Protein is an important macronutrient in the body that is broken down into several essential and nonessential amino acids in the stomach and small intestines. Adequate protein intake and absorption is crucial for strong nails, skin, hair, and building lean muscle mass. Protein helps keep you full longer, balances blood sugar levels throughout the day, and contains certain amino acids that help with mood stability.
We know protein is important, but how much protein is enough?
With the Paleo, Whole30, and gluten-free trends hitting America, most of us are getting plenty of protein. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of weight. So if you weigh 150 lbs that equals roughly 68 kg and 55 grams of protein per day. However, it is important to remember that this recommended daily allowance is specifically for the “average American”. If you are working out hard or lifting weight, you will need additional protein to help repair and replenish your muscles.
What are good sources of protein?
There are numerous plant and animal based protein sources (which I think many of you are aware of) including fish, beef, chicken, cheese, greek yogurt, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and protein powders/bars. When choosing an animal based protein source, I always recommend purchasing organic, cage-free, and grassfed to avoid unnecessary hormones and pesticides. However, choosing the right protein powder may be a little tougher. Lets dig a little deeper into the different protein powder options.
Different protein powder options.
Pea Protein: This is a great protein option because it is hypoallergenic in its pure form (gluten free, grain free and dairy free- did you know peas are actually a legume?) and it contains roughly 23 grams of protein per serving. Being that this is a plant based protein, the bioavailability (or “usability”) is lower at about 65% so it is not the primary protein source chosen by body builders and athletes. For the average person, pea protein contains plenty of protein and is a great option if you need an allergy-free protein powder. Here is one of my favorite pea proteins.
Whey Protein: This is an animal based protein powder so it has a much higher bioavailability around 90-100%. Whey protein is essentially high in branch chain amino acids or BCAAs, making it popular among body builders and athletes. Whey naturally contains dairy so some people with lactose intolerance may not tolerate this protein well. There are different forms of whey protein so I recommend choosing a clean, grassfed whey protein isolate which contains higher protein levels and less lactose, here is one of my favorites.
Brown Rice Protein: Brown rice protein is often blended with other protein sources such as quinoa or chia seeds to help make it a complete protein (containing all 9 essential amino acids). Brown rice protein powder may help stabilize blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels. One of my favorite brown rice protein powders is this one by Sunwarrior.
Hemp Protein: This is actually one of my favorite protein powders, even though it is lower in total grams of protein. I love this protein powder because it naturally contains essential fatty acids (great for the brain) and is high in fiber (great for the gut). It is also a plant based protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids. Here is my favorite hemp protein.
Egg White Protein: Egg white protein, like whey, has a high bioavailability. It is also lactose free so it may be a better option over whey for those with lactose intolerance. Depending on the source, it may contain as much as 25 grams of protein per serving. I always recommend buying this organic and cage free to prevent trace amounts of antibiotics, hormones, or other potentially dangerous chemicals. If you are going to go with an egg white protein powder, I recommend this one.
While most of us are getting adequate protein, consuming protein 30-45 minutes after a tough workout can help with muscle recovery; Especially if the protein source has glutamine, which is one of the most abundant, healing amino acids in the body. I also love adding protein powder to shakes to help keep me full longer and to stabilize my blood sugar. If you follow me on instagram (@statwellness), you may have seen my favorite protein shake is frozen pineapple, coconut milk (can add coconut oil too for additional fat), 1/2 banana, and your favorite protein powder. Even my husband loves it!
Kristin Oja, DNP, FNP-C, PT-C