5 things to know about protein (2023)


7 min


Gift Article

Protein is the macronutrient of the moment. On TikTok, videos with the hashtag #protein have been viewed more than 9.1 billion times, with influencers swearing the nutrient builds strong, bulging physiques, trims away body fat, and supercharges metabolisms.

WpGet the full experience.Choose your planArrowRight

The nearly ubiquitous social media message is, whoever we are, we need more protein.

But the hype doesn’t match reality. Most of us are probably getting enough protein, although highly active people may need a little more.

“The devil is in the details,” said Stuart Phillips, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and an expert on protein, physical activity and health. Here are the five things you really need to know about protein.


(Video) What You Need to Know About Protein // Muscle, Strength, Fat Loss + Endurance

Active people need more protein than couch potatoes

Return to menu

If you’re sedentary, you officially need about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, according to the recommended daily allowance set by the government’s Food and Nutrition Board. This translates to somewhere between 45 to 60 grams of daily protein for most people who rarely exercise — or approximately two chicken breasts (about 30 grams of protein each) or a 6-ounce can of tuna (about 40 grams) and a quarter-cup of almonds (about 8 grams).


But this amount is almost certainly too low for many of us. The recommendation “for protein might be enough to keep us alive, but it is too low for physically active people,” said Eric Rawson, a professor of nutrition and exercise at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

For active people, a better recommendation would be “1 to 1.2 grams per kilogram” of body weight each day, Phillips said, or higher, “up to a level of 1.6 grams per kilogram” of body weight daily if you’re physically active. In simple terms, if you weigh 160 pounds, or 72.5 kilograms, then 1 gram per kilogram of your weight is 72.5 grams of daily protein, which you could get by eating, over the course of your day, a 6-ounce steak (about 42 grams), a cup of Greek yogurt (about 17 grams) and a half-cup of tofu (about 20 grams).

Some researchers advocate for more, though, especially for athletes in the middle of heavy training, when their muscles are under constant strain. For them, the “optimal” amount of protein may be as high as 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight every day or approximately a gram of protein for every pound of body weight, said Shawn Arent, the chairman of the department of exercise science at the University of South Carolina and a longtime sports nutrition researcher.


You can overdo the protein thing

Return to menu

Our muscles can only take in and use so much of this stuff.


“I don’t see data to suggest that our bodies can use protein beyond about 0.4 to 0.5 grams of protein per kilogram” of body weight at a single meal, Phillips said, which, for most of us, would equate to a large chicken breast.

(Video) The Smartest Way To Use Protein To Build Muscle (Science Explained)

Swallow more protein than that and the excess is stored as fat, used as metabolic fuel or transformed into urea, which is protein stripped of its nitrogen and excreted through the kidneys.

Extra-large portions of protein, in other words, produce expensive pee.

Thankfully, they won’t damage your kidneys, unless you already have kidney disease. That widespread belief is a myth, Phillips said.

But perhaps the most important thing to know about protein is that you’re probably getting enough.

“Most Americans are eating close to 1.0 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of their body weight” in protein most days, said Nicholas Burd, the director of the Nutrition and Exercise Performance Research Group at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, which seems to be close to the nutritional sweet spot for most of us, assuming we’re active but not Olympians.


You don’t need that whey shake.

Return to menu

Still concerned about getting enough protein? Supplements, like shakes and bars “are convenient,” Phillips said. But so is a hard-boiled egg, which contains about 6 grams of protein, or a chicken breast. “I eat a lot of Greek yogurt and chicken,” he said.


There’s little evidence that certain proteins are more nutritious than others, although some people swear by whey powder. Derived from milk, whey is a good source of leucine, an amino acid that helps jump-start muscle building. “But so is Greek-style yogurt,” Phillips said, or salmon, which is packed with leucine.

“Whey protein has falsely been put on a pedestal as superior due to aggressive sports marketing campaigns,” Burd said.

Most people, including athletes, can get sufficient protein without needing powdered whey, even if they don’t eat meat.

“Vegetarian and vegan athletes can easily meet protein needs on a plant-based diet,” said Enette Larson-Meyer, the director of the Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism Laboratory at Virginia Tech and co-author of Plant-Based Sports Nutrition.

Plant proteins may not be complete, she said, meaning they don’t contain all the amino acids we need, but “consuming a combination of different plant-based protein sources, such as beans and grain, will provide a balanced protein profile.” If your diet is plant forward, but not fully vegetarian, add an egg or some cheese to improve a mostly vegetarian dish’s “amino-acid profile,” she said.


Extra protein probably won’t help you lose weight

Return to menu

Because protein fills you up, it helps you eat less, and your body has to work harder to break it down. As a result, you expend more calories digesting protein compared to carbs or fatty foods.


But the actual amount of that extra calorie burn “is tiny,” Phillips said, and unlikely to have a meaningful effect on body weight.

In effect, despite many social media claims to the contrary, mainlining protein won’t incinerate body fat. To drop pounds, you must consume fewer calories, from any nutrients, than you burn.

But protein does play a role in keeping you healthy during weight loss, Arent said. It helps your body hang onto muscle tissue while you shed fat.

“Muscle is your health currency,” he said. “Don’t lose it!”

(Video) Top 5 Myths About Protein | Educational Video | Biolayne


Protein after a workout and before bed may have benefits

Return to menu

“I’m an advocate of spreading protein throughout the day, especially making sure you consume enough at breakfast,” Burd said.

Protein is the most satiating of macronutrients, he pointed out, taking longer to digest than carbohydrates or fat, its fellow macronutrients, and leaving you feeling fuller. So, having protein at every meal helps control appetite and ensures a steady supply of amino acids for working muscles.


(Video) Everything You NEED To Know About Protein & Building Muscle!

“Protein is a good foundation to each feeding,” Arent said.

Some people advocate eating protein after a workout and right before bed.

Protein after a hard workout, for instance, in conjunction with carbohydrates, might replenish lost fuel stores and speed recovery better than carbohydrates alone, Arent said, although that idea is controversial. “But the reality is that there is no upside to not having protein after a workout,” Arent said.

Likewise, a small portion of pre-bedtime protein, such as yogurt or a handful of nuts, has been shown in some studies to amplify muscle building overnight. “Nighttime protein ingestion is an excellent opportunity to increase muscle protein synthesis,” Rawson said, but the process “doesn’t have to be complicated.” If you have dinner at 6 p.m., “add a Greek yogurt at 9 p.m.,” he said.

Do you have a fitness question? Email YourMove@washpost.com and we may answer your question in a future column.

Sign up for the Well+Being newsletter, your source of expert advice and simple tips to help you live well every day

Advice for your next workout

Your Move columnist Gretchen Reynolds has more advice to help you get moving.

Just getting started at the gym? Doing these 6 exercises, once a week, will make you stronger.

Is your workout followed by a day of sitting? Find out what to do instead to stay active.

Feeling sluggish? It might be your microbiome — here’s what to know about its effects on motivation.

Short on time? You can do this speedy scientific workout just about anywhere.

Is it better to work out in the morning or at night? We can help you decide.

More Well+Being articles about Fitness

(Video) 5 Best Protein Powders & How To Choose the Best Protein Powder Supplements | Doctor ER


  • 5 things to know about proteinEarlier today5 things to know about proteinEarlier today
  • When too much exercise is bad for your heartMay 17, 2023When too much exercise is bad for your heartMay 17, 2023


What are important things to know about protein? ›

Proteins are known as the building blocks of life as they break down into amino acids that help the body grow and repair. Our hair, skin and muscle are all made from the protein we eat. Animal foods and three plant sources – soy protein, quinoa and Quorn – contain all the essential amino acids needed for good health.

What are 4 things proteins do? ›

Protein has many roles in your body. It helps repair and build your body's tissues, allows metabolic reactions to take place and coordinates bodily functions. In addition to providing your body with a structural framework, proteins also maintain proper pH and fluid balance.

What are 6 things that proteins can do? ›

6 Primary Functions of Proteins
  • Repair and Maintenance. Protein is termed the building block of the body. ...
  • Energy. Protein is a major source of energy. ...
  • Hormones. Protein is involved in the creation of some hormones. ...
  • Enzymes. ...
  • Transportation and Storage of Molecules. ...
  • Antibodies.

How important is protein quality? ›

Eating meals containing high quality protein can help increase satiety levels more than carbohydrate or fat sources; this can assist in reducing overall energy consumption and the desire to consume extra snacks.

What are 3 benefits of protein? ›

10 Science-Backed Reasons to Eat More Protein
  • Reduces Appetite and Hunger Levels. ...
  • Increases Muscle Mass and Strength. ...
  • Good for Your Bones. ...
  • Reduces Cravings and Desire for Late-Night Snacking. ...
  • Boosts Metabolism and Increases Fat Burning. ...
  • Lowers Your Blood Pressure. ...
  • Helps Maintain Weight Loss. ...
  • Does Not Harm Healthy Kidneys.
Feb 9, 2023

What is the function of the protein? ›

Proteins are responsible for nearly every task of cellular life, including cell shape and inner organization, product manufacture and waste cleanup, and routine maintenance. Proteins also receive signals from outside the cell and mobilize intracellular response.

How does protein work in the body? ›

How is protein used? The body breaks down consumed protein into amino acids, and absorbs it. It is used to build muscles and organs, to make hormones and antibodies, to be stored as fat, and to be burned as energy.

What are 2 protein facts? ›

Approximately one-fifth of our body weight is protein. Proteins are part of the structure of every cell and body tissue including hair, nails, blood, skin and bones. All proteins are made up of smaller units or building blocks called amino acids.

What is a protein simple answer? ›

A molecule made up of amino acids. Proteins are needed for the body to function properly. They are the basis of body structures, such as skin and hair, and of other substances such as enzymes, cytokines, and antibodies.

How much protein do you need? ›

According to the Dietary Reference Intake report for macronutrients, a sedentary adult should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. That means that the average sedentary man should eat about 56 grams of protein per day, and the average woman should eat about 46 grams.

What are the 7 types of proteins? ›

There are seven types of proteins: antibodies, contractile proteins, enzymes, hormonal proteins, structural proteins, storage proteins, and transport proteins.

What is protein made of? ›

A protein molecule is made from a long chain of these amino acids, each linked to its neighbor through a covalent peptide bond (Figure 3-1). Proteins are therefore also known as polypeptides. Each type of protein has a unique sequence of amino acids, exactly the same from one molecule to the next.

Does protein give you energy? ›

Protein-based foods provide the body with fuel to repair and build tissues. Protein takes longer than carbohydrates to break down in the body, providing a longer-lasting energy source. You can find protein in poultry, fish, lean red meat, nuts, milk, yogurt, eggs, yogurt, cheese and tofu.

How are proteins made? ›

In order for a cell to manufacture these proteins, specific genes within its DNA must first be transcribed into molecules of mRNA; then, these transcripts must be translated into chains of amino acids, which later fold into fully functional proteins.

When to eat protein? ›

Researchers find the best time to consume proteins for building and strengthening muscles is during breakfast. Proteins are essential for body growth and muscle building.

How many proteins do we have? ›

Scientists are not exactly sure, but most agree that there are around 20,000 different proteins in our body. Some studies suggest that there might be even more. They carry out a variety of functions from doing some metabolic conversions to holding your cells together to causing your muscles to work.

What is the best form of protein? ›

Animal-based foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy foods) tend to be good sources of complete protein, while plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds) often lack one or more essential amino acid.

Does the type of protein matter? ›

Not all Protein is Equal

Protein sources react differently in the body based on unique absorption rates and differing levels of both essential and non-essential amino acids. The unique amino acid composition of proteins affects how the body is able to utilize them for growth, recovery & maintenance.

What affects protein quality? ›

Food protein quality is traditionally dependent on its amino acid content and the availability of these amino acids in circulation, factors that would influence their metabolism within different body protein pools.

Can we live without protein? ›

What would happen if we did not consume protein? The simple answer is that the body would not function normally without protein and its essential amino acids. While we can survive just fine by consuming a low-carb diet, the same cannot be said for a low protein diet.

What happens if I don't have enough protein? ›

Signs of a protein deficiency

Getting sick often without protein to boost the immune system. Mood changes or trouble thinking due to fluctuating blood sugar and protein's effect on the brain's neurotransmitters (which regulate mood) Muscle weakness, since amino acids are essential for building muscle mass.

What foods is highest in protein? ›

High-protein foods
  1. Eggs. We love to cook with them but how much protein is in an egg? ...
  2. Milk. Dairy foods are packed with protein and contain bone-building calcium, too. ...
  3. Yogurt. A combination of casein and whey protein, yogurt is a great protein-rich food. ...
  4. Fish and seafood. ...
  5. Chicken and turkey. ...
  6. Soya. ...
  7. Nuts and seeds. ...
  8. Pork.

What are the 7 common function of proteins? ›

Proteins have multiple functions, including: acting as enzymes and hormones, maintaining proper fluid and acid-base balance, providing nutrient transport, making antibodies, enabling wound healing and tissue regeneration, and providing energy when carbohydrate and fat intake is inadequate.

What is protein foods? ›

Protein Foods include all foods made from seafood; meat, poultry, and eggs; beans, peas, lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products. Beans, peas, and lentils are also part of the Vegetable Group.

Where are proteins found in the body? ›

What do proteins do for the body? Our bodies are made up of thousands of different proteins, each with a specific function. They make up the structural components of our cells and tissues as well as many enzymes, hormones and the active proteins secreted from immune cells (figure 1).

How does protein make you feel? ›

“Protein takes more energy for you to digest than refined carbohydrates, and also gives your body a feeling of satiety,” says Dr.

Why is it called a protein? ›

The word protein is derived from the Greek proteios, meaning “of the first rank”. The term was coined in 1838 by the Swedish scientist Jöns Berzelius, to reflect the importance of this group of molecules. A stretch of DNA called a gene carries the information required to build a protein.

What are 2 benefits of eating protein? ›

Protein is also a critical part of the processes that fuel your energy and carry oxygen throughout your body in your blood. It also helps make antibodies that fight off infections and illnesses and helps keep cells healthy and create new ones.

What is protein in one word? ›

pro·​tein ˈprō-ˌtēn ˈprōt-ē-ən. : any of numerous substances that consist of chains of amino acids, contain the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and often sulfur, include many compounds (as enzymes and hormones) essential for life, and are supplied by various foods (as meat, milk, eggs, nuts, and beans)

How many proteins are in a cell? ›

A Cell Holds 42 Million Protein Molecules, Scientists Reveal.

How much protein do I need to lose? ›

If you want to lose weight, aim for a daily protein intake between 1.6 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (. 73 and 1 grams per pound). Athletes and heavy exercisers should consume 2.2-3.4 grams of protein per kilogram (1-1.5 grams per pound) if aiming for weight loss.

Can you eat too much protein? ›

Can too much protein be harmful? The short answer is yes. As with most things in life, there can be too much of a good thing and if you eat too much protein, there may be a price to pay. For example, people that eat very high protein diets have a higher risk of kidney stones.

How does protein build muscle? ›

Protein is extremely important in building muscle because the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) help repair and maintain muscle tissue. After a workout, protein helps you recover from workouts because muscles slightly tear during exercise.

What are 5 examples of proteins? ›

What is protein?
  • meat and fish.
  • eggs.
  • dairy products.
  • seeds and nuts.
  • legumes like beans and lentils.

What are 5 proteins? ›

There are seven types of proteins: antibodies, contractile proteins, enzymes, hormonal proteins, structural proteins, storage proteins, and transport proteins.

What are 5 simple proteins? ›

Proteins can be classified as: (a) Simple proteins. On hydrolysis they yield only the amino acids and occasional small carbohydrate compounds. Examples are: albumins, globulins, glutelins, albuminoids, histones and protamines.

What do proteins do? ›

Proteins are the building blocks of life. Every cell in the human body contains protein. The basic structure of protein is a chain of amino acids. You need protein in your diet to help your body repair cells and make new ones.

What are 3 types proteins? ›

Proteins can be informally divided into three main classes, which correlate with typical tertiary structures: globular proteins, fibrous proteins, and membrane proteins.

How many proteins are there? ›

Scientists are not exactly sure, but most agree that there are around 20,000 different proteins in our body. Some studies suggest that there might be even more. They carry out a variety of functions from doing some metabolic conversions to holding your cells together to causing your muscles to work.

What are 4 types of proteins? ›

Four Types of Protein Structure - Primary, Secondary, Tertiary & Quaternary Structures.

What are the 4 basic proteins? ›

The four levels of protein structure are primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary. It is helpful to understand the nature and function of each level of protein structure in order to fully understand how a protein works. By Tracy Kovach.

What are the 7 essential proteins? ›

Nine amino acids—histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine—are not synthesized by mammals and are therefore dietarily essential or indispensable nutrients. These are commonly called the essential amino acids.

What are the 8 main types of proteins? ›

What are the 8 types of protein?
  • 1) Hormonal Protein. Hormones are protein-based chemicals secreted by the cells of the endocrine glands. ...
  • 2) Enzymatic Protein. ...
  • 3) Structural Protein. ...
  • 4) Defensive Protein. ...
  • 5) Storage Protein. ...
  • 6) Transport Protein. ...
  • 7) Receptor Protein. ...
  • 8) Contractile Protein.
Apr 14, 2017

What are the top 5 protein foods? ›

High protein foods include lean chicken, lean pork, fish, lean beef, tofu, beans, lentils, low-fat yogurt, milk, cheese, seeds, nuts, and eggs.

What are the 10 essential proteins? ›

These are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.


1. 10 Foods You Never Knew Had THIS Much Protein!
2. 5 Things You Should Know BEFORE Taking Weight Gain Protein!
3. 5 things everyone MUST know about protein powder or supplements
(Hockey Tutorial)
4. Protein Powder: How to Best Use It For Muscle Growth (4 Things You Need to Know)
(Jeremy Ethier)
5. What are proteins? - Healthy Eating for Kids
(Smile and Learn - English)
6. 5 Protein Mistakes Causing You To GAIN Weight [Protein For Weight Loss]
(Autumn Bates)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Moshe Kshlerin

Last Updated: 06/11/2023

Views: 6081

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (57 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Moshe Kshlerin

Birthday: 1994-01-25

Address: Suite 609 315 Lupita Unions, Ronnieburgh, MI 62697

Phone: +2424755286529

Job: District Education Designer

Hobby: Yoga, Gunsmithing, Singing, 3D printing, Nordic skating, Soapmaking, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Moshe Kshlerin, I am a gleaming, attractive, outstanding, pleasant, delightful, outstanding, famous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.