Written by Erin Stokes, ND 
What is the only macronutrient that our bodies do not store? Protein.
We have the capacity to store glucose from carbohydrates as glycogen in both the liver and skeletal muscles. Fat is stored in adipose tissue as lipids. Yet, our bodies do not intrinsically store amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Therefore, it’s vital to include adequate and high quality protein in our diets every day.

The Many Roles of Protein

Proteins are often referred to collectively as a unit, but in reality, there are different groups of proteins, each with a different function. One of the most important groups are enzymes. Most enzymes are proteins, and life simply could not exist without enzymes. Another group of proteins are antibodies, also referred to as immunoglobulins.
Antibodies bind directly to viruses and bacteria and activate other components of the immune system to rid the body of pathogens. Messenger proteins, as their name implies, enable cells of one part of the body to communicate with cells of another part of the body. An example of a messenger protein is Growth Hormone. Ferritin is an important example of a storage protein, as it stores iron and then releases it as needed. Finally, there are structural proteins such as keratin, found in skin and nails.

Where is my Protein? How Much Protein?

Understanding the many functions of protein and its role in helping to stabilize blood glucose, the next logical question often asked is, “How much protein is optimal?” I like to first tell my patients that we should all be focusing on quality and frequency of eating protein, more than on specific quantities. The quest for adequate amounts of protein is also not necessarily about sitting down to eat a big steak at dinner. Nor is it about whether breakfast without any protein will fuel us through our day. What is ideal, is eating small amounts of high quality protein throughout the day. Contrary to popular belief, excellent vegetarian sources of protein can fill this role such as nuts, seeds, beans, and quinoa.
In my naturopathic practice, I invite people to ask a basic question at each meal, “Where is my protein?” This seemingly simple question has helped many of my patients begin to naturally incorporate protein into their diets on a consistent basis. They often report back that they feel better overall and have consistent energy levels throughout the day.
In terms of a recommended amount per day, it’s challenging to go with a “one size fits all” approach for protein (or anything else for that matter), but guidelines are helpful, especially for the patient who is more comfortable with a specified amount. The Recommended Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for adults for protein is 0.8 g/kg of body weight per day.[1] This recommended amount is higher for children and pregnant women.
Yet, according to a recent article in Today’s Dietitian, “Studies now suggest that the RDA may not be the amount of protein needed to promote optimal health.”[2] It has been my experience that many people, especially athletes and active people, need higher daily amounts to feel their best. Considering the vital roles of protein, it is important to focus on individual protein recommendations for each patient.
Erin Stokes, ND is a Boulder-based Naturopathic Doctor  and Medical Director at INNATE Response.

[1] Nutrient Recommendations, Dietary Reference Intakes for Macronutrients, National Institutes of Health,, accessed June 10, 2015.
[2] Webb D, PhD, RD, Athletes and Protein Intake, Today’s Dietitian, June 2014, 18(6):22.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.