Protein is the most crucial nutrient for getting to and staying at your healthy weight and muscle balance. For those looking to build muscle, this versatile nutrient is the best possible thing, while for those looking to slim down, it is also indispensable. Those who consume plenty of protein feel full longer, build muscle, prevent muscle breakdown, and increase their resting metabolism levels by increasing their core body heat. It also gives a major jump to overall health, improving immunity, anti-oxidant function, insulin and good cholesterol. Yet thanks to various diet trends and misguided health recommendations, most people still don’t get enough protein in their everyday diet.

The Protein Basics

Made out of a root structure of 22 amino acids, protein provides disease resistance, and tissue repair/maintenance. Out of these 22 simple and necessary amino acids, nine cannot be synthesized from the body using other materials, and must be directly consumed in the form of proteins. Some foods contain only a part of these 9 missing amino acids, and these foods, which include vegetables, rice, beans and grains, are known as “incomplete proteins.”

Complete proteins, or those which contain all nine of these missing amino acids, include meat, eggs and dairy products. Despite various dieting trends, eating healthy portions of these complete proteins is extremely beneficial for your body.

Why Protein is Great for Men & Women

There are some major gender differences in the way our bodies were designed to process protein. Men are built to have a greater muscle mass and less fat, and thus they need more protein than women. As such, male bodies have a greater number of hormones that promote muscle-building. However, protein is no less important in female bodies.

Eating plenty of protein and working out will not give the average woman a bulky bodybuilder’s physique, which is one of the key concerns women have about protein. And since women don’t have the same levels of muscle-building hormones as men, their protein intake doesn’t build muscle in the same way, but rather contributes to a slimming effect. Yet neither gender tends to get enough protein in their everyday diet. The ideal recommendation for both genders is to eat up to one gram per pound of their ideal body weight each day. This is especially beneficial for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.

Why Protein is More Crucial than Carbs

The reality is that the body absolutely requires a healthy source of proteins, or it shuts down. You can easily live without grains for long periods of time, as the body can create ketones to supplement the nutrients grains would provide. However, there is no backup plan for the body’s supply of amino acids, which are delivered through proteins. Without these proteins, it is impossible to build muscles and keep your nervous system operational.

Those who do not eat plenty of protein may find that they experience muscle loss, especially if they are engaged in regular and strenuous exercise. Marathon runners who do not supplement their protein intake often find themselves losing muscle mass and speed due to the body’s natural survival mechanisms of turning muscle into energy when needed.

High Protein Diets: Not Just for Bodybuilders

While many assume that only those operating at peak athletic levels need high levels of protein, the reality is that protein is crucial for everyone, at much higher levels than they expect. While most people don’t need protein diet supplements, they do need to increase the amount of protein that they get through the food they consume. The reality is that these high-protein diets help almost everyone lose weight and build muscle, regardless of gender or body shape.

The process by which protein helps slim the body involves the energy required to break down the protein into its amino acid components for utilization. The calories contained in protein take two and a half times more energy than fats or carbs for the body to break them down. As a result, eating protein boosts your metabolism, helping you to lose weight as more energy is consumed.

Choosing the Best Protein Sources

The truth is that many of the problems with meat consumption lie in the production and distribution of meat products, not in the meat itself. Properly raised, healthily processed meat provides a safe and effective source of complete proteins without the negatives associated with mass production and low quality meats. In this day of industrialized food production, anyone who wants to have a healthy body needs to be aware of the sources of their foods, regardless of whether they are animal or plant-based.

When consuming dairy, another source of complete proteins, it is important to only consume amounts and types of dairy that your body will tolerate, as many people have sensitivities to dairy products. With all protein sources, it is absolutely crucial to eat foods that were raised and produced in a healthy way, with a minimum of unpronounceable ingredients. Protein supplements aren’t recommended for most people, but if you do decide to use them, choose unsweetened options with a minimum of additives.

High levels of protein are especially beneficial when following a very active lifestyle or exercise program, though protein is healthy for even those who only moderately exercise. Ideally, most protein should come from lean meat sources and fibrous vegetables, rather than excessively processed foods or high-fat/low-quality meats. Harnessing the power of protein in this way will dramatically improve the quality of your muscle and the leanness of your body.