Protein is in more foods than you think. There is a lot of spotlight on how much protein we should eat and 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 a few too many to detail here, but here is an idea 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 antidiuretic 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 having a look at how much protein you consume and adjust accordingly.
Does protein give you energy?
Protein is used an energy source when there has been insufficient carbohydrate intake. Proteins become glucose as we have an ability to break down tissue proteins to make amino acids. These become available for energy production so protein can maintain blood glucose levels, but at the expense of some lean body tissue.
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, so really the answer is no. However many people use them for convenience, but protein in the majority of foods in varying amounts, so its worthwhile analysing your diet and the protein sources within it as you are probably getting as much as you need in your diet. Protein powders are expensive and for many of us, unnecessary. If you do use protein powders to supplement your intake, always READ the labels. If you don’t know what they ingredient is, are you really sure you want to consume it? The fewer ingredients usually the better. The majority of us can find plenty of protein in our diet and its worth being mindful of the fact that overconsumption of protein adds increased pressure on your kidneys.
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.