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What Is Protein's Function And How Much Do You Need?

You’ve probably been told that you need protein in your diet to build muscle, lose weight, or even maintain a healthy lifestyle. You know you need protein. But exactly how much should you eat each day? And why do we even need it to begin with?

We’ve made a fun animated video to answer your questions about protein and show you why Sunwarrior’s protein powder is made to help you run the extra mile, lose those pounds, feel more energetic, and reach your health goals.

You’ll learn in this article and the video below:

  • What protein is and it' s function in the body
  • How much protein you need daily to build muscle, lose weight, or achieve your health goals
  • What foods contain protein
  • How to get enough protein if you eat a plant-based or vegan diet
  • And why Sunwarrior protein powders give you the nutrients to live your best life

What Is Protein?

Protein is the most abundant molecule, apart from water, in our bodies. You always think of muscle when you talk about protein or about their components, amino acids, but these essential little building blocks are found in every cell and tissue throughout the body.

Protein facilitates the digestion and absorption of nutrients. It acts as a cell's hands to grab and carry those nutrients into their interiors, and it removes waste and toxins. It even goes into hormones our bodies use to balance and regulate hundreds of systems and functions, from blood sugar to emotions.

Protein combines with vitamins and minerals to do even more. Protein can move oxygen from the lungs and to cells that desperately need it to survive, act as antioxidants (cleaning up free radicals that do cellular damage and contribute to cancer and aging), and aid the immune system in recognizing and removing threats to our health and wellness.

The body synthesizes proteins from amino acids, forming them into long chains. The chains can then twist and fold into unique shapes with practically endless possibilities and combinations in form and function. The bonds in these chains make protein very strong, flexible, and elastic (like a spring) perfect for both muscles and enzymes that need to move, shift, and react.


The Effects of Too Much Protein

You probably think about needing protein in your diet and try to make sure you have enough. But you may not realize that too much protein can actually be harmful to your body.

Since the body doesn't store amino acids, you do need a daily supply of protein. Excessive protein bogs down digestion, can supply way more calories than we need, and does damage to the liver and kidneys.

High protein fad diets such as the Atkins diet promise to help you lose weight but can actually be working against your body. Though high protein diets may temporarily help you shed pounds, excess protein will eventually be stored as fat, and the leftover amino acids are excreted. This effect actually leads to weight gain over time.

Also, when you eat too much protein, you can seriously wreck your body’s natural bowel movements. High protein levels can lead to constipation or diarrhea especially when you forget to add enough fiber to your diet.

Your kidneys also have to work in overdrive when you flood your system with protein. Because of the amount of nitrogen found in the amino acids from protein, your kidneys have to work harder to get rid of the excess uric acid.

Another reason to keep your eye on the amount of protein you eat is because high-protein, meat-based diets have even been linked to cancer in scientific studies. It is connected to breast, colon, prostate, and other cancers.

The Effects of Not Enough Protein

Not getting enough protein is also a problem. Too little protein makes you weak and more susceptible to disease and illness. Don’t worry about not knowing though. Your body will tell you when you aren’t getting enough protein.

Low levels of protein can result in you having a slow metabolism, difficulty building muscle mass, low energy to no energy, brain fog and trouble concentrating, and a weak immune system among others. You may even notice that your hair will start thinning and bruises and cuts may take an exceptionally long time to heal.

However, true protein deficiency is rare in the United States and other first world nations. Protein is found in a variety of vegetables, grains, beans, and legumes.

Usually, when someone is protein deficient, it is because of a lack of food in general. So, essentially you need to be starving yourself and constricting your food intake rather than simply not consuming enough protein-rich foods.

Nevertheless, when you first start eating plant-based meals, it can be confusing to determine what to eat and how much to ensure that you are receiving enough protein. Even if you aren’t making the switch to a vegan diet, when you make any changes to your diet, be sure that you do research on getting enough nutrients for your body.

The Recommended Amount of Protein

Your body typically requires 10–15% of your diet to be protein rich. As a general requirement, it is recommended that women consume at least 52 grams of protein each day. Men should strive to eat 63 grams daily.

However, this percentage changes based on how active you are, your gender, and your height. The RDA advocates for 0.38 grams of protein for each pound that you weigh.

If you’re an athlete, you probably think that consuming a surplus of protein is necessary to build muscle … and you’re now thinking, “So how should I eat for my active lifestyle?” Dylan Falduto, an athlete and one of our writers, explains how he eats for plant-based strength.

What Plant-Based Foods Have Protein?

Many people believe that protein is found solely in meat and dairy products. So, you’ve probably heard a friend or family member say to you, “Oh I could never be vegan. I need protein in my diet.” It may be surprising, but nearly ALL plant foods contain protein.

So, a plant-based diet can meet your daily protein requirement as long as you eat a varied diet. Of course, this is true for everyone regardless of their dietary choices. If you only eat bananas or popcorn or a constrictive diet, your body can’t get all the nutrients it needs. Our article The Color of Your Nutrition shows why eating a wide-ranging diet is so important.

Though nearly all plant foods contain protein, some foods contain more protein than others. Here’s a short list of plant-based foods that contain higher levels of protein:

1. Seitan

Seitan is a meat replacement that contains a whopping 25 grams of protein per serving. It is made from gluten, the protein found in wheat, so avoid this food if you have any gluten sensitivities.

Tofu, a protein source that is made from soybeans, is considered a whole source of protein. This label means that the protein source offers your body all of the essential amino acids that it can not produce on its own.

There have been some studies that record the possibility that soy products can harm some women’s hormonal balance, so be sure that tofu is the right choice for your body

2. Tofu, Edamame, Tempeh

3. Lentils and Beans

Lentils provide as much as 18 grams of protein per serving. Beans contain around 15 grams per serving. However, different kinds of beans offer larger quantities of protein than others.

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