If you have worked with us as a patient or paid close attention to our shared content, you will know we are OBSESSED with protein.
So let’s break this down a bit, so you can understand why we put so much emphasis on consuming enough protein each day.
Proteins are made of up amino acids, which are known as the building blocks for our bodies. There are 20 essential amino acids the body needs to grow and function optimally. Of the 20 essential amino acids, there are three that we REALLY care about. They are known as branch chain amino acids, or BCAAs. They are leucine, valine, and iso-leucine. Those three amino acids literally have a “branched chain” in their structure and are essential for muscle health, particularly as we age. They also support muscle metabolism and are important for building muscle tissue protein.
BCAAs are known to help alleviate muscle soreness and enhance athletic performance, and have even been shown to prevent muscle breakdown during exercise.
Not all proteins have the full amino acid profile. Proteins are categorized as complete and incomplete. Complete proteins offer the full amino acid profile our bodies need and are found in animal products like meat, diary, fish, etc. Incomplete proteins offer some of the essential amino acids, but not the total profile. A good example of incomplete proteins are plant based proteins like lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas. When eating incomplete proteins, variety is key to consuming the adequate amount of amino acids our bodies require.
So why are proteins so important for our bodies?
Here are key 5 roles proteins play in our bodies…
1. Build. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage and skin. In fact, your hair and nails are comprised mostly of protein.
2. Repair. Your body uses it to build and repair tissue.
3. Oxygenate. Red blood cells contain a protein compound that carries oxygen throughout the body. This helps supply your entire body with the nutrients it needs.
4. Digest. About half the dietary protein that you consume each day goes into making enzymes, which aids in digesting food, and making new cells and body chemicals.
5. Regulate. Protein plays an important role in hormone regulation, especially during the transformation and development of cells during puberty.
Besides that, adequate protein in the body also:
- Reduces appetite and hunger levels.
- Increases muscle mass and strength.
- Is good for your bones.
- Reduces cravings and desire for late-night snacking.
- Boosts metabolism and increases fat burning.
- Lowers your blood pressure.
- Helps maintain weight loss.
- Does not harm healthy kidneys.
Did you know that if you body does not get enough essential amino acids, particularly BCAAs, you will begin to breakdown your muscles, where they are heavily stored, to release these amino acids into the system for use? Crazy, huh? We want to prevent this from happening, particularly because as we age we naturally lose muscle mass anyways. No need to fuel this fire when we can easily consume these little building blocks daily through foods.
For the average American, their macronutrient percentage typically favors carbohydrates and fats, and is usually lower on protein. We tend to hale salads and greens, and downplay the importance of foods that help us get the complete amino acid profile. Yes colorful vegetables and fruits are essential for providing adequate micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients like antioxidants and other things like fiber, but in order for our diet to be very well rounded we need to ensure we are consuming adequate amounts of amino acids as well.
So our next question is, why do most people struggle to consume enough proteins and amino acids? When we work with patients we find that the average person we treat is eating 30-40 grams of protein per day, sometimes that’s on a good day. This amount is considered insufficient.
As someone who personally strives for increased protein, I too find it hard to consume 120 grams throughout my day. On a good day, I will consume anywhere from 80-100 grams of protein in my 3-4 meals. With a goal of 120 gram per day, I am left figuring out how to get the other 30-40 grams. With the help of our functional medicine trained health coach and nutrition expert, Johnna Sutton, we came up with this delicious chocolate protein smoothie. It is simple, delicious, and has 38+ grams of protein without all the calories and contains no artificial sweeteners.
Chocolate Banana Protein Smoothie
Yields: 12 oz
1/4 c Milk of choice
1/2 c Kiefer (plain or unsweetened)
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp nut butter of choice
1/3 of a frozen banana
3 large chard leaves, middle stem removed (or 1 cup packed spinach)
1 scoop of Whey protein (or 2 scoops BCAAs for calorie reduction and/or if you have issues with dairy)
2 scoops of collagen protein
Pinch of Himalayan sea salt
3 ice cubes
Optional: Cocoa nibs
Using your emulsion blender (I just use a little Bullet blender), blend all ingredients together until smooth and enjoy!
I drink this every day after my strength workout to ensure I am replenishing my protein and amino acid needs. Hope this helps you reach your daily protein goals!!
– Your MFH team