The Power of Protein

Where to find it and how to use it
by Erika D White, Fitness Motivator & Creator of Fitzone

Erika White
Erika White

Protein could easily be characterized as the “Johnny Depp” of macronutrients when it comes to being the most sought after and the most misunderstood. It is the “macro celebrity supreme” when it comes to people seeking out its ability to build muscle, increase satiety, and burn calories. But, even with all that star power, protein has a dark side. High protein diets can cause dragon breath; it forms internally and can make conversation, well, a little unpleasant. The excess can also cause damage to the kidneys, especially to those with pre-existing health conditions, and consuming more than the body needs can cool that calorie burn by storing extra protein as fat. That is why it is highly important to understand that the benefits of protein happen naturally, not because of protein products or advertised claims. Our bodies consume more energy to digest, metabolize, and use amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Protein is also not readily used for energy like carbs, which is why it is stored by the body as fat. Because it takes protein longer to pass from the stomach, it gives the feeling of fullness sooner and longer. To maximize the naturally occurring health benefits of this macronutrient, it is all about eating the right amount and the right kind of protein.

To get all the star-powered benefits, focus on healthy, clean protein to feed your body. My first recommendation is to eat steak like birthday cake; which, I might add, is literally done in Japan. Birthday cake is for celebrating, and red meat, yes you guessed it, is for celebrating too! Celebrations happen occasionally, which is why both are an every-once-in-a-while indulgence. Overindulgence in red meat, which contains saturated fat, increases the risk of type 2-diabetes and heart disease. Protein found in fish, white meat poultry, Greek yogurt, low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, eggs, lean beef, lean turkey, beans, whey/casein protein powder, low-fat cottage cheese, tofu, tempeh, ground buffalo, soybeans, and edamame are excellent choices as they are also low in saturated fat. Further increase your health benefits by skipping processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, lunch meat, any smoked or cured meats, along with whole milk.

Certified fitness professional Erika D. White.
–photo courtesy of Jasmine White

Despite what the supplement companies want you to believe, everyone’s dietary protein needs varies based on age, activity level, health status, muscle mass, and body goals. There is an upper limit to the amount of protein that the body can utilize, consequently doubling the recommended daily allowance won’t necessarily help build more muscle. For those who exercise, your protein needs may increase since resistance training and endurance workouts can rapidly break down muscle protein, and recent studies have further concluded that bodybuilders, like athletes, similarly have higher protein requirements. So, it is important to know how to calculate your body’s individual protein needs. Below is a simple calculation table to help get you started. Start by taking your current weight in pounds and dividing it by 2.2; then take the answer and multiply it by the number range from the chart below that matches your amount of physical activity, the final number will equal your daily protein needs. Stay toward the higher end if your training or activities are more intense, and remain at the lower range for lighter intensity days or activities.

It is important to spread the amount of protein needed evenly throughout your meals for the day. There are approximately 7 grams of protein in an ounce of cooked meat or fish, and about 6 grams if raw. A 3.5 ounce chicken breast, for example, is about 30 grams protein; while a 6 ounce can of tuna is roughly 40 grams of protein. It is optimum to choose fresh meat over packaged due to the added sugar and sodium. I think Ben Franklin’s idiom said it best, “Fish and visitors stink after three days.” So keep it fresh! That surely would make a great refrigerator magnet!

The only way to build muscle is through exercise; the only way to grow muscle is with protein. To put it all on a plate, the quality and quantity of protein plays a vital role in our body’s ability to build and repair. Though it is tempting to focus on only eating protein or following high-protein diets, our bodies are looking for nutrients and not just calories. It is the combination of fruits, veggies, healthy fats and protein that provide the right amount of all nutrients. Our health is not restricted to only eating or avoiding certain foods, it is about making and knowing the best choices. It is true that no diet can deliver what healthy living does, so keep it like Johnny Depp by making your body a living journal of a healthy lifestyle (tattoos not included)!

Erika D. White is a certified fitness professional who believes in building strong, healthy, ageless men & women. Connect with Erika at or every Tuesday at noon on 13abc’s Ask the Expert.



Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. “Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism.” Fourth Edition. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Pub Co. 2005.