When you hear the word ‘protein’, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe images of body builders sporting huge plates of meat? While protein definitely does play an important role in muscle, building, maintenance and preventing age-related muscle loss, it is just one of many amazing things that it can do for all of us. Making sure you’re eating enough of it is essential for optimal health, growth, development and functioning, so here’s your protein 101 with everything you need to know.
Protein 101: What is it?
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and different combinations of amino acids give us different proteins. There are 22 amino acids in total, some of which are non-essential (meaning our bodies can make them themselves), and others are essential (we can only get these from our diet). It’s important for us to eat enough dietary protein so that we can meet these essential amino acid needs. Our bodies break the protein we eat back down into amino acids, and then rebuilds them into the proteins we need. Having a steady supply of amino acids and protein is needed to support normal growth and maintenance of cells and tissues.
What do we use protein for?
Protein serves many important functions in the body, including:
- It forms enzymes to help speed up chemical reactions that take place within cells.
- It forms cellular transporters to facilitate the movement of nutrients into and out of cells.
- It supports the regulation and healthy expression of DNA and RNA.
- It is used to make neurotransmitters
- They can function as hormones
- It builds and conserves lean muscle mass for improved strength and function.
- It reduces the appetite-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, and increases the appetite-reducing hormone, leptin. This can be beneficial for weight management.
How much protein do you need?
General guidelines recommend that men and women eat less than 1 g of protein per day. But there is an abundance of research and evidence showing that higher requirements benefit most people, especially athletes, the elderly and active individuals.
Research suggests that most adults should aim for 20-40 g of protein at each meal, including snacks. What we know from how most Australians eat, is that we aren’t getting enough at breakfast or snack time, but eat too much protein at lunch and dinner.
Here is a list of some of my favourite protein-rich foods, and you can use them to do quick calculations to ensure you’re eating the right amount of protein at every meal.
65 g cooked beef = 21 g
2 eggs = 11 g
1 cup regular fat cow’s milk = 8.8 g
65 g cooked lamb = 18 g
30 g nuts = 7 g
1 cup almond milk = 1.4 g
65 g cooked pork = 20 g
170 g tofu = 20 g
1 cup soy milk = 8 g
80 g cooked chicken = 23 g
1 cup tinned chickpeas = 9 g
¾ cup Greek yoghurt = 17.4 g
100 g cooked salmon = 23 g
1 cup tinned kidney beans = 21 g
2 slices Cheddar cheese = 9.8 g
100 g tinned tuna = 26 g
1 cup lentils = 11 g
½ cup cottage cheese = 18.5
If you’re an athlete looking to rework your protein intake to build and maintain muscle mass after reading my protein 101 article, be sure to book an appointment with one of the fab Verde Nutrition Co team!