Protein is in more foods than you think. There is such an awareness of getting enough protein, but how much do you really need? This guide will help to separate some of the facts from the fiction.
What is protein and why do we need it?
Protein from food is broken down to become amino acids, which enable the body to synthesise its own proteins. Amino acids are classified as essential, non-essential or conditionally essential.
Essential amino acids are those that the body requires in the diet, through consumption of protein-containing foods. Non-essential can be synthesised by the body itself and don’t need to be supplemented through diet. Conditionally essential occur when a normally non-essential amino acid isn’t synthesizing as it should, and this may need to be supplemented through diet.
There are an estimated 30,000 different types of proteins, so too many to detail here, but here are some of the key things that proteins are responsible for.
Body growth, maintenance and repair – protein forms the building blocks for muscles, skin, blood and replacement of cells. For example, if you cut yourself, collagen is a protein that is used to repair your cells and allow healing.
Hormones – some examples of hormones that use proteins to function are growth hormones that stimulate growth, insulin and glucagon that regulate blood glucose levels and anti-diuretic hormone that regulates fluid and electrolyte balance.
Transporters – some proteins are responsible for the delivery of fluids and nutrients around the body. For example, the protein haemoglobin in red blood cells, carries oxygen from your lungs to your cells. Lipoproteins are responsible for transporting fats around your body.
How much protein do I need every day?
The recommended intake of protein per day is
- Females: 0.75g per kg of body weight
- Males: 0.84g per kg of body weight
You’ll be surprised how easy it is meet your daily protein requirements as you’ll find most meals contain some protein even when it’s not obvious. For example, a bowl of porridge for breakfast can provide at least 10g of protein when paired with milk (soy, nut or dairy), add this to your morning Flat White and you are already well on the way towards your daily protein requirements. Its that easy!
Do I need extra protein if I exercise?
If you are exercising on a regular basis it is recommended to increase your protein intake by a small amount and the recommendations are:
- Intake for power/strength athletes 1.2-1.7g per kg of body weight
- Intake for endurance athletes 1.2-1.4g per kg of body weight
Whether you lead a sedentary lifestyle or are really active, its worth assessing how much protein you consume and adjust accordingly.
Does protein give you energy?
Protein is used as an energy source when the carbohydrate or fat stores have been utilised. Protein can undergo a process called gluconeogenesis and transition to become glucose, essentially meaning that protein is therefore available for energy production and can maintain blood glucose levels. This is usually at the expense of protein’s other vital functions and energy from carbohydrates or fats is more useful source.
Similarly to carbohydrates, if there is an excess of protein in the body, this will be converted and stored as fat.
Should I use protein powders to supplement my protein intake?
You can essentially get all of the protein you need through your diet, but it can really depend on your dietary choices, how much you exercise and convenience.
Many people use powders for convenience and if you follow a vegan/vegetarian diet, protein powders can be a beneficial way to meet your recommended daily intake. When it comes to supplementation I always recommend assessing your intake versus your requirements. A lot of people can overconsume protein unnecessarily and this can cause increased pressure on your kidneys.
It is important when choosing a protein powder to always read the labels. I personally think that plant-based protein powders are preferential to whey options. Whey protein is a dairy derivative and if you are already consuming dairy in your diet, a plant-based option is worth considering to avoid overconsumption. Brands I recommend are Nuzest and Prana-On.
What plant-based foods are good sources of protein?
Have you got a question that hasn’t been covered? You are more than welcome to contact me and I’ll see if it’s something that can feature in the series.
Australian Sports Commission 2009, ‘Protein’, www.ausport.gov.au.
Walpole, SC, Prieto-Merino, D, Edwards, P, Cleland, J, Stevens, G & Roberts, I 2012, ‘The weight of nations: an estimation of adult human biomass’, BMC Public Health, vol. 12, no. 439, pp. 1471-2458, www.biomedcentral.com.
Whitney, E, Rolfes, SR, Crowe, T, Cameron-Smith, D & Walsh, A 2014, Understanding Nutrition: Australia and New Zealand Edition, 2nd edn, Cengage Learning Australia, South Melbourne.