Protein For a Healthy Body: What You Need to Know
How does age affect your protein needs?
You know a healthy body needs protein—but do you know why? For kids and adults alike, protein sustains muscle and tissue development, strengthens bone density, promotes hormone balance, and provides the energy your body needs to function. With so many important jobs protein has within the body, it makes sense that you’d need plenty of this power nutrient especially if you’re someone who needs more fuel and energy than the average sedentary person.
If you’re looking to add more protein into your or your family’s diet, it’s important to know how much you need, where to get it, and how much everyone in your family needs (especially if they’re active!) Here are a few tips and information so you can make the best choices for you and your family!
Your RDA of Protein Is…
RDA, or Recommended Dietary Allowance, determine the amount of nutrients you need in accordance with your body weight, age, and activity level. While protein has a lot of benefits, it is possible to consume too much and overtax the body as a consequence. Everyone has different protein requirements, but a helpful hack is to multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.36.
Let’s unpack this a little more and break down the needs for adults, kids, and seniors.
For healthy adults with moderate exercise level, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight, according to the National Library of Medicine. While this number is the baseline for adequate protein intake, adults who participate in more rigorous fitness can safely consume 1 to 1.6 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight.
Exceeding this number can result in digestive, vascular or renal issues. Always consult with a health professional if you think you need more.
Infants and toddlers are most sensitive to a high protein intake, since their bodies are developing at a rapid pace. Too much of this nutrient could pose an increased risk of becoming overweight.
But as children grow older, they need more protein to sustain cognitive function, hormone regulation, muscle and bone health, immune support and the onset of puberty. The World Health Organization suggests that boys ages 3 to 18 and girls ages 3 to 15 need 0.9 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight. In females, this number decreases to 0.8 grams between the ages of 15 and 18.
Senior citizens have different requirements as well. Their ideal RDA for protein consumption tends to increase because they’re more susceptible to a loss of musculoskeletal strength and function.
Taking this into account, seniors ages 65 and older should ingest 1 to 1.2 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight, as advised by The Journals of Gerontology. Most seniors don’t consume this recommended amount though. In fact, many are protein deficient and take in about 0.66 grams on a daily basis.
Inadequate levels of protein can escalate the risk of chronic diseases; so getting enough in your diet is absolutely imperative for the health maintenance of elderly populations.
Pro tip: If you don’t want to do the math for your needs, use this protein calculator from the USDA. Input gender, age and a few other pieces of information to find out what your specific protein needs are.
Healthy Sources of Protein
Protein can be found in a wide variety of foods, from both plant and animal origin. The efficacy of these protein sources is based on their amino acid profile. Here’s a quick science lesson:
There are nine essential amino acids that the human body cannot manufacture and must absorb through nutrition. It’s important to consume foods that provide these essential nine; these foods are considered complete proteins. The best source of this complete protein is animal-based, including meat, seafood, poultry, eggs and cow-based dairy.
Plant-based sources of protein, while still nutrient-dense and lower in saturated fat, do not contain all nine of the essential amino acids, according to The Bratislava Medical Journal. If you eat a lot of plant-based protein, just remember to consume a wide variety of these foods to ensure you’re getting all the amino acids your body needs to thrive.
Note that there are some exceptions to this rule. Plant foods that qualify as complete proteins include: quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, chia seeds, hemp, and soy.
What You Need to Know About Protein Powder
The healthiest means of consuming protein is through food. Not everyone gets enough protein through their regular diet, which is when protein powder becomes helpful. This is especially true for kids who tend to be picky eaters. The best part is that protein powder is easily blended into a shake with fruits, veggies, and fats, which conveniently rounds out any healthy diet.
When choosing protein powder, it’s important to differentiate between the whole food-based, nutritious options and those that are processed and filled with artificial colors and ingredients. As you scan the nutrition label, make sure there’s no:
- Added sugar, especially not refined corn sugar or HFCS. Natural sweeteners or organic cane sugar is the best option
- GMO ingredients
- Preservatives or natural flavors
As you debate what protein powder to get, you’ll also need to consider plant versus animal protein. One of the best animal protein options is whey protein. It’s both nutrient-dense and safe for all ages to consume including children—which you can learn more in the guide: Is Whey Protein Good for Kids? Feeding them protein shakes with complete protein ensures they’re getting what they need if they’re picky eaters or maintain high activity levels. Just make sure their protein powder is clinically tested or pediatrician recommended for children.
The best plant protein source is soy, according to nutritionists, so long as it’s organic and non-GMO. The next best options are: hemp, brown rice, pea, and vegetable protein blends.
Are You Getting Enough Protein?
Protein is critical to everyone’s health, but it’s especially important for kids and adults who live active lifestyles. Just remember: everyone’s needs are unique, but that doesn’t mean everyone can’t enjoy protein together. End a long day of sports or running around with friends with a protein shake that will fuel everyone!
If you’re unsure about your needs or the needs of your family, see your doctor or pediatrician. They can make recommendations based on your needs and medical history.
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