What Is Protein—and How Much Do You Need?

Updated 11/28/17
What is protein?
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You may be savvy enough to opt for the higher protein content when choosing between energy bars, but how much do you know about what protein is made of? The fact that protein is good for you has definitely ascended to the status of common knowledge, but the ins and outs of this vital nutrient are a bit more complex. Take your health to the next level with our guide to a few of common questions, including what protein is, how much you need, and where to find the best sources.

Read on to learn more about protein and how to make the most of this key nutrient.

What Is Protein?

Referred to as "the building blocks of life" by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, protein is one of three macronutrients, the other two being fats and carbohydrates. Being a macronutrient simply means that it's required in large amounts to sustain organic life, and in fact, protein accounts for about 15% to 20% of one’s overall body weight. Comprised of amino acids, protein most notably determines the production and maintenance of muscle.

How Much Protein Do I Need?

To determine your daily recommended intake of protein, a little math is required. Multiply your body weight (in pounds) by 0.36. This number is how much protein you should be consuming daily in grams. However, going above and beyond this minimum may have added health benefits. According to Layne Norton, PhD, up to one gram per pound of body weight can offer increased results for those hoping to either build muscle or reduce body fat.

What Are the Benefits of Protein?

Beyond understanding what protein is, it’s important to understand what protein does. In addition to sustaining life, the benefits of protein are extensive. One of the most commonly cited is protein’s role in boosting metabolism. As protein aids in developing lean muscle mass, the rate at which fat is burned increases. Protein also helps to sustain a healthy weight following a period of weight loss. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vital role of protein becomes even more important as we age.

What Are the Best Sources of Protein?

You may have heard that one of the best sources of protein is lean meat, and that’s true: Foods like wild-caught salmon, turkey breast, and yellowfin tuna are impressively high in protein. But there are also a number of incredible plant-based protein sources. These include spinach, quinoa, edamame, lentils, and even guava.

Now that you know what protein is (and where to get it), keep reading for some of the best low-fat, high-protein foods to fuel your week.

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