You may think of big male bodybuilders when you think about protein, but eating enough protein is important for women too (as is strength training!). Eating sufficient protein may be the missing link for you in your health/nutrition journey. For many years, when I was eating paleo, I didn’t even consider protein. I just ate whatever I wanted as long as it was considered paleo. After I developed chronic health issues, and I began working on healing my metabolism, I noticed a huge difference when I began including protein in every meal and snack that I ate.

I personally noticed:

  • I felt more satisfied after meals
  • My blood sugar was balanced
  • My muscles grew faster
  • I got stronger
  • My mood was stable
  • I felt calmer and less stressed

Why Protein is Essential:

Protein is needed for the growth and maintenance of the body. There are 4 main roles of protein in the body.

  1. Enzymes: These are protein molecules that act as catalysts for all biochemical processes in the body
  2. Hemoglobin: These are specialized proteins, in the form of red blood cells, that carry oxygen throughout the body
  3. Antibodies: These are proteins that fight off infections
  4. Hormones: These are proteins that regulate our metabolism and almost every function in the body. The main protein hormones are insulin, which regulates blood sugar and thyroid hormone, which regulates metabolic rate.

Best food sources of protein:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Bison
  • Fish/shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Bone broth
  • Organ meats

Protein is comprised of amino acids, which are known as the building blocks of protein. Animal proteins are the best sources because they are the most bioavailable and contain all the essential amino acids, which makes them complete proteins. Plant proteins, on the other hand, have to be combined in order to get all of the essential amino acids. For example, rice and beans. However, if plant proteins aren’t properly prepared (soaked, sprouted or fermented), it’s hard for the body to absorb the nutrients contained in them, making them less bioavailable.

What are amino acids?

Some amino acids (such as norepinephrine, serotonin, GABA, acetylcholine, aspartate, and glutamate) act as neurotransmitters by carrying messages from nerve to nerve in the nervous system.

Amino AcidWhat It DoesFoods It’s Found In
IsoleucineProduces energy, Reduces twitching, Aids in muscle growthFish, Meat, Cheese, Wheat Germ, Nuts and Seeds
LeucineProduces energy, Aids in muscle growth, Heals wounds in bones and skinChicken, Red Meat, Dairy, Wheat Germ, Oats
LysineAids in absorption of calcium, Promotes bone growth, Aids in production of collagenFish, Meat, Dairy, Wheat Germ, Legumes, Fruits and Vegetables
MethioninePromotes healthy skin and nails, Prevents excess fat buildup in the liver, Relieves/prevents fatigue, Lowers histamineDairy, Eggs, Fish, Meat, Corn, Rice, Nuts and Seeds
PhenylalanineBoosts mood, Reduces pain, Increases endorphinsMeat and Milk
ThreonineCreates tooth enamel, elastin and collagen, Controls fat build up in the liver, Boosts immunityMeat, Dairy, Eggs, Wheat Germ, Nuts, Seeds and Vegetables
TryptophanBoosts mood, Reduces insomnia, Protects brain health, Reduces painMeat, Eggs, Dairy, Nuts and Seeds
ValineProduces energy, Aids in muscle growth, Promotes liver and gallbladder healthMeat, Fish, Dairy, Nuts and Seeds, Vegetables
ArginineStimulates pituitary gland to create and secrete human growth hormone, Assists in wound healing, Promotes fertility, Promotes healthy hair, Aids in muscle growthMeat, Milk, Cheese, Eggs and Nuts
Cysteine and Cystine/GlutathioneAids in detoxification, Repairs DNA, Neutralizes free radicals, Aids in wound healing, Boosts immunity, Aids in cancer preventionChicken, Yogurt, Egg yolks, Oats, Wheat Germ, Red peppers, Garlic, Onions, Broccoli and Brussels sprouts
GlycinePromotes relaxation, Aids in wound healing, Protects brain health, Aids in detoxification, Produces energy, Boosts immunityMeat, Fish, Nuts and Seeds
HistidineProduces histamine, Lowers blood pressure, Improves absorption of mineralsPork, Chicken, Cheese and Wheat Germ
ProlineAssists in bone, skin and cartilage formation, Aids in wound healingDairy, Eggs, Meat, Wheat Germ
AlanineComponent of muscle tissue, Regulates blood sugar, Prevents seizuresBeef, Pork, Turkey, Cheese, Yogurt, Wheat Germ, Oats and Avocado
Aspartic AcidImproves mental health, Protects brain health, Produces energyMeat, Dairy, Eggs
Glutamic Acid/GABA/GlutamineReduces anxiety, Lowers blood pressure, Increases libido, Supports muscle metabolism, Produces energy, Protects brain health, Decreases alcohol cravings, Decreases sugar cravings, Aids in healing ulcersMeat, Dairy, Eggs, Vegetables
HomocysteineAids in cell and tissue growth, bone growth and insulin productionMeat, Dairy, Fish, Eggs
SerineAids in detoxification, Hormone production, Gene regulationMeat, Dairy, Wheat, Peanuts
TyrosinePrecursor to adrenaline (epinephrine), norepinephrine, dopamine and thyroid hormone, Stimulates growth hormone, Suppresses appetite, Decreases anxiety, Boosts mood, Antioxidant, Increases libidoChicken, Turkey, Fish, Dairy, Nuts and Seeds, Bananas
CarnitineProtects against cardiovascular disease, Assists with weight loss, Improves exercise capability, Enhances muscle building, Improves endurance, Prevents excess fat buildup in the liverRed meat, Fish, Chicken, Dairy
TaurineAids in movement of minerals in and out of cells, Assists in gallbladder function, Boosts immunity, Improves vision, Promotes fertilityMeat, Fish, Shellfish

As you can see from this chart, protein does a lot more than just promote muscle growth! It helps to balance blood sugar, along with carbohydrates and fat, which keeps our hormones balanced and metabolism running smoothly. However, just like carbs and fat, too much of a good thing is not good either. More does not equal better.

How much protein should you be eating?

For calculations, use your ideal weight

  • Prevent Deficiency: 0.8 grams per 1 kg of body weight
  • General Health: 1 gram per 1kg of body weight
  • Muscle Building: 1.6 grams per 1kg of body weight
  • Pregnancy/Breastfeeding: increase by 25 grams

For example, a woman whose ideal body weight is 120 lbs, which is 54 kg, would need 54 grams of protein per day for general health and 86 grams per day for muscle building.

If you include protein in all your meals and snacks, then you’ll easily consume enough protein.

Eat a Variety

It’s also important to eat a variety of proteins. Eating only muscle meats (chicken breast, steak, turkey, etc) can cause inflammation. You should rotate your proteins to include muscle meat, organ meat, dairy, fish/shellfish, eggs and collagen. This ensures you get all your micronutrients as well and avoid inflammation from too much muscle meat.


Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine by Elson M. Haas, MD with Buck Levin, PhD, RD

See Also:

Let’s Talk About Macronutrients

Saturated Fat is Actually a Health Food

Should You Be Avoiding Sugar?