Max Out on Plants
- Even meat eaters should choose legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains more often to pack in health-promoting fiber, phytochemicals, nutrients and healthy fats. Although animal proteins are absorbed first, the body requires protein packed plant based foods to provide the ongoing nutrition and amino acids long after meat proteins are absorbed.
- Include Fish
- Work toward including 3-5 servings of fish a week into your routine. This high quality protein also includes healthy fats, which help with muscle recovery, inflammation and hormone balance that all contribute to overall health and building muscle.
Aim for 3-7 servings of a variety of high quality proteins a day. Each serving is about 100 calories. One serving is 1 ounce of meat, poultry, dairy or fish, ¼ cup of cooked beans or tofu, ½ cup sprouted whole grains, 1 egg, 1-tablespoon peanut or almond butter, or ¼ cup of nuts or seeds. Include these high quality proteins with 5-8 servings of a variety of three to five different vegetables for the best protein sources and nutrition to build cell walls, muscle fibers, and enzymes for optimal health.