What Is Protein and Why Is It Important?

Protein serves as a building block important for growth, development, repair and maintenance of body tissues. Protein provides structure to muscle and bone, repairs tissues when damaged and helps immune cells fight inflammation and infection. When we consume protein, our bodies break it down into individual amino acids, and these are then used to build new things. While our bodies can make some of these amino acids by themselves, others must come from our diet and these are called essential amino acids.

Our bodies are constantly breaking down and rebuilding new proteins. Proteins replace worn out cells, make new cells, and repair muscle – like after a hard workout. Protein is needed for nearly all cellular tasks in the body. Simply put, without adequate protein, our bodies can’t function properly. The more active you are, the more protein your body requires. Since our bodies don’t store protein, and protein is continually being broken down, we need to continually give our body protein. This is best done by consuming moderate amounts of protein at regular intervals throughout the day. I recommend protein at every meal and snack to ensure you are able to get enough protein throughout the day.

So what foods contain protein?

  • Meat – beef, pork, poultry
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Dairy – milk, cheese, Greek yogurt Legumes – lentils and beans
  • Soy products – tofu, edamame, tempeh

When choosing a protein, we want to try and choose something that is leaner more often. So 93% Lean 7% Fat ground turkey or beef, chicken breast, white fish, pork tenderloin, and lower fat Greek yogurt. Options like these are going to promote weight loss and growth of lean muscle. Now that’s not to say you can never have bacon or a fattier cut of steak – we just need to be mindful of our choices and choose these less often. Protein powders can also be a convenient and sometimes inexpensive way to meet daily protein needs.

But the general rule of thumb is food first. That means if you opt to use a protein powder, make sure the majority of your daily protein intake comes from real food.



Nina Escobedo, MDA, RDN, LD

Hi! My name is Nina and I'm a Sports Performance Dietitian who grew up in San Diego, CA but currently reside in Oregon City, OR.