Why is Protein Important in Your Diet‍

Protein is one of the 3 main macronutrients we consume through our nutrition. And in case you were wondering, the others include carbohydrates and fat. Protein helps our bodies build muscle tissue, repair cells, help transport substances through our body, act as enzymes, and act as hormones. 

Protein: Why it’s important

The most important and relevant aspect of protein with respect to physical therapy and exercise is their muscle-building and tissue-building capacity and function. When you’re injured, you have incurred a certain level of tissue damage/insult, and when you exercise, your tissue (especially muscle tissue) undergoes micro-tearing. This micro-tearing causes the body to respond by repairing that area and making it bigger and stronger.

Protein consumption helps to rebuild your muscles and other tissue. This improves your recovery after exercise, helps rebuild tissue after an injury, and builds muscle to improve strength. 

Sources of protein

When it comes to consuming protein there are several things to keep in mind. Many of which will be based on your own personal preferences. But the one thing that we always recommend to our clients is to eat lean sources of protein. Ideally, ones that contain all essential amino acids.

A side note about amino acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are 20 different amino acids; 4 are non-essential (since your body can make them on its own), 9 are essential (your body cannot make them on its own so you must consume them through your diet), and 8 are conditionally essential. 

Animal vs. plant-based protein

  • Animal-based proteins: eggs, dairy, meat, fish, poultry
  • These contain all 9 essential amino acids. 
  • Plant-based proteins: soy, legumes, vegetables, seeds, nuts, rice, whole grain
  • Soy is the only plant-based protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids. For vegetarians and vegans, they must eat a variety of protein sources to consume all 9 essential amino acids. 

Daily recommended values

How much protein you need to consume will largely depend on your fitness goals. Here we examine the daily recommended values of protein for some of the more common fitness activities. 

General: 

  • Adults in a general fitness program: 0.8-1.0 g of protein per kg body weight
  • Aerobic endurance athletes: 1.0-1.6 g of protein per kg body weight
  • Strength athletes: 1.4-1.7 g of protein per kg body weight 
  • Combo of strength and endurance training: 1.4-1.7 g of protein per kg body weight 

For performance: 

  • Strength/speed athletes (1.4-1.7 g of protein per kg body weight per day)
  • After training (ideally within 30 minutes of ending activity): Younger individuals should consume 20-25 g of protein. Older adults should consume 40 g or more of protein.
  • Aerobic endurance athletes (1.0-1.6 g of protein per kg body weight per day)
  • 4 hours before competition: 0.15-0.25 g of protein per kg body weight
  • Post-exercise/competition (ideally within 3 hours of ending activity): at least 10 g of protein

For body composition: 

  • Weight gain: 1.5-2.0 g of protein per kg body weight to maximize gains in lean body mass (assuming increase of 500 additional calories per day) 
  • Weight loss: 1.8-2.7 g of protein per kg body weight to minimize loss of lean muscle mass (assuming deficit of 500 calories per day) 

The importance of protein in our diet cannot be understated. It’s an integral piece for anyone looking to gain muscle mass, recover from an injury, or maintain a healthy weight. Following these tips can help you get more protein, maintain a healthy diet, and stay healthy!