Fit Family: How Much Protein Do You Need?

by Mike Levinson

Mike Levinson, fitness expert

Mike Levinson, fitness expert

Protein is an important macronutrient our bodies need to build, maintain and repair muscle tissue and organs, and also helps strengthen our immune systems.  

Protein is made up of 20 amino acids, which are categorized into two types: essential and non-essential. Our bodies make 11 of these amino acids, so they are considered non-essential amino acids. The other nine amino acids are essential, because our bodies do not make them naturally. Essential amino acids come from our food. 

When all nine essential amino acids appear in the same food source, they form a complete protein. Animal proteins such as those found in beef, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, milk and yogurt are complete proteins. Plant-based proteins are generally incomplete proteins, but quinoa, buckwheat and soybeans are a few examples of complete proteins from plant sources.

How much protein should my kids and I be eating?

The amount of protein you need each day varies based on your activity level and goals, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has set general guidelines as follows:
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You probably think that you need to eat meat at every meal or take supplements to get the protein you need, when in fact most of us get more than enough protein. Exceptions to these recommended daily allowances of protein include athletes and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, both of whom have higher protein needs.

What about vegetarians and vegans?

It was once thought that plant-based proteins had to be paired with complementary proteins at the same meal in order to make a complete protein, but new studies suggest that these complementary proteins do not need to be eaten at the same time. As long as you eat a variety of protein-rich plant foods in the same day, you can get all the protein you need each day as a vegetarian or vegan.

If you’d like to eat your complementary proteins together, a few ideas include:

  • rice and beans (lentils, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, etc.)
  • macaroni and cheese
  • nut butter and whole wheat bread (or Ezekiel bread)
  • hummus and whole wheat pita

Mike Levinson, a Calabasas resident, is a former amateur bodybuilding champion and registered dietitian who holds dual degrees in sports nutrition and physical education. He has worked extensively as a nutritionist with the California Angels baseball team and with famous athletes such as Charles Oakley, JT Snow and Sean Rooks. He also worked as a nutritionist for the Chicago Bears and the Oakland Raiders.  


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