From protein powders and bars to protein shakes and drinks, magazines, television advertisements, and grocery aisles are saturated with nutrition stuff. Social media feeds are filled to the brim with protein-rich advertisements featuring sleek, smiling men and women sipping on protein-rich beverages or eating protein-packed snacks. And as is to be expected, these items often come with a hefty price-tag. So they’ve got to be uber healthy, right?

Possibly. Not all protein products are created equal. But to understand which (if any) of these tasty temptations are right for you, it’s vital to understand what they’re selling. What exactly is protein, and why is it so important?

What is protein?

  • Scientific explanation

Protein is one of three core, life-sustaining macro nutrients — the others are carbohydrate and dietary fat — which provide energy for your body in the form of calories. Every gram of protein provides 4 calories worth of energy to fuel your body as you go about your day-to-day activities. Proteins are essential for growth, tissue repair, digestion, and other bodily functions. They comprise chains of amino acids (e.g., histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threoninetryptophan, and valine) known colloquially as the “building blocks of life.”

  • Animal-based sources

The first primary source of protein are foods derived from animals. These include meat and dairy products such as milk and eggs. Beef, pork, poultry, lamb, and venison are all excellent sources of protein. Cheeses, yogurt, and animal-sourced milk are also a part of this category.

  • Plant-based sources

The second primary source of protein is food derived from plants. Nutrient-dense nuts, seeds, and legumes (e.g., peanuts, lentils, beans, green peas) pack a great deal of protein punch for their size. Other protein-rich plant-based sources include all forms of soy (e.g., edamame, tempeh, tofu), nut milks, and a variety of vegetables.

How much protein do I need?

  • Men

Per the United States Department of Agriculture, men up to age 30 who get less than 30 minutes of daily activity should consume around 6.5 “ounce equivalents” of protein daily. For men aged 31 to 50, the daily recommendation is 6-ounce equivalents of protein. Men aged 51 and over should consume about 5.5-ounce equivalents a day.

  • Women

Women up to age 30 should who get less than a half hour of daily exercise should eat about 5.5-ounce equivalents of protein. After age 30, the USDA recommends consumption of about 5 ounce-equivalents of protein every day.

  • Children

Toddlers aged 2 to 3 should receive about 2-ounce equivalents per day. Double that (i.e., 4-ounce equivalents daily) for school-aged children up to about age 8. From age 9 until the teenage years begin, boys and girls should eat about 5-ounce equivalents of protein daily. During the teenage years, girls are advised to stick with the 5-ounce equivalent range, while boys should bump up their daily protein consumption to 6.5 ounces.

  • Understanding “ounce equivalents” and nutrition labels

An “ounce equivalent” for meat is just as it sounds: one cooked ounce of the skinless variety of the meat, poultry, or fish of your choice. For eggs, 1 whole egg counts as 1-ounce equivalent. Nuts, seeds, and other plant-based sources are a bit more tricky to calculate. For nuts and seeds, just 1/2 ounce counts as a single ounce equivalent. For most beans and peas, a 1/4 cup will net you one ounce equivalent of protein.

On U.S. nutrition labels, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, protein information for a serving of a given product is listed in grams. As a rule of thumb, there are about 7 grams of protein in one ounce-equivalent of cooked meat. An ounce of peanuts, by contrast, also contains around 7 grams of protein, but it counts as two-ounce equivalents as defined by the USDA.

As a general rule of thumb, moderately active people (i.e., those falling between “sedentary” and “active”) can halve their weight in pounds to get a rough estimate of the number of grams of daily protein they need. A 200-pound, moderately active person, for example, would need about 100 grams of protein a day, whereas a 100-pound person would need about 50 grams.

High protein diets

The Atkins approach was wildly popular fad diet originating in the 1970s which experienced a revival in the 90s. Inexplicably, it retains some active tentacles to this day. Scientifically demonstrated to be no more effective for fat loss than more balanced approaches that simply decrease caloric intake, some studies suggest that the diet can actually do more harm than good. The Atkins diet relied heavily on encouraging adherents to eschew most (or nearly all) carbohydrates in favor of copious amounts of protein and fat. It’s johnny-come-lately cousins (e.g., PaleoDukanKetogenic, South Beach) suffer from the same fatal flaw: overindulging in a single macronutrient to the detriment of the others is neither sustainable nor healthy in the long term.

At 3 Elements, we know that nutrition forms just one of the three legs of a healthy lifestyle. Fitness and recovery are essential, as well. To learn more about how our experts can help you achieve more than you ever imagined possible, get in touch. Our highest priority is to get you on your way to realizing your healthiest, happiest self.

David Michael Gilbertson is the founder and president of 3 Elements Lifestyle, LLC., a Fitness and Weight Loss company that specializes in YOU!. With more than 15 years of experience owning, operating and managing clubs of all sizes, David lectures, delivers seminars and gives workshops on the practical skills required to successfully help you with your health and fitness goals. David also helps you build the teamwork, management, and training necessary to open your own fitness center. For more information on Licensing and Consulting Services Visit his Web site at: or email at or call 805.499.3030


Share This