Paleo Protein Diet

Lean protein is the number one darling of the diet industry. Paleo dieters, fortunately, aren’t interested in conforming to mainstream nutritional guidelines. Healthy animal fats are the backbone of a Paleo eating plan: even the much-demonized saturated fat is nothing to be afraid of.

But this doesn’t mean that a Paleo diet excludes the other macronutrients –carbohydrates are a hotly debated topic, but everyone agrees that a healthy diet includes at least some protein. The question is not whether to eat protein, but how much protein is ideal for optimum health.

What Is Protein?

Basically proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids. There are 22 different types of amino acid and the body needs all of them to function properly. 

Amino acids are chemical compounds containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, which combine together into different structures to form the various types of protein that the body requires. 

There are many forms of protein, which all play an important role in the function of the body. For example, collagen is a protein and is vital for the strength, elasticity and composition of our hair and skin. 

When the proteins that we consume in our food are broken down through digestion into individual amino acids, these amino acids are then absorbed and reform in order to create new proteins that are then used by the body. 

The 22 types of amino acid are divided into two groups: essential and non-essential amino acids. 

There are 14 non-essential amino acids. They are termed non-essential as they can be manufactured by the body and do not have to be derived from food. 

The body, on the other hand, cannot produce the remaining 8 essential amino acids itself, and therefore they must be derived from the food that we eat. 

Non-essential amino acids are just as important as essential amino acids, as without the other, new proteins that are needed by the body cannot be properly formed. It is therefore vital that a variety of foods are eaten in order to provide the body with all of the amino acids required.

There are some foods that contain all of the 8 essential amino acids required to form the new proteins together with the non-essential amino acids. These foods are called “complete” proteins and tend to come from animal sources of protein such as meat, dairy products, eggs, fish, shellfish and poultry. 

The proteins that are termed “incomplete” proteins are usually lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids. They are generally found in vegetable products like fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains and nuts. 

However, by combining two or more of the “incomplete” proteins, a complete supply of essential amino acids is available. For example, baked beans on toast or rice and beans will form a complete protein and give the body all the essential amino acids.

Protein is required by the body for the growth, maintenance and repair of all cells. 

Protein is a major component of all muscles, tissues and organs and is vital for practically every process that occurs within the body such as metabolism, digestion and the transportation of nutrients and oxygen in the blood. 

It is also necessary for the production of antibodies, which fight against infection and illness, and is the main nutrient that keeps our hair shiny and healthy, our nails strong, our skin fresh and glowing and our bones strong and healthy..

The Dangers of Excess Protein

Protein isn’t particularly dangerous, but an over-consumption of protein may be associated with:

1. Weight gain. Excess calories from excess protein may be stored as body fat.
2. Intestinal irritation. Too much protein has been linked to constipation, diarrhea and/or excessive gas.
3. Dehydration. Experts advise drinking a half gallon of water per 100 grams of protein.
4. Seizures. Seizures have been linked to excess protein intake – but only if insufficient amounts of water are consumed.
5. Increase in liver enzymes.
6. Nutritional deficiencies. Just focusing on protein intake causes some high-protein dieters to overlook other nutrients. Ensure that your diet is balanced and nutritious.
7. Risk of heart disease. This is a bit misleading. A healthy high-protein diet is not associated with heart disease. But if you are getting all of your protein from unhealthy sources that are loaded in unhealthy fats, obviously the risk for heart disease will increase.
8. Kidney problems. Some believe that high protein and low carbohydrate diets – when done long term – can possibly cause kidney issues, but more research needs to be done.

While this list may seem alarming, it’s important to remember that many of these side effects are only associated with highly excessive protein diets coupled with unbalanced nutrition and/or dehydration. And this list pales in comparison to the side effects of protein deficiency, which includes general illness, loss of hair, loss of sleep, poor coordination, vision problems, etc.

Practical Takeaway: Protein for a Paleo Diet

Claiming that a certain percent of the diet should be protein is scientifically very interesting, but this kind of recommendation is not directly applicable to the way most of us think about food. People don’t buy “36 grams of protein;” they buy half a dozen eggs, or a nice piece of salmon.

