Why is protein so important?
Protein is absolutely essential for every cell in the body… they are the building blocks that our bodies use to build and repair cells and tissues (muscle) and carry out the instructions of DNA. Made up of hundreds of different amino acids, protein is also required for the body’s function and regulation of tissues and organs and is needed in relatively large amounts. Essential amino acids, are important molecules that cannot be synthesised by the body (unlike non-essential amino acids synthesised by the body), and can only be found in food sources particularly meat, dairy, fish and eggs. Smaller amounts of proteins can also be found in plant-based sources such as nuts, seeds, legumes and some vegetables. If the body runs out protein it will result in muscle breakdown- something we do not want to happen, especially those who are working out and exercising regularly as your body may not be burning fat but eating in to your muscles. It is also possible to be deficient in some amino acids if you do not have a varied enough diet… This can result in low blood sugar levels leading to fatigue and mood swings as well as difficulty building new muscle mass.
How do we use proteins?
Our bodies require proteins in our diet every single day, and ideally should be consumed with every meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner). This is because we are constantly using proteins (amino acids) to help grow and maintain every single part of our body (especially muscle)… Our skin, digestive enzymes and immune system anti bodies are all continually being broken down therefore must continually be replaced.
A lack of protein in our diet can lead to:
- Slowing down of metabolism
- Lack of energy and high levels of fatigue
- Poor concentration levels
- Difficulty building muscle mass
- Pain in muscles, bones and joints
- Lower immunity
- Unwanted changes in blood sugar levels
How much protein should we be eating a day?
The amount of protein your body requires everyday will differ depending on various factors such as your age, gender, body weight/height, any existing health conditions and how much physical activity you partake in. However, it is estimated that the average (healthy) adult who have moderate levels of physical activity will need 56 grams a day (if you are a male) and 46 grams a day for females (these being the minimum requirements). This being said, there is much research to suggest that for every kilogram we weigh, we should be eating the equivalent grams of protein… For example if you weigh 55kg, you should be eating 55g of protein a day. You may need to consume considerably more proteins if you are physically active, particularly if you are weight training and aiming to build muscle.
Tip: Research suggests that it is better for our body to consume smaller amounts of proteins throughout the day as opposed to one large helping all at once. This is so your body has a chance to utilize it, instead of being fed all at once and having to store excess protein as fat, as protein itself cannot be stored in the body. This will also help your blood sugar levels, promote a healthy metabolism and build muscle.
High protein sources for vegans and vegetarians
Individuals following a vegan or vegetarian diet may find it more difficult to consume high or adequate amounts of different proteins everyday, as foods highest in proteins tend to be lean meats, eggs and dairy products such as kefir. However, if you pay attention and make a conscious effort to ensure your getting enough protein in your diet, it is still quite easy to consume the right amount of protein everyday. Tofu and tempeh are plant-based sources of protein that originate from soybeans. Both are a complete source of protein and also provide good amounts of iron and calcium. Legumes, lentils, chickpeas and green peas are also excellent sources of plant-based proteins especially when mixed together. If you are particularly active, you should consider adding a vegan protein shake into your diet however, be careful to choose a protein powder free from added sugars.
Tip: Make your own protein balls to snack on for little boosts of energy.
Do we need more protein when working out?
The answer is YES. It is often misconstrued that only bodybuilders need protein… not the case. Protein does not automatically just make you ‘bulky’. Protein is absolutely essential for everyone’s diet to help support their immune system and contribute to ones overall wellbeing, however individuals who are regularly active will need to considerably higher amounts of protein in order to help the body build and repair muscle. Furthermore, when you start to exercise your body will start tear and break down muscle fibres, which need to be repaired. Research has suggested it is important to eat (a high-protein meal) as soon as you can after an enduring workout as it aids in repairing broken down muscle.
Tip: Make sure you are consuming a good amount of complex carbohydrates with your high-protein meals, as your body will find it easier to absorb.
Top protein sources to include in your diet
- Grass-fed beef — 3 ounces: 19 grams
- Lentils — 1 cup: 18 grams
- Wild fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc.)—3 ounces salmon: 17 grams
- Organic chicken — 1 chicken breast: 16 grams
- Free-range eggs — 1 large: 7 grams
- Black beans (or other beans such as kidney beans, pinto beans)— 1 cup: 15 grams
- Bone broth protein powder — ¼ cup/about 1 serving: 20 grams
- Raw milk— 1 cup: 8 grams
- Kefir or yogurt — 6 ounces: 6–9 grams
- Raw cheese— 1 ounce goat cheese: 7 grams
High-protein smoothie recipe
- 1 cup of oats
- 1 scoop of protein-powder
- 1 banana
- 1 cup of strawberries
- 1 tablespoon of hempseed
- 1 cup of ice
Can you eat too much protein?
Like anything, there is always conflicting research around certain topics giving various different answers and coming up with different suggestions based on research outcomes. This is being said; there is not much evidence at all that says we can eat too many high-protein foods if they are of high quality-protein. However, consuming more calories than your body uses everyday will ultimately result in weight gain. Very high-protein diets may also lead to digestive problems, cause changes in blood sugar levels and possibly interfere with your gut health. Be careful not to ignore other nutrients essential to your health and focus on an all round, well balanced diet.
Tip: Quality is key! Make sure the foods you are putting in your body are of a high quality with no additives as this may also contribute to bad gut health and digestive problems.