Protein. No other nutrient gets as much hype as this one, especially in the realms of health and fitness. People say you need to eat it with every meal and snack, to lose weight, gain muscle and so on.
But how much do you really need and why is it important? We’ve got the inside scoop on how much you really should be eating and the best sources to get it from:
Why is protein important?
Literally every function of your cells, organs and whole body is controlled by proteins.
Aside from being a main constituent of muscle, helping our body to repair and recover from exercise, proteins provide the body with amino acids, which are the building blocks for our DNA, enzymes and hormones.
They are also essential to keeping our immune system healthy, and our bones, hair, skin and nails strong.
How much do you ACTUALLY need?
The average person needs about 0.8g of protein per kilo of bodyweight to hit the recommended dietary intake for protein and maintain good health.
But I’m going to assume you’re more than average. That, because you’re reading this article, you like to exercise, and due to that fact, your needs are slightly higher.
The table below gives you an indication of just how much you should include in your diet depending on your type and level of activity.
Take a moment to read through which category you sit into and calculate your protein requirements.
If you are trying to gain muscle size, gain weight, or improve your performance, your intake needs will be slightly higher as well. Personally, my protein intake sits around 1.0 – 1.5g/kg/day BUT this is the amount recommended to me by a dietitian and tailored to my needs, training and health state.
I always recommend getting professional advice if you’re not sure you’re hitting the mark.
What are the best protein sources?
Most people typically think that protein means meat, but there is a huge variety of foods, both plant and animal sources, that contain it.
The only difference is that animal proteins are considered ‘complete proteins’ in that they contain all the essential amino acids, which we cannot manufacture in the body and therefore must be obtained through food. However, by combining plant sources, such as chickpeas, lentils or peas with rice, you can get a complete protein source.
Another factor to consider when choosing a protein is how easily it’s digested and absorbed by the body. The biological value (BV) is the most commonly used score and refers to how much of it can be readily used and synthesised by the body.
Foods with a high biological value also have a higher percentage of essential amino acids. Some examples include whey protein, eggs, and meat.
However, if you aren’t a huge meat eater, you can still get your recommended amount. Plant sources like lentils, legumes, quinoa, soy, nuts and seeds contain varying amounts of protein but also a large amount of fibre, making them a good choice for maintaining gut health.
I always recommend people vary their intake between plant and animal sources if they tolerate and enjoy both.
What about supplements?
Wholefood sources have the benefit of containing other vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats, but sometimes our busy schedules mean sitting down to a meal just isn’t an option. In these circumstances, protein powders can be a real life saver.
A good quality whey protein is good for those who tolerate dairy as it has a high leucine content, which can kickstart the process of protein synthesis after a workout. For those wanting a vegan or vegetarian option, pea protein is absolutely delicious and versatile.
I personally use Nuzest Clean + Lean Protein (no they aren’t sponsoring me, I buy it myself) to make my bliss balls, sprinkle some into oats or blitz up a green smoothie when I don’t have time to make anything else for breakfast.
So there you have it! A thorough run down on how much protein you actually need if you exercise. Just remember it’s important to balance all the nutrients in your diet.
Balancing your protein intake (eg. nuts, dairy, lean meats, tofu, legumes) with lots of fresh vegