When it comes to the basic nutrients, protein often gets all the credit. Lauded as a way to gain muscle and a key component of a healthy diet, protein has a much better reputation than either fats or carbohydrates.
There are two sides to every story, however — while protein can be extremely beneficial, getting too much protein can also have negative side effects.
The positives: Protein is the original multi-tasker. Protein breaks down into amino acids, which are responsible for building muscles, cell repair, keeping your internal organs healthy, as well as building immune cells, blood cells, digestive enzymes, and hormones. This nutrient is so crucial that you actually have more protein in your body than any other substance (except for water).
When you consume more protein than your body needs, however, it's not-so-great effects kick in. Eating too much protein can cause your body to convert your calories to fat.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012 revealed that when people overate, all their excess calories were converted to fat, whether those calories were from protein, carbohydrates or fat. In short, eating too much of any nutrient will cause your body to store those calories as fat. Eating tons of protein doesn't mean you'll gain a ton of muscle mass.
Adults should get between 10 and 35 percent of their daily calories form protein (46 grams for women and 56 grams for men), according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention.
To put that in perspective, a typical 8-ounce serving of meat can have more than 50 grams of protein. Eating two to three servings of protein-rich foods per day should be plenty to fulfill your protein quota.
Certain groups, such as athletes and people trying to lose weight, may need to eat a higher percentage of protein than the average Joe. Vegans and vegetarians also need to be extra-conscious of their protein consumption.
You don't have to eat copious amounts of meat, seafood, eggs or dairy to get enough protein. Some additional sources include:
- Nuts and nut butters
- Beans and legumes (including black beans, pinto beans, soy beans, lima beans, chickpeas, and lentils)
- Peas (including split peas and black-eyed peas)
- Tofu and tempeh
Other Sources of Protein
Of course, the other option for getting your protein, especially if you're trying to gain a lot of muscle mass, is protein powder. There are tons of choices of protein powders — everything from plant-based, to vegan, to raw, to organic, to whey-based. The choice is yours — do some research on a few different powders and choose the one that best fits your individual needs.
Photo credit: Kate Mulling