We’ve all heard that we should be eating a fair amount of protein to help us keep up with a busy lifestyle, but what does protein do for us and why do we need it anyway?
Today, I want to share with you the reason your body needs protein, how it affects your body and energy levels, and offer a few simple snack ideas to pump up your protein intake throughout the day.
What is protein and what does it do for your body?
To quote my seventh grade science teacher, “proteins are long chains of amino acids.” When broken down in the body, the amino acids are used to help rebuild muscles, tissue, and keep your organs functioning properly.
Protein is essential to an active lifestyle, to not only rebuild muscles, but also to keep energy levels up while the body is repairing itself.
Regardless of whether you get exercise into your daily routine or you rush around with the family all day long, your body requires the energy that protein provides in order to keep it moving and to keep you from hitting a mid-day slump during the day. So we can all agree that protein is a vital part of our daily diet, but where can protein be found in the foods we eat each day?
What foods that I eat have protein in them? Are all proteins the same?
You can find protein in animal products, like meat, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese. You can also find good sources of protein in vegetable and plant based foods as well, like beans, legumes, nuts, and some leafy greens and vegetables.
But not all proteins are alike. There are “complete” proteins, which offer all the amino acids that the body needs from one food, which are usually found in the animal products I mentioned, and in a few cases, plant-based foods like quinoa and soybeans.
“Incomplete” proteins are foods that require a complementary food to create a whole protein. Basically, one food might contain certain amino acids, but not all of the ones to form a “complete” protein. It needs to be complemented by another food that fills in its amino acid shortcomings to create a “complete” protein.
It’s easiest to think of proteins as partners in a relationship. One “incomplete” protein on its own is fine, but it is even better when coupled with its match. A few examples of incomplete proteins are rice and beans and peanut butter with whole wheat bread.
How much protein should I get each day if I’m active? How can I get more?
Within an average day, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends for a person engaging in light to moderate training and exercise to get 0.55 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Obviously, this varies from person to person and is based on individual weight. Once you’ve figured out how much you should be getting, you can start to keep track of how much is already present in your diet each day and find out just how much you’ll need to add to keep your protein needs met.
Here are a few ideas for adding some protein to your mid-morning or afternoon snack to help tide you over until your next meal time, and to keep your energy levels at their highest:
- Choose canned meats, like tuna or salmon in water with crackers and a fresh vegetable.
- Roast chickpeas with some flavorful spices and seasonings for a crunchy afternoon snack.
- Puree beans into a hummus and serve alongside fresh cut vegetables for dipping.
- Make peanut butter and whole wheat crackers a staple for on-the-go snacking.
- Make your own high energy snack mix by combining unsalted raw nuts and dried fruit using a ratio of two-parts raw unsalted nuts to one-part dried fruit.
- Maximize your grocery store conveniences with single serving Greek yogurt and cottage cheese cups. Eat alongside fresh fruit or berries, or use cut vegetables for dipping.
- A few other on-the-go choices are hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, and beef jerky. Enjoy with a piece of whole fruit or cut vegetables to round out your snack time.
What are your best ideas for getting more protein as part of your busy family schedule?
As a busy on-the-go couple, it can be particularly challenging to get all the high-quality protein you need each day. In the comments below, share your favorite protein sources to enjoy as a family.
Rachael is the blogger behind KitchenCourses.com and is the author of How to Cook For Yourself: A Complete Beginner’s Guide. She writes about her passion for food, eating well while saving money, and inspires people to get familiar with their kitchens and cook for themselves.