Andrea Crane, M.S., B.S., In All Your Ways LLC

This month’s Favorite Things article is dedicated to PROTEIN!

“Get more protein!” This phrase is becoming as oft-mentioned as “Drink more water!”, and for good reason! Yet when pressed, few people can adequately explain why this is so important. There is so much physiology that is dependent on adequate protein consumption that it becomes really important to drive this point home! I will attempt to hit the highlights in this post and it is my hope that you will come away with a renewed understanding of the importance of this macronutrient and how to get it!

Why do we need protein?

Structural Role

Protein provides both structure and function to the body. The best known structural function of protein in the human body is, of course, musculature. Muscles are made from proteins and more specifically amino acids.

However, besides simply building more muscle (anabolic), there are processes that also break down (catabolic) muscle! Similar to the building and breaking down of bone, these activities must remain in balance. Getting adequate dietary protein slows catabolism (breaking down of muscle) and increases anabolism (building up of muscle).

Proteins are also required for wound and muscle healing. Even those workouts that are so good for you require micro-tearing of muscle fibers to build muscle and hence require protein for the repair.

Functional Role

We have all heard of enzymes, but did you know that all enzymes are proteins?

Enzymes catalyze or ‘bring-about’ chemical reactions in the body. Can you imagine all the millions of reactions occurring in your body in any given minute? Most of these are driven by enzymes. In order to build and maintain enzymes, we must have adequate protein coming in to the body through the diet.

There are also detoxification processes at work, all the time. At the risk of over-simplifying, there are two phases at work: Phase I and Phase II detoxification. Amino acids are required for Phase II so it is critical to get adequate protein! When teaching Pharmacology, I used to call these reactions ‘Metabolism’ or ‘Phase II Conjugation Reactions’. I hesitate to use the word ‘detoxification’ because it has become so bastardized in common vernacular (conjuring visions of endless enemas, etc), yet, this is what it is called. So think of detox processes as the very same chemical reactions that are occurring that make it possible for you to metabolize a drug and get it out of your system.

So you can understand the critical roles of protein in your body but how much do you need to consume?

The newest research that I’ve been able to find has significantly increased protein requirements. After the age of 50 we should get between 1.5 and 1.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight. To find your weight in kg, take your weight in lb and divide by 2.2. Here are a couple of examples of protein ranges for a 150 lb and 130 lb individual based on 1.5-1.8 g/kg requirements.

Protein Requirements (over 50 y.o.)
Based on 1.5 to 1.8 g/kg per day

150 lb = 102 – 122 g of protein per day
130 lb = average 89 – 106 g of protein per day

For my patients under 50 years of age, I do take health status and activity level into consideration when assigning protein goals. However, a good general rule is to get between 1.3 and 1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. This will help to maintain muscle tissue and support other protein functions.

Where do we get more protein?

Hopefully you’ve been evaluating your protein requirements and calculating what you need on a daily basis. If you’re like most of my patients, you are not getting enough! I know it is especially difficult for women, with a standard American diet (SAD) to get enough, but I can say with all honesty that I have to be really intentional about not getting too much protein! Meeting protein requirements does not have to be difficult. Meat is an obvious choice for quality protein, but there are many other options as well. Find below a cheat sheet I made for my ‘Navigating the Clinical Elimination Diet’ class. Use it for ideas on how to incorporate more protein into your daily routine.

*A note about Collagen. I LOVE collagen and recommend it constantly! It’s a quick, easy way to get an additional 20 grams (2 scoops) of protein into your morning routine. I tell patients to include a scoop with each hot cup of coffee they consume. If you drink two cups (who doesn’t?), this is 20 grams of protein. And I don’t even have time to mention all the wonderful benefits of collagen (hair, nails, skin, joints…need I say more?).