Weighing and measuring everything you eat is always an option, but this can be irritatingly time-consuming and often impractical. Fortunately, it isn’t necessary. Most of us can make a rough visual estimate of how much food we’re hungry for; learning to do the same for protein isn’t difficult.

The table below shows the recommended daily protein consumption for several different groups of people. In general, eating around 0.7 grams of protein per pound of total mass, or 1 gram per pound of lean mass, will put you within a healthy range of approximately 15% protein (assuming a normal caloric intake – people on a very high-calorie or very low-calorie diet will have different needs).

Since your protein needs will vary depending on your lean body mass, women (who naturally have a higher body fat percentage) will have lower protein requirements per pound of total weight than men. The table shows several general recommendations; body fat percentage is within the normal range for all age/sex groups.

The meal plans aren’t designed to be rigid templates, or even nutritionally complete (they only include the protein-containing foods at every meal). Rather, they can give you an idea of what “100 grams of protein” looks like on your plate, to help you make real-life food choices that adequately meet your protein needs.

Person

Protein Needs

Meal Plan 1 (3 meals)
Meal Plan 2 (2 meals)
Child (age 9-10)
65 lbs total weight
17% body fat
54 lbs lean mass
46-54 grams

Breakfast: 2-egg omelet with veggies (12g)
Lunch: salmon arugula salad(3oz of salmon) (24g)
Dinner: stuffed pork tenderloin(2oz of pork) (14g)
Total: 50g protein

Meal 1: portobello burger (85% lean beef; 5oz patty) (35g)
Meal 2: chicken thighs and vegetables (1 thigh) (16g)
Total: 51g protein

Teenage boy
120 lbs total
12% body fat
106 lbs lean mass
84-106 grams

Breakfast: 4-egg omelet with veggies (24g)
Lunch: salmon arugula salad (4oz of salmon) (32g)
Dinner: stuffed pork tenderloin (5oz of pork) (35g)
Total: 91g protein

Meal 1: portobello burger (85% lean beef; 8oz patty) (56g)
Meal 2: chicken thighs and vegetables (2 thighs) (32g)
Total: 88g protein

Teenage girl
105 lbs total
20% body fat
84 lbs lean mass
74-84 grams

Breakfast: 3-egg omelet with veggies (18g)
Lunch: salmon arugula salad (4oz of salmon) (32g)
Dinner: stuffed pork tenderloin (4oz of pork) (28g)
Total: 78g protein

Meal 1: portobello burger (85% lean beef; 8oz patty) (56g)
Meal 2: chicken thighs and vegetables (1.5 thighs) (24g)
Total: 80g

Adult man
180 lbs total
15% body fat
153 lbs lean mass
126-153 grams

Breakfast: 4-egg omelet with veggies (24g)
Lunch: salmon arugula salad (8oz of salmon) (64g)
Dinner: stuffed pork tenderloin (6oz of pork) (42g)
Total: 130g protein

Meal 1: portobello burger (85% lean beef; 10oz patty) (70g); 2deviled eggs (12g)
Meal 2: chicken thighs and vegetables (3 thighs) (48g)
Total: 130g protein

Adult woman
125 lbs total
20% body fat
100 lbs lean mass
88-100 grams

Breakfast: 4-egg omelet with veggies (24g)
Lunch: salmon arugula salad (5oz of salmon) (40g)
Dinner: stuffed pork tenderloin (5oz of pork) (35g)
Total: 99g protein

Meal 1: portobello burger (85% lean beef; 8oz patty) (56g)
Meal 2: chicken thighs and vegetables (2 thighs) (32g)
Total: 88g protein

In general, to stay within an adequate range of protein consumption, just focus on fat as your main source of calories (but not necessarily the main part of your diet by volume).

Don’t eat protein without fat – choose fatty cuts of meat like pork shoulder and lamb, and eat your chicken with the skin on. There’s nothing wrong with lean meats like tuna, but make sure to eat them accompanied by some other fat source, like this delicious tuna steak with avocados.