You may already be familiar with protein: protein shakes, protein supplements, macros, Atkins diet, keto diet, but what actually is protein and how much protein do we need a day? Are you getting enough protein or in fact are you consuming too much? For most people, if you are a healthy person trying to stay healthy you don’t actually need to track your protein if you are including quality protein sources with most meals5.
What Is Protein?
Protein is crucial to our bodies. Protein is in every cell and tissue and is essential in the structure and function of all living things. What do you associate protein with? Protein often gets associated with strength and muscle power; hence protein being linked back to the gym and being needed for strength training and muscle building. This is partly true, protein makes more than just muscles: it makes tendons, organs, skin, enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters, therefore is involved in many crucial functions of the body. 1,2,5
How Does Protein Work?
The property and function of a protein comes from its own particular sequence of amino acids. You may have heard of amino acids back from school science days or if you are familiar with or take supplements: BCAAs (branch chain amino acids) but what are amino acids? Proteins are made up of smaller molecules called amino acids, often referred to as the building blocks of protein and they play a crucial role in the body. 3,5
There are 20 different amino acids and categorised into two: essential and non-essential amino acids. Human, animal and plant proteins are all built up from the same 20 amino acids, but did you know there are actually over a million different types of protein? These are created by different sequences of the 20 amino acids. The essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and therefore must be obtained through what we eat. When we eat protein, our body breaks it down into amino acids that then help with the vital functions including muscle building and immune function3.
How Much Protein Do We Need Per Day?
The amount of protein a person needs depends on many factors: your age, activity level, muscle mass, what your physique goals are and what your health status currently is. The Daily Reference Intake (DRI) for how much protein we need is 0.8g per kilogram of bodyweight. For a person who is a healthy weight and doesn’t lift weights or exercise much then you should aim for 0.8-1.3 grams per kg of bodyweight: 56-91 grams per day for the average male and 46-75 grams per day for the average female.
For strength and endurance athletes the protein requirements will be adjusted: 1.2-2.0g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. What is important to note though that it is not just the total intake that needs to be focused on but the quality of the protein being consumed and the timings of the meals consumed, especially pre and post workout6.
What Foods Contain Protein
The best sources of protein are meats, fish, eggs and dairy products as they have all the essential amino acids, often found in a Western diet. Some plant sources are also fairly high in protein too: quinoa, legumes and nuts 1,5.
Examples Of Food Sources Of Protein (g / average serving) 1
- Beef, stewed: 39.3g
- Roast Chicken: 27.3g
- Baked Beans: 7.0g
- Semi-skimmed milk: 6.8g
- Egg: 6.3g
- Yoghurt, low fat: 5.3g
- Boiled Rice: 4.7g
- Peanut Butter: 4.5g
- Peas: 4.2g
- Wholemeal Bread: 3.4g
- Cornflakes: 2.4g
Recipes That Are High In Protein
Here’s some free recipes you can try this week to include more protein into your diet
(g of protein per serving7)
- Chicken Thighs in Hoisin Rice : 29g
- One Pot Turkey Chili with Rice : 31g
- Eggs Fried on Tomatoes with Tuna : 32g
- Sesame Ginger Beef with Courgette Noodles : 25g
- Turkey and Cabbage Salad : 32g
- Quick and Easy Meatballs : 36g
- Salmon Tray Bake : 39g
- Red Kidney Bean and Mackerel Salad : 20g
Article Written by Jade Mottley – Fitness & Nutrition Coach / Health Writer
Instagram / Twitter: @Jademottley
- Lean & Combet, 2017 Barasis’s Human Nutrition: A Health Perspective – Third Edition ISBN 9781444137200