Protein isn’t just for bodybuilders. Every person needs an adequate amount of protein in their diet, which is found in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and beans. Protein is a critical nutrient for healthy muscles and other tissues in your body. Foods that are rich in protein also provide a number of other important nutrients, such as B vitamins, iron, zinc and vitamin E. Protein is essential for building not only muscle, but also bones, skin, blood and cartilage. The nutrients in the B vitamin group help your body build and repair tissues and increase iron in your blood for greater oxygen capacity. Magnesium and zinc are nutrients that many protein-rich foods contain. Your immune system relies on zinc to function, and magnesium is important for building strong bones and helping your muscles to release energy.
Meats, Seafood and Cholesterol
Lean meats, especially red meat and chicken, are chockfull of protein. Lean beef also contains zinc, iron, and vitamin B12. However, beware of saturated fats found in meats. A diet that is high in saturated fats can increase your low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol that can lead to hardening of your arteries and can contribute to heart disease. Foods that are high in saturated fats include pork, lamb, ground beef, sausages, fatty beef, bacon, hot dogs and almost all luncheon meats. Duck is also high in saturated fats. Lean beef and skinless white meat chicken are lower in saturated fats. Limit fatty meats in your diet to keep your bad cholesterol in check.
One way to replace red meat, pork and poultry in your diet is to replace at least one meat each week with fish and other seafood. Seafood is abundant in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent heart disease. Anchovies, herring, sardines, oysters, trout and mackerel are rich in protein and heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon builds muscle with omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and omega-3 fatty acids also help decrease protein breakdown in your muscle tissues during and after a workout. Replacing red meat and pork with seafood can help reduce your risk of heart disease, while providing your body with protein and essential amino acids. Go meatless one night each week by eating beans and legumes instead. A single half-cup serving of beans contains as much protein as one ounce of steak. You will also enjoy increased fiber from beans, which can help you feel fuller, longer.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds, such as sunflower seeds, peanuts, walnuts, almonds and pistachios contain protein but are also high in calories. Nuts and seeds can be eaten as a snack or a meat replacement, but adding them to dishes will increase calories. Choose natural, not roasted, unsalted nuts and seeds to avoid extra sodium and additional calories. Almonds are one of the best sources of protein and vitamin E. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that is essential to help remove free radicals from your cells. Free radicals cause cell damage and can increase the time it takes for your muscles to recover following a strenuous workout. A couple of handfuls of almonds daily can help improve your muscle recovery time without adding too many additional calories.
The protein found in eggs may be the perfect source of protein for building and repairing muscle tissue. Egg yolks are packed with protein. Ounce for ounce, eggs contain more protein than an equivalent amount of beef. In addition to protein, eggs are loaded with numerous essential vitamins and other nutrients. Eggs contain vitamin B12, which is essential for muscle contraction. You will also benefit from riboflavin, vitamins B6, B12, vitamin D and vitamin E, as well as zinc, folate, phosphorus and iron. Eggs are versatile and not just for breakfast. You can enjoy a protein-packed egg each day without adding too many calories to your diet or raising your bad cholesterol levels.
Dairy foods contain protein and carbohydrates that help increase recovery time and promote muscle growth. Milk, cheese and yogurt are good sources of dairy protein and healthy carbohydrates. Add some fresh fruit to yogurt for a post-workout snack to naturally increase insulin levels to reduce protein breakdown after exercise. In addition to an excellent source of protein for your muscles, dairy foods also increase the amount of calcium for strong bones. Dairy foods that are fortified with additional vitamin D help improve skin, hair and bone health too. Adequate calcium can help reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis and other bone diseases later in life.
How Much Protein Should You Eat?
When it comes to protein, more is not necessarily better. If you are eating a balanced diet, you are probably getting all the protein your body can use. The nutritional needs of each person are unique, but generally healthy, active adults need almost 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight. For example, a 160 pound adult male would need about 58 grams of protein each day. Another way to calculate your protein needs is to try to include about 75 grams of protein in a 2,000 calorie daily diet. Replacing bad carbohydrates from highly processed foods, such as white bread, white flour pasta and soda, can help reduce your risk of heart attack. High protein diets also help you lose weight.
Take care when eating a high protein diet. If you eat only protein, you can force your body into starvation mode which slows the metabolism. Your body also needs carbohydrates to help maintain glucose levels. Your body derives energy from carbohydrates, so a lack of carbohydrates can cause your body to convert sugar stored in your muscles and in your liver to energy which is known as gluconeogenesis. This can lead to a breakdown of muscle tissues, the opposite of what you are trying to achieve if you eat a protein rich diet to build muscles. Eat a balanced diet that includes foods from all food groups, including fresh vegetables, dairy and lean meats, to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients your body needs, including protein.