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A protein-packed day

Last Modified: February 27, 2021

Nutrition & Recipes

protein day

In honor of National Protein Day, we asked Sami Kauffman, MA, RD, CD, sports dietitian, Parkview Sports Medicine, to speak on the importance of this essential nutrient and why athletes should include it in their diet.

Why is protein an essential nutrient?

Protein is one of three macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and fat, that are all essential to maintain healthy tissue. Every cell in the human body contains distinct types of proteins crucial to that cell’s function. A few vital processes include:

  • Providing structure or energy for day-to-day functions
  • Allowing communication between cells and tissues
  • Helping cells respond to damage
  • Assisting cells in dividing to make new ones

Additionally, protein is made up of 20 different amino acids, some of which our body cannot make on its own and therefore require from our diet. If we don’t consume enough protein, we prevent our body from making the proteins we need to function. For athletes, this can mean a loss of muscle mass, decreased performance or increased muscle soreness after activity.

What are the recommended amounts of protein?

The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) sets a relatively moderate protein intake at 0.36 grams per pound of body weight per day. Active individuals should aim closer to 0.5-0.9 grams per pound of body weight per day, regardless of whether they’re a strength training or endurance athlete.

Long-term consumption at these levels is safe for healthy individuals. However, if you’re consistently getting more than 0.9 grams per pound of body weight, there can be some adverse effects. You may experience weight gain, abnormalities in your digestive, renal and vascular systems, and be prone to high cholesterol, liver damage and more. Be sure to consult a dietitian if you are unsure of the amount of protein you should incorporate into your diet.

What are some natural sources of protein?

There are many natural sources of protein. Some of the more traditional forms people often refer to when they think of protein include:

  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Dairy products
  • Soy products
  • Quinoa
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Lentils
Are protein bars and powders beneficial?

Protein bars and powders can support your protein intake. If you are struggling to get enough protein in your regular diet, supplementing with them can help bridge the gap. It’s best to look for supplements that contain whey isolate or concentrate as the protein source. If you are a vegetarian or are dairy intolerant, you may need to find an alternate option to meet your dietary needs.

If you are vegetarian or have a dairy allergy, you may want to choose soy, egg, rice, pea or hemp-based protein bars and powders. Try to select a product with the least amount of ingredients with names you can recognize and pronounce. Also, be sure to limit the amount of added sugars in them.

Finally, if you’re a competitive athlete, be sure to consult your coach, trainer or a registered dietitian to discuss a safe product for you that doesn’t contain any contaminants that could deem you ineligible for your sport.

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