The Power of Protein

by | Real Food Wisdom | 0 comments

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our affiliate disclosure for more information.

Come September, we want (and need) more energy! There are schedules to juggle. Places to be. People to see.

Reaching for more caffeine and sugar to boost energy, however, tips most of us into hormonal imbalance, setting us up to feel more anxious, overwhelmed and stressed. Caffeine and sugar are especially hard on the thyroid and adrenal glands, two endocrine glands involved in energy metabolism.  Regularly consuming too much of either—or both—can put your body in “fight-or-flight” mode, depleting your body of vitamins and minerals needed for energy production.

The better way to avoid an energy slump and to keep your hormones in happy balance?

Eat quality protein.

Why Protein?

Protein is a key macronutrient that feeds your organs, muscles, tissues and hormones.  Protein is used by every part of your body for proper development, growth and functioning.

It helps regulate blood sugar, promotes feeling full and satisfied (which makes maintaining or losing weight easier), helps reduce sugar cravings, keeps your immune system strong and, not least, it provides your body with stable energy.

Unlike carbohydrates and fat, your body DOES NOT store protein.  This is why it is important that you eat enough protein—for your unique body—every day.

That said, not all protein is created equal.

Protein is built from building blocks called amino acids. The human body uses over 20 amino acids to make all the proteins it needs to function and grow.1  Amino acids are classified as “non-essential” or “essential”.  Although your body can make 10 non-essential acids, it is unable to make 9 essential amino acids—these essential amino acids must come from the food you eat.

Animal sources of protein are known as “complete” proteins because they deliver all of the amino acids that the body needs.2

On the other hand, protein from plant-based sources (e.g., fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds) typically lack one or more essential amino acids.3

Lack of adequate protein in your diet can result in amino acid deficiency symptoms, like a weakened immune system (e.g., frequent colds), ongoing fatigue, slow recovery after workouts, slow healing, nausea, dizziness, inability to focus and increased anxiety and stress.4

Quality Meats Matter

In my practice, many of my clients have hormonal imbalances that involve the thyroid (e.g., hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) and adrenals, as well as low testosterone and unstable blood sugar.  The thyroid is your main metabolism gland. And an underactive (low functioning) thyroid can leave you feeling tired and low energy.

The adrenal glands help your body deal with stress.  However, over time, chronic stress results in weakened adrenals, causing low energy.

I have worked with vegetarians with thyroid dysfunction who relied on plant-based sources of protein, like beans. Unfortunately, digestive issues often go hand-in-hand with thyroid disease, adrenal dysfunction and autoimmune conditions.  Because plant-based proteins, like beans, contain more starch than protein (for example, 1/2 cup of chickpeas contains 22.5 grams of carbohydrates vs. 7.3 grams of protein), they aren’t as efficiently absorbed, especially when gut health is already compromised.

Animal protein contain amino acids, like tyrosine, necessary to make thyroid hormones. Tyrosine is also a building block to neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) between your brain and organs.  Out-of-balance neurotransmitters can negatively affect your sleep, mood, hunger, energy and cravings, and contribute to weight gain and depression.

To be crystal clear, I am NOT suggesting that you start eating antibiotic-riddled, hormone-injected, factory farmed red meat or commercially processed meats with abandon.  NO! These are foods you should AVOID because they can cause or worsen inflammation in the body.  Nor am I suggesting that you eat an all-meat diet!  Vegetables are non-negotiable for optimal health.

I am suggesting, however, that you consider incorporating quality—specifically, grass-fed and grass-finished meats—as part of a healthy, balanced diet, especially if you are struggling with low energy or hormone imbalances.

My own health challenges with hypothyroidism and severe adrenal exhaustion (that lasted nearly a year)  gave me a newfound appreciation for pasture-raised animal protein. Before my diagnosis, I rarely ate red meat—maybe twice a year—and I was often anemic (low in iron). At the time, I was also working out about 2 hours 5x a week. Incorporating quality grass-fed and grass-finished red meats, like lamb and beef, helped heal my body and balance my hormones.

Grass-fed + Grass-finished = Nutrient Rich = More Energy

Organic, pasture-raised meats—beef, chicken and pork—are an excellent source of nutrients that support thyroid and adrenal health, liver detoxification and energy production.  In varying degrees, they contain B vitamins, including B6 and B12, selenium, iron and zinc.5, 6  Pasture-raised lamb is an under-appreciated source of omega 3 fat, commonly associate with salmon, walnuts and flaxseed.  Grass-fed and grass-finished beef, in particular, is an excellent source of absorbable iron and healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids (because the grass the cows eat contain omega-3 fatty acids), as well as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a potent fatty acid that is positively associated with long-term weight management and optimal health.

Selenium, zinc and iron are important minerals that play an important role in in converting the inactive T4 (storage thyroid hormone) to the active T3 (active thyroid hormone), which can be used by cells for metabolism and energy.  For men, these nutrients, especially zinc, can also help boost low testosterone levels.7

Cook Slow and Low

For several decades, meat has been vilified as an unhealthy, cancer-causing food that also increases risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.  Keep in mind that the studies on which this “evidence” is based have historically featured the consumption of conventionally raised meats and processed meats—not humanely and sustainably raised grass-fed andgrass-finished meats.  The quality of the meat you eat determines whether or not it improves or worsens your health.

How you cook your meat is also important.  Always avoid cooking meat until it is “blackened” (burned; e.g., blackened chicken, blackened fish) or very well done.  High heat cooking methods, such as frying or grilling directly over an open flame (indirect heat is better), can create heterocyclic amines (HCAs) or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), harmful chemicals linked to cancer.8

If you have digestive issues, consider dusting off your slow cooker (a.k.a. crockpot).  Slow-cooking methods, like stews or braises, break down tough fibers and enable easier digestion and absorption of meat proteins. When you cook meat at a low temperature for a long period of time (5 to 10 hours), collagen, the connective tissue in meat, breaks down and “melts” into a rich flavorful liquid. When chilled, it becomes gelatin. Consumed regularly, collagen and gelatin can help improve gut health.

Where to Buy

It can be challenging to find quality meats, especially grass-fed and grass-finished beef.  An excellent and convenient resource for antibiotic-free and hormone-free meats is Butcher Box.

ButcherBox delivers 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef, free range organic chicken, and heritage breed pork directly to your door for less than $6.00 per meal. And shipping is always free!


CLICK HERE to get FREE grass-fed + grass-finished ground beef for life if you order today!  That’s 2 pounds of free ground beef in every ButcherBox order you receive for the life of your membership!!

How ButcherBox works is both thoughtful and convenient:

  • Each month, the Butcher Box team curates your order to give you the best selection of meats, humanely raised and free of antibiotics and hormones.
  • OR…choose exactly which cuts will work for you and your family.  *The price works out to less than $6.00 / meal.
  • Shipping is always free.

Enjoy…and happy eating!


1        Arizona State University: Ask a Biologist
2, 3      Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health
4        Molecular Neurobiology.  2012 Oct; 46(2): 332-348
5        National Institutes of Health (NIH).  2018
6        National Institutes of Health (NIH).  2018
7        British Journal of Nutrition. 2007 Mar; 97(3):550-60.
8        National Cancer Institute (NCI).  2017

Hi, I’m Kathryn Matthews. As a Board Certified Functional Health Coach, I help clients reclaim their energy, vitality and well-being. I want you to feel empowered about taking charge of YOUR health! To learn more, see About Kathryn.

Subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates!