How much protein do we really need?
As part of a balanced diet, the average UK woman requires a minimum of 60g of protein. For men, minimum protein needs are higher (around 70-80g per day). For most people, a dose of around 1g protein per 1kg body weight each day is recommended, though this will vary.
Sounds simple, yet we are growing more confused about how much protein we need and how much we are actually eating, not to mention protein powders – are they essential?
With the rise of social media and fitness-based content, it’s now very easy to access healthy recipes, workouts and the latest supplement brands. On Instagram alone, you can find 15 million posts with #protein and over 177 million posts with #fitness – but there is no way to ensure what we are looking at is the right way to live, nor the right diet for our body.
So, how do we know how much protein we should eat and if we need to up our game?
To help us see things a little clearer, we spoke to Nutritionist Resource member, Erin Skinner.
Protein requirements will depend on your body
Protein is a vital macronutrient. Our body requires it to function properly. It also helps our body maintain and rebuild muscle after exercise. While reference intakes give general guidelines, what your body requires is completely unique. It will depend on your body, your lifestyle and your activity levels.
This is where a nutrition professional can help you – they can assess your diet and lifestyle and support you in any changes you need to make, as well as helping you understand your body and the nutrients it requires. A professional can help you understand the type of protein you need, and the timing around exercise.
Good sources of protein
You may be surprised at the variety of foods providing a good source of protein, and you don’t have to eat steak and chicken every day to reach your daily intake. Other protein sources include:
- Eggs – medium-sized eggs have around 6g protein and are easily digestible.
- Milk – dairy foods are great sources of protein and provide our bones with a dose of calcium.
- Yoghurt – natural yoghurt and Greek yoghurt are good protein sources, perfect fuel for after exercise!
- Seafood – fish is typically low in fat and a great source of protein. Salmon, while higher in fat, provides us with heart-healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids.
- Soya – soya protein foods, such as tofu, can help post-workout and are thought to help lower cholesterol. Some soy products can fit in with a healthy diet to provide an extra protein boost.
- Beans and pulses – are cheap, easy, and a good source of fibre and iron! Although they do not contain the full complement of amino acids, they can certainly boost the protein content (and health qualities) of a well-balanced diet.
What about protein powders?
These days, it seems like protein is being added to nearly every food product. Walking around the supermarket, you will likely find an assortment of protein powders in the supplement and medicine aisle, but you may also spot products in other sections. It comes in many forms – whey, egg, soy, casein, pea, rice, and hemp! Protein Mars Bars, ‘high-protein’ bread and even Shreddies Max Protein are now available – no wonder people are confused!
Now that we are seeing common household foods with added protein, it is unsurprising that we assume we’re not eating enough protein, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Most adults meet their daily protein requirements with food alone – or even exceed it. The best way to consume protein is through a healthy, balanced diet. However, protein supplements have their place, too.
Protein is used for the production of muscles, so an athlete, for example, may need more protein than the average person, especially if they are in a strength-based sport. Protein powders are a fast-acting, easy way to get protein into your body, without having to fill yourself up on food. There is a 30-minute window after exercise when protein is most important for recovery. Protein supplements can help ensure that recovery protein is consumed in sufficient quantity within that window.
Protein powder is efficient and convenient, but not suitable for everyone. Using the right type is important, and it is essential to consume a quality product that is free from contaminants and undesirable ingredients. If you’re confused about protein intake, or want to change your diet to suit your activity levels, contact a nutrition professional. They will be able to make sure you are getting the right about of protein, as part of a balanced diet.