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NEWS | July 3, 2019

Proteins – The Macronutrient Series Concluded

By Shari Wright West Virginia National Guard Dietitian

What do they do?

Proteins are large complex molecules made of small units of amino acids. There are 20 different types of amino acids that make up protein falling in to the essential and non-essential category (more on that later). Protein functions are vast.

  • They help to form antibodies to fight infection
  • They function as enzymes in and out of the cell for digestion, energy production, and muscle contraction
  • Growth and maintenance: repairs cells in times of growth like pregnancy and while breastfeeding or during times of illness, burn patients for example have increased protein needs
  • Act as messengers, meaning they aid in communication between cells
  • Provides structure and rigidity to cells like collagen and elastin
  • Transport and store nutrients like vitamins and minerals

Essential vs Non-essential Amino Acids– the difference between the two comes down to whether or not the body already makes them. The non-essential amino acids are the ones the body already makes, hence they are non-essential. The essential, on the other hand, the body does not make and need to come from outside food sources to make the protein your body needs. Technically nine of the 20 amino acids are essential, there is one that is conditionally essential (Arginine) but that’s in times of rapid growth like childhood, other times of life your body makes enough so that’s why it’s conditionally essential.

Protein sources?

This one’s pretty clear, protein shakes of your choosing, animal products like meat (4 ounce chicken breast ~25g; 6 ounce steak ~42g; yellow fin tuna ~25g for 3 ounces), according to my google search. There are also the not so obvious plant-based ones. Tofu (10g of protein per ½ cup), peanuts (20.5g per ½ cup), cooked quinoa (8g per cup).

How much do we need?

Honestly this one is difficult for me to discuss as protein seems to be fairly controversial now, and makes me feel like I’m discuss politics or something. At times people get very upset when discussing protein. I’ve had someone literally interrupt a lecture I was giving stating basically that protein is needed in abundance and too much isn’t harmful. In fact too much protein can be harmful to some populations. Healthy people may be able to eat higher volumes of protein without out consequence. I say “may” because we don’t make it a research practice to try to harm someone’s kidneys in the name of science to see how much is too much. There are people who do not do well with too much protein however. People with CKD (chronic kidney disease) for example. Luckily those with CKD hopefully aren’t people that would be reading this but their kidneys cannot process large amounts of proteins and this causes serious repercussions.

Basically protein is individualized. If you’re sedentary you need less, very active people need more. Age is also a factor. If you’re a healthy 18-year-old that works out often you clearly need more. If you’re an 80-year-old female that also weighs 80 pounds your protein needs are clearly less than the 18-year-old. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on training. The more you weigh, the more you train, the more protein you need.

As I covered in the previous two articles the generic recommendation for daily macro intake is 40 percent of your total calorie goal from carbs, 30 percent from fat, and 30 percent from protein, everyone's total caloric intake goals are different. That calorie goal is based on activity level, age, current weight, and weight management goals. If you download MyFitnessPal, you can view your macronutrient distribution daily. If you have any questions, or if you're interested in developing goals or creating an individualized macro plan, give me a call/text (304-719-8064), send me an email at, or look for my Facebook blog @ShariWrightPettitRDN.

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Video by Sgt. Cheryl Madolev, Staff Sgt. Mickey Miller, Sgt. Davis Rohrer
WVNG Best Warrior Competition 2024 Video
153rd Public Affairs Detachment
March 19, 2024 | 4:11
Soldiers and Airmen from the West Virginia and District of Columbia National Guard compete in the West Virginia National Guard Best Warrior Competition held April 19-21, 2024, at Camp Dawson in Kingwood, West Virginia. Best Warrior is an annual event where participants compete in a series of warrior training tasks including weapons proficiency on the M4 rifle, 9mm pistol, land navigation, physical fitness, combat first aid, tactical movements, communications, and professional development activities. Photos by 153rd Public Affairs Det., WVARNG