Power to the Protein

By Patty Kunze, RN, BSN and Roberta Palmer, RN
 


Please note: This article was written for those with spinal cord injuries but applies to all those in need of protein for muscle growth and wound healing. 


Let’s face it…. a discussion on protein is not on everyone’s top of their list but it’s a subject which should be at the forefront of our food choices. PROTEIN is a topic for us with spinal cord injury.  It’s a component we cannot live without.  Tissue healing, muscle building, and bone growth cannot occur without that important component.  A bit of protein should be consumed with each meal and high protein, low carbs is the new name of the game. 

What is Protein?

Protein is essential for life. It plays critical roles in:

  • Making tissue, including muscle, skin, hair & nails
  • Producing enzymes, which control almost all chemical reactions in your body
  • Making hormones, which act as chemical messengers in your body
  • Making antibodies, which boost your immune system and protect your body from infection
  • Converting to glucose to act as an energy source if there is an inadequate supply of carbohydrates
Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are 22 different amino acids, all of which are necessary for good health. Foods such as chicken, turkey, beef, pork, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds & legumes (beans & peas) are rich sources of protein.



This was a great statement from WebMD: “It’s easy to understand the excitement. Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood…but unlike fat and carbohydrates, protein is not stored in the body and therefore has no reservoir to draw on when it needs a new supply.”  Whoa, stop!!! We can NOT store protein. Our bodies do NOT store protein, therefore for wound healing, protein must be consumed every day.  Symptoms of not enough protein in the diet include fatigue, muscle wasting, blood sugar instability, low blood pressure, swelling due to water retention, and many others.

Protein in necessary in our daily dietary intake but when injury occurs to our skin, more protein is needed to aid in healing. Sometimes doubling the protein intake is necessary.  How much is actually needed on a daily basis for healthy individuals? The rule of thumb is 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams per day for women.  The popular low-carb, high-protein diets can contain about 145 grams of protein or more.

People with SCI have the same protein needs as the general population unless there is a pressure sore present. Wound healing requires a big increase in protein consumption. If you do have a pressure sore, it is very important to get adequate protein in order to heal.  For most people it is hard to get enough protein unless they add a couple of high-protein snacks or meals to their daily diet.


  • Individuals with SCI who do not have pressure ulcers need the same amount of protein as persons without SCI: 0.8 to 1.0 grams per kg of body weight per day.
  • Individuals with Stage II pressure ulcers:  1.2g to 1.5g of protein per kg body weight per day.
  • Individuals with Stage III and IV pressure ulcers: 1.5g to 2.0g of protein per kg body weight per day.

You may ask, “How do I get the protein?”  Well, a rule of thumb is an ounce of cooked meat is about 7 grams of protein, an egg is about 7 grams of protein, and an eight-ounce cup of milk contains about 8 grams of protein.  We keep cheese sticks in my fridge for a healthy snack and one stick contains five grams for protein.  As we have mentioned in other articles, read the labels, an ounce of peanuts contains 7 grams of protein. If nothing else, smear two tablespoons of peanut butter on anything because it contains 8 grams of protein.  By doing the math, it doesn’t take much to get enough protein.  Discussion of consuming a 16 oz. steak is not even needed.

In an article written by Nancy Collins, PhD, she states “Nutrition is a critical factor in the wound healing process, with adequate protein intake essential to the successful healing of a wound. Patients with both chronic and acute wounds, such as postsurgical wounds or pressure ulcers, such as bedsores that we as spinal cord injured people easily acquire, require an increased amount of protein to ensure complete and timely healing of their wounds.”  If we have a skin breakdown, abrasion or cut, in our lower extremity, then we increase protein until healing has occurred.  Being spinal cord injured women, our perfusion has decreased in our lower extremities, so we use all the help we can get.  As nurses, we are very tuned into our bodies and its needs.

How would we add protein to my diet for healing, you may ask?  There are many ways but adding meat, eggs, and/or cheese to any dish helps.  You may also purchase supplemental nutritional protein drinks, beverages, and/or bars.

As nurses and women, we are aware that some of these articles are not the most riveting but we try to remove any questions that may surface as a spinal cord injured person.  Tuck the information provided away for a rainy day. We could all use protein in wound healing.  

Power to the protein.

It’s all good so keep on rolling.

Patty, RNC & Roberta RN

 References:
Everyday nutrition for persons with spinal cord injury. Obtained April 26, 2018 from http://sci.washington.edu/info/forums/reports/nutrition_2011.asp#report.
How dietary protein intake promotes healing.  Obtained July 9, 2015 from http://woundcareadvisor.com/how-dietary-protein-intake-promotes-wound-healing-vol2-no6/.
The benefits of protein.  Obtained July 1, 2015 from http://www.webmd.com/men/features/benefits-protein.
The effects of not enough protein in the diet.  Obtained July 22, 2015 from http://www.livestrong.com/article/256074-the-effects-of-not-enough-protein-in-the-diet/.
Where’s the beef?  Where’s the health benefit?  Obtained June 30, 2015 from   http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56691.

About the Authors:


Patty Kunze has been a Registered Nurse since 1983.  She holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Nursing and worked several years in a Spinal Cord Injury Unit at the local Veterans Administration Medical Center as a new graduate.  She has been a flight transport nurse for Neonatal Intensive Care, an assistant manager of Labor and Delivery, and an instructor of nursing students. In 2009, she was involved in an auto accident which left her paralyzed (T3-4 complete paraplegic) from chest down.  But she continues her nursing career while sitting in her wheelchair as a nurse paralegal and writing articles for others with spinal cord injuries as The Rollin RN ™.




Roberta Palmer has been a Registered Nurse for 20 years.  She has knowledge in Family Practice, Allery and Immunology, Special Pharmacy Medication and Counseling, and she is a RN Health Coach. In 2014, she was involved in an ATV accident which also left her paralyzed (T3-4 complete paraplegic) from chest down.


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