Ever been confused by what protein is and knowing exactly how much of it our body needs? Nutrionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin breaks down everything you need to know about protein.
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What is protein?
Proteins are complex molecules which consist of 50 or more amino acids.
Protein is essential for every structure and function of every living cell in the body, they are literally the building blocks for our entire body and if we get too much or too little, we will literally, internally crumble.
When proteins are consumed, our digestive system breaks them down into amino acids. There are 22 naturally occurring amino acids that are divided into two groups, essential and non-essential.
The eight essential amino acids can’t be made by our bodies so must be obtained through our diets. Many foods, such as animal products, contain all the eight essential amino acids but not all vegetable protein contains these amino acids. Therefore it becomes necessary if you are vegetarian or have a diet that contains little animal proteins, that you combine certain foods such as grains, nuts and legumes together to ensure that all the eight essential amino acids are present within the diet.
Where can you get protein in your diet?
Good sources of protein are all animal products including dairy and eggs, although you have to take into consideration that eating all your protein form animal sources will also increase your saturated fat consumption. Therefore, try including some vegetable protein into your diet. Grains such as Quinoa and Amaranth are one of the only vegetable proteins that contain all the essential amino acids, so in theory it can be used in replacement for animal protein. Other fantastic vegetable protein can be found in nuts and seeds, legumes such as lentil, chickpeas, all beans and all soy products. So be imaginative!!!
How much protein do you need in your diet?
The recommended daily allowance, RDA, of protein is between 0.8 to 1 grams per kilogram of body weight, i.e. if you weigh 85 kilograms you will need to consume between 68 to 85 grams of protein per day. Your protein intake should be between 15 to 20% of your total calorie intake.
Athletes such as runners needs to increase there total protein in requirement to 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight, so looking at our 85 kg male, he would need between 102 to 119 grams of protein per day.
If you are doing Isotonic exercise such as weight lifting, your requirement will increase even more in order to stimulate muscle growth, RDA is between 1.7 to 2.2 grams per kg of body weight. So our 85 kg male would need between 144.5 to 187 grams of protein per day.
Many people believe that is it important to achieve your daily intake through the five to six small meals eaten over the day, but even if you have one meal that is high in protein, it can give your body it’s RDA.
Is supplementing necessary?
Considering what we eat in the average Western diet, it is very easy to see how we can be consuming way too much protein. When we start adding additional protein supplements, this really increases our overall consumption.
Excessive consumption of protein can be caused by the intake of supplements such as shakes, powders or bars, and can literally cause the body to excrete vital mineral and vitamins such as calcium, magnesium and Vitamin A.
When you look at the average protein supplement, you will notice that often not only are you getting protein but you are consuming a large amount of sugar. In fact, some protein bars can contain more carbohydrates than they do protein, so make sure you know what you’re taking.
The time to be adding more protein into your diet is with fractures or broken bones, in order to simulate muscle growth and support the body, and when you are pregnant, otherwise stick to the RDA and you will feel great. Remember that excessive protein does not burn cleanly and can lead to increased toxicity in the body if is not utilised.
An easy way to boost your daily protein intake is to make a fantastic smoothie with milk, nuts and seeds and fresh fruit.
How do we digest protein?
Some proteins such as animal protein can be hard for the body to digest because it contains very little fibre. Excessive protein can put a real strain on the digestive system and kidneys causing digestive problems such as colon cancer and kidney stones.
If you don’t have a healthy digestive system, your body will excrete the additional protein you are consuming. Foods that help increase absorption and digestion of protein are Psyllium husks because of it fibre content, pineapple because of its bromelain content and pawpaw because of its papin content.