Very much like the other 2 food groups, people have their presumptions and associated stereotypes, even with protein. Starting with the idea that protein is only for gym bros, through to the idea that it makes you bulky, all the way down to the idea that you can only find it in meat.
Exactly NONE of those are true.
The protein intake for athletes is higher than the standard person, that much is true, however “athletes” here doesn’t strictly outline ONLY pro-athletes, or “gym bros” who live at the gym. It is often ignored that people with a highly active lifestyle or profession- inclusive of mailmen, wait staff, and even teachers, may require a higher protein intake due to the large amount of time they spend in a non-sedentary state.
Protein is necessary for muscle growth and cell repair. When you play sports, or spend a lot of time in an active state (walking, running, carrying things) your body will break into your glycolic stores (in the muscles) so you’ll need to up your protein, which contain amino acids, to repair the tears within the muscles. Same principles apply to your teachers’ arms getting sore from writing on a board all day and handing out books, as they do to body builders and pro-athletes. Now that’s a fun fact.
Protein is also responsible for enzymatic function, as enzymes are made up of proteins. We need enzymes to digest our foods. They’re also useful for transportation functions within the body, as they make up haemoglobin (or hemoglobin) which is responsible for carrying oxygen around the body.
Insulin is also made from protein- Insulin is responsible for regulating the glucose stores within the body, including the use and storage of glucose. In other words- insulin regulates how your sugar absorbs and whether it’s used for energy or stored as fat.
Protein also makes up antibodies within our bodies, which help fight infections, and illnesses. Proteins therefore, aren’t only important for those of us who chase the gain-train, but also for the maintenance of a normal, healthy state of the body.
Some protein-rich foods would be (but are certainly not limited to): meat, fish, eggs, peanut butter, whey protein powder, some plant-based options would include tofu, seitan, tempeh, lentils and chickpeas, hemp seeds, chia seeds etc.
Protein is 4 calories per gram, just like carbs, and on it’s own will neither make you gain weight or look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, animal-product proteins (meats, eggs, etc) are often prepared in ways that can make them fattening- battered, breaded and deep fried. Try to seek healthier alternatives of preparation, that do not require the use of additional fats and oils- oven-cooking, steaming, boiling etc.
Do not exclude the less healthy options entirely however, because cutting out foods too drastically can lead to a negative relationship with food, and nobody wants one of those. Just remember- everything in moderation.