What’s the Big Deal with Protein?

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Gregory Schiltz MPH Nutrition Candidate
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Thumbnail One of the most common questions I get as a nutritionist goes something like “How much protein should I be eating?”  Protein is one of the hottest nutrition topics today. Protein supplements, fortified foods and beverages are popping up everywhere, and foods already rich in protein are gaining attention. While there are certainly benefits to including more protein in your diet, there are lots of myths and misconceptions about protein that make it nearly impossible to tell fact from fiction.

Myth #1 I am not getting enough protein.
The average American eats enough protein daily to satisfy their needs. Athletes and active individuals may require more than sedentary people, but they are still likely meeting their needs. Where we may be falling short is in our distribution of protein, as we typically eat little at breakfast, a medium amount at lunch and the majority of our protein at dinner. Research suggests spreading protein out can be beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight. Try protein packed breakfast foods like eggs, yogurt, milk or soymilk to be sure you are getting enough in the AM.

Myth #2 Vegetarians and vegans don’t get enough protein.
While animal protein such as meat, dairy and eggs may be easily absorbed and utilized sources, you can get all of the protein you need with a plant-based diet. Nuts, beans, legumes, whole grains and oats all contain high levels of protein. Some options like soy products and quinoa are comparable in quality to animal protein. If you are vegan, remember to vary your plant proteins to get all the essential amino acids you need. Here are some tips on balancing your balanced eating or Vegan plate.

Myth #3 You can only digest 20 grams of protein at a time.
This myth likely came from the fact that about 20 grams of protein after a workout will maximize recovery. While this is true, excess protein will be digested and used for energy or stored as fat. Your body will digest and process all of the protein you eat, so dine accordingly.

Myth#4 Eating protein will bulk me up.
Dietary protein will not inherently make your muscles or body grow. To gain weight the body simply needs to take in more calories from protein, carbohydrates or fat than it expends. More is not always better!

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