In the previous blog, If only I had the energy…, we discussed the measurement and purpose of the calorie. A calorie is a unit of energy that enables us to move, laugh, love, eat, breath, and anything else that requires energy. Unfortunately, not all calories are created equal. While processed foods are still foods, they contribute significantly less energy and nutrients to our bodies than natural foods, while delivering an equal or greater number of calories.

Therefore, counting calories will not give us a true picture of nutrition. Instead, we need to know which type of calories we are consuming, and that is why we count primary macronutrients, also known as “macros.”—protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Now that we are caught up, let’s dive in and talk about the first macro.

If you are a male, anywhere between the ages of two and dead, you have probably (openly or discretely) thought the following statement:

“I wanna get swole!”

There is nothing wrong with that! It is unfortunate how men suppress this desire and poorly execute on it. Perhaps they are afraid of being ridiculed. I am blessed to have a wife who often brags about my body and notices the intensity I put into my workouts. I still have a long way to go, but I credit a large part of my regular progress to her consistent affirmation! This blog is not specific to men or women. I encourage both sexes to discipline their own bodies and support others who work hard to achieve an improved level of fitness.

Everyone knows the macro associated with muscle gain, right? How many of us have bought protein powder that just sat in our cabinet? Have you ever made a protein shake, convinced that you would workout later, but didn’t make the time? Yes, working out is a prerequisite to building lean muscle and toning up, but it is also important to know if we are eating/drinking the right kind of protein. To do that, let’s look at the component parts of protein.

What is protein?

According to National Center for Biotechnology Information, protein is made up of varying combinations of amino acids, 20 in all. Amino acids make up every tissue and substance in our bodies, from organs and hair to hormones. Brian Keane, author of The Fitness Mindset, said,

“Whether our goals are to become more lean or muscular, we need the right combination of amino acids interacting with fundamentally healthy cells in order to repair and build tissues for lean muscle. Carbohydrates and fats are important, but nothing compares to the ability of amino acids to grow, repair, and maintain a healthy tissue.”

Amino acids

It is important to distinguish the amino acids, essential from non-essential. Our bodies cannot synthesize essential amino acids at a rate commensurate with our body’s demand. Hence, we must consume these in our diet. There are 8 essential amino acids for adults and 9 for children (add Histidine). Our body can make the remaining 11 amino acids from the essential ones, but the essential ones must be consumed through food and/or supplements. Therefore, athletes often supplement with Isoleucine, Leucine, and Valine as they are branched-chain-amino acids, referring to their chemical structure, that serve as signaling molecules regulating metabolism of glucose, lipid, and protein synthesis.

One of the most important reasons to distinguish between the amino acids is that our body needs these in certain proportions.

Complete protein

Animal and fish protein contain all essential amino acids in proper proportions to one other. This is known as a “complete protein.” BOOM! You are welcome my fellow meat-eating friends. (Not that I can take credit for it.)

Incomplete protein

So, what about vegetarians? Yes, we can also obtain essential amino acids from the plant kingdom. The problem is that they are not comprehensive and do not provide complete protein proportions. Therefore, we must mix and match plant foods to obtain complete protein benefits. For this reason, we often refer to plant protein as incomplete protein.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), if we eat foods that do not contain all the essential amino acids required by the body, we have a small window of about a day to ingest the complementary ones to complete the amino acid equation. In other words, every meal does not need complete protein, but understanding the missing amino acids can allow us to supplement later in the day to maximize the protein benefit.

Why do we need protein?

Growth! We especially need it if we want to build lean muscle tissue, but I’ll list a few more. Our body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Protein helps build our immune system. When carbohydrates are not available, our body turns to protein. This is by a process called glucogenesis whereby our body converts protein to glucose for energy.

Hair and nails are mostly made of protein. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.

How much protein do I need?

There are many variables that should dictate our protein intake. A good place to start is by reviewing a previous blog called Feed Your Body, where I covered the three body types. There I provided a recommended percentage breakdown of macros attributed to each body type. I would suggest baselining off this percentage and adjust from there. Unlike fat, the body does not store protein for a rainy day.

What are my options?

There is a great deal of information about protein and amino acids which I recommend researching further if interested. Other interesting topics include the nutritional return from grass fed cows and free range chickens versus an antibiotic-pumped cow and hormone-pumped factory chickens. The nutritional differences are tremendous. Simply put, avoid factory-farmed meat and fish.

You are what you eat…and what your food eats.


Today, we learned about protein, where we can find it, and how we can measure it. We also learned that highly processed foods have less energy as compared to their raw state. In the next blog, we will break down a different macro—carbohydrates. You won’t want to miss it!


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