1. It is a component in every cell of the body (hair, skin, nails)
2. Used to rebuild damaged tissue post workouts and throughout the day
3. Required for the creation of hormones, enzymes and other body tissues
4. It is a vital building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.
From the list above, you can see protein does much more for our bodies than build muscle. It is the building block of life, critical to our physical appearance and internal function. Protein is a macro nutrient (like carbohydrates and fat) required in relatively large amounts to maintain adequate function. However, more is not necessarily better (we will focus on this next time).
Proteins are made from links called amino acids strung together much like beads on a necklace. There are 20 different types of amino acids (AA’s). Of these, 9 are essential and 11 are non-essential. Essential AA’s cannot be made by the body and MUST be consumed in the diet; non-essential AA’s can either be made by the body or come from the diet.
Amino acids are found in animal sources (meats, eggs, milk and fish) and plant sources (soy, beans, legumes, nut butters and some grains like quinoa or wheat germ). Protein from animal sources are considered ‘complete’ because they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Plant based proteins lack one or more of the essential amino acids and are termed ‘incomplete’. You can still obtain all of the essential amino acids you need solely from incomplete sources, but you must consume a variety of plant based protein throughout the day. Many professional athletes have adopted a vegetarian lifestyle and continue to compete at the elite level.
Protein is an essential component of every meal, including snacks. Snack time is the perfect opportunity to increase your overall intake and incorporate alternative protein sources. Below are some high protein snack ideas designed to fuel you up before a workout or power you through that afternoon lull.
High Protein Snacks
· Trail Mix (include pistachios to pump up the protein!) = 21g per cup
· Turkey/cheese Roll Ups = 3g per roll
· Greek Yogurt Parfait (topped with nuts and berries) = 15g per cup
· Greek yogurt + Peanut Butter Dip with apple slices = 6-8g per ¼c
· Hard Boiled Eggs = 6g per egg
· Natural Peanut Butter and Celery (add raisins for a touch of carbohydrates) = 8g/2 Tbsp
· String Cheese and Grapes = 6g per strand
**Protein amounts may vary based on brand and recipe