What I Learned in Nutrition – Protein

Protein! This subject might be every athlete’s favorite part of nutrition. It is so fascinating to me because especially vegetarians and pesco-vegetarians (like myself) are always concerned: am I getting enough protein? We don’t need nearly enough protein we think we do–because honestly, the American diet is NOT lacking in protein.

Well, here is what I’ve learned about protein itself and how it functions in the body.

(image source)

Protein is a functional and structural compound in the body and consists of numerous amino acids is found in all living cells.

Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein. Unlike fats and carbohydrates, they have a nitrogen containing group.

Not only does protein help build muscles but protein also has many other functions

  1. Regulates body processes by building most enzymes and hormones
  2. Provides structural and mechanical support and helps maintain body tissues. (Collagen is a protein!)
  3. Helps maintain a fluid balance in the body
  4. Transports substances throughout the body
  5. Helps maintain an acid-base balance in the body
  6. Can also provide energy, but generally we want energy to come from fat and carbohydrates

Protein quality varies among food sources

  • Quality is based on two factors: digestibility and amino acid content
  • Digestibility is a food’s capacity to be broken down so that it can be absorbed
  • Animal proteins are easier to digest than vegetable proteins
  • Proteins are broken down into amino acids and then absorbed

If you eat too much protein, extra nitrogen is released with water in the urine and you can become dehydrated!

Healthy sources of protein


White meat poultry
Milk, cheese, and yogurt
Beans & legumes
Pork tenderloin
Lean beef

My favorite sources of protein are probably beans and legumes (like chickpeas!), eggs and of course, cheese! What are your favorite sources of protein?

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  1. I hope venison would be considered a healthy protein – it’s abundant and cheap in my house (my husband is a hunter). It’s a red meat, though, and I know many people who have given up red meat for health reasons. I’ve always wanted to ask someone if that because of the fat content in red meat or something else? Venison is very lean compared to beef, and I hope that makes is a little bit healthier(?)

    Of vegetable proteins, I truly enjoy tempeh. I like seasoned, browned chunks of tempeh in a salad (instead of chicken). I also make myself a “tempeh burger”, a slice of browned tempeh between whole-wheat bread slices, with all the usual burger toppings like lettuce, tomato, ketchup and pickle relish!!

  2. I’m also a vegetarian but every now and then I dabble into a bit of seafood, really only when it’s out of necessity.

    I love love love eggs and beans! Those are my favorite protein sources. I’d love to go vegan but eyyyyy I love me some eggs! lol
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