Protein 101: Functions, Sources + More

August 4, 2023

Protein, one of the three major macronutrients, holds a pivotal role in our dietary choices. In this article, we'll learn more about the functions of protein in the body, how to estimate the amount of protein we need, and some meal and snack ideas for upping your protein intake, including a completely customizable recipe for a protein-packed snack!

Fueling Your Body: The Functions of Protein

When you think of protein, imagine it as the fuel that keeps your body running efficiently. Every day, your body undergoes wear and tear – from simple activities like walking to intense workouts. Protein swoops in as the hero, repairing damaged tissues and supporting the growth of new, strong cells. Not just a backstage worker, protein also steps in to assist in hormone production, ensuring your body's various systems operate seamlessly. By incorporating adequate protein into your diet, you're providing your body with the necessary tools to thrive, recover, and perform at its best.

Cracking the Protein Code: Tailoring Your Intake

Before building your protein strategy, consider your individual needs. Age, activity level, and health status are critical factors in determining the optimal amount of protein required. No matter your age or activity level, protein's role remains crucial. Acknowledging the nuanced interplay between these factors empowers you to make informed decisions about your protein consumption, aligning it with your specific goals and requirements. The Recommended Daily Allowance for protein intake is .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To estimate your protein needs, follow these steps:

  • Calculate your weight in kilograms: Weight in pounds / 2.2 = Weight in kilograms.
  • Multiply your weight in kilograms by a recommended protein range based on your activity level and goals:
    • Sedentary: 0.8 - 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
    • Active: 1.2 - 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
    • Athlete or intensive training: 1.7 - 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Remember that these ranges are general guidelines and may need to be adjusted based on your unique circumstances. Consulting with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional can provide personalized recommendations tailored to your specific needs and goals. It's important to focus on a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients, including protein, to support overall health and well-being.

Sourcing Protein: A Buffet of Options

Need a little inspiration for incorporating more protein into your diet? Lean meats, fish, eggs and dairy are excellent sources of animal-based protein. For plant-based sources try beans, lentils, tofu and grains such as quinoa, which are rich in protein! (Check out this article from Northwell Health about more vegan protein sources).

Keep reading for more protein snack and meal ideas, including a few from our Personal Trainers!

  • “I love Greek yogurt as a base for high-protein snacks” – Isadora Oquaye, Chelsea Level 2 Personal Trainer
  • Try cottage cheese with fruit and nuts for breakfast or a snack! Swap fruit for cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and fresh herbs for a savory version.
  • “Some of my favorite protein sources are meat, hydrolyzed protein powder, and egg whites” - Mehdi Said, Prospect Heights Level 1 Personal Trainer
  • Add your favorite tuna or chicken salad onto half of an avocado for a satisfying snack or lunch
  • Hummus with veggies or crackers is a great way to get in protein while snacking! Try edamame hummus for even more protein.
  • “Some of my favorite ways to get in extra protein are cheese sticks (7 grams each and low in fat!), edamame, and protein balls as an on-the-go snack in the morning.” – Marino Isolani, Chelsea Level 2 Personal Trainer

Customizable Protein Ball Recipe

Keep these on hand in your fridge for a quick satisfying snack or breakfast!

  • Mix 1 cup of rolled oats with ½ cup of your favorite nut butter, 1/3 cup honey or maple syrup, ½ cup of protein powder, 1 tsp. of vanilla extract, and your favorite mix-ins to add additional nutrients, texture, and flavor (try chocolate chips, chopped nuts, dried fruits, chia seeds, flax seeds, or whatever you have in your kitchen!)
  • Mix the oats and protein powder, then add the nut butter, sweetener, vanilla extract, and optional mix-ins and stir until everything is thoroughly combined.
  • Chill the mixture for about 15-30 minutes, and then take small portions and roll them into bite-sized balls using your hands.
  • Place the protein balls on a baking sheet or plate lined with parchment paper and set them in the fridge for at least 1 hour before enjoying! Once the protein balls are firm, transfer them to an airtight container and store them in the fridge for up to 1 week.