Protein is something that I get asked about a lot – and quite rightly so. It is probably the only macronutrient that actually gets some positive press. Poor carbohydrates and fat getting a bad rep whilst protein takes centre stage for actually helping you to lose weight… or does it?

In this blog I will answer the following questions:

  1. What is protein?
  2. Why do I need protein in my diet?
  3. How much protein do I need each day?
  4. What foods contain protein and how much should I eat?
  5. I’m vegan (or vegetarian), where can I get protein from?
  6. Should I be using a protein powder supplement?

  1. What is Protein?

The term protein actually describes a pretty large molecule that is made up of a chain, or several chains of little tiny particles called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids in total, 11 of which the body can synthesise (pretty cool, eh?) which means that 9 of them are not. Due to the fact that the body cannot make these amino acids, we call them ‘essential amino acids’, meaning that it is vital that you get them from your diet. You may have heard the term ‘essential amino acids’ before – as it is widely used as jargon in the health, fitness and skincare marketing world. These 20 amino acids can be found in different combinations, which make the protein molecule. Can you guess how many combinations you can create from 20 amino acids? Here’s the answer – around about 100,000. Your body is unfathomably amazing.

  1. Why do I need protein in my diet?

Amino acids (which make up protein molecules) are, quite simply, the building blocks of your body. However, unlike the long lasting building bricks of a house, these proteins are continually being broken down as a result of physical activity, exercise and chemical reactions within your body – so they require constant rehabilitation – in the form of (yes, you guessed it) dietary protein intake! Protein is required to repair and build muscle, especially after intense exercise. In fact, those who exercise regularly will require more protein in their diet than those who do not. Your skin, hair, nails, digestive system, blood and hormones all rely on protein to function properly, not to mention the often forgotten about enzymes and antibodies. It is vital that you provide your body with the required protein it needs if you wish to have an optimally functioning body.

  1. How much protein do I need each day?

This is a difficult question to answer in a very general way, however, if you are a fairly active individual who exercises regularly and who’s goal is to lose body fat – you should be aiming to eat between 0.8-1g of protein per lb of bodyweight. For example, if you weigh 140lbs, you should consume between 112-140g protein per day. If you are not a regular exerciser, you can get away with a little less than this, but this is a good place to start. Please remember, this is not prescriptive to you and is only a recommendation.

  1. What foods contain protein and how much should I eat?

You will find that the following foods are highest in protein per 100g:

Meat

Poultry

Fish

Eggs

Dairy Products

Remember, we need to make sure we get a wide range of proteins if we are to make sure we are getting all 9 essential amino acids. You will find that you are getting ‘complete proteins’ if you eat a range of the above. Animal proteins are complete proteins. A complete protein contains a good portion of all 9 amino acids.

You should aim for between 25-30g of protein at each meal (eating 3-4 meals per day) as a guide. Again, this is not prescriptive to you so please ask for professional guidance if you would like a personalised guide.

 

  1. I’m vegan / vegetarian, where can I get protein from?

Don’t worry! As a herbivore, you can still get adequate protein and all 9 essential amino acids – it’s just going to be a bit more tricky and take some more planning, but it can be done. Here are some foods to include that are high in protein:

Eggs (vegetarians)

Beans

Peas

Nuts & seeds (including butters)

Lentils

Tofu

Soy based foods

Tempeh

Wholegrains

Wholegrain rice

Most plants are incomplete proteins (meaning that you cannot get all 9 EAA by simply eating one of the above), so it’s important to make sure you eat a variety of plants at each meal. There is plenty information available online regarding this.

  1. Should I be using a protein powder supplement?

This is another ‘it depends’ situation. The word supplement should be the most notable word in the above question. If you simply cannot, for whatever reason, get enough protein in your daily diet from food alone, then you may make the choice to use a protein powder. Whey protein (derived from cow’s milk) is particularly fast digesting, so is a good option for pre or post workout nutrition.

Here are some reasons why you may wish to consider using a protein powder supplement:

> You find it difficult to get the protein you require from food alone. Perhaps you find it difficult to eat protein at breakfast time and prefer to drink a smoothie.

> You need to eat either shortly before or shortly after an intense workout and you require something that is fast digesting, that won’t lie in your stomach for too long, impairing your workout.

> You’re travelling and need something that can be transported without being in a fridge (just add water!).

However, it is absolutely not necessary to use protein powders. You can get all the protein you need from eating whole foods.


Hopefully you now feel a bit more clued up about protein, but if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to pop a comment below or get in touch via e-mail: Rachael@77.104.180.146

 

 

About the Author

"All in or all out" Rachael is a vibrant, no-bullshit-talking Scottish nutrition geek and coach helping women to lose weight without giving up their confidence OR their favourite foods.

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