Protein is the building block of all tissue in the body. It is an essential nutrient for everyone, not only hardcore bodybuilders and powerlifters. Protein provides the body with the materials it needs to build and repair tissue. An adequate amount of protein builds muscle, increases strength and improves fitness ability.
1. Lean Meats. Meat is one of the best sources of protein. Unfortunately, it is also high in saturated fat which increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Lean meats however, are high in protein, low in saturated fat and calories. Good examples of lean meats include chicken, turkey, some cuts of beef and seafood (salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna).
2. Eggs. Egg protein is very high quality. The protein found in eggs includes all the essential amino acids and is easily absorbed (high bioavailability). Unfortunately, eggs are also high in saturated fat. Instead of whole eggs, use egg whites, egg substitutes or organic eggs to avoid much of the saturated fat content associated with conventional eggs. Organic eggs are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids which lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
3. Fat Free/Low Fat Dairy. Dairy is often overlooked as a source of protein because of its saturated fat content. Instead of whole dairy, use fat-free or low-fat products to get the protein without the saturated fat. Milk, cottage cheese and string cheese are great ways of increasing protein intake.
4. Non-Meat Foods. Non-meat foods (vegetables, grains, legumes) offer protein without saturated fat. With the exception of soy, non-meat proteins are not complete on their own; they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. A balanced diet built around a wide variety of non-meat proteins allows you to ingest all the essential amino acids. In addition to protein, these foods are high in nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which improve health. Good sources of non-meat proteins include soy products, rice, beans, nuts, whole grains and legumes.
5. Protein Supplements. Protein supplements help the body quickly recover from exercise. Exercise creates tiny tears in the muscle. These tears are repaired during rest. The repair process makes you bigger, faster and stronger. Giving the body a mix of sugar and protein immediately following a workout replenishes energy stores and starts the recovery process.
The Bottom Line
Protein is important to everyone, even those looking to lose weight. Without an adequate amount of protein, the body does not properly recover from exercise. This causes weakness and lethargy rather than strength. Protein is however a macronutrient; excessive intakes lead to body fat. Protein on its own does not lead to muscle growth. Muscle growth requires a combination of strength training and more food (calorie surplus). Too much protein (or calories) without enough exercise makes you fat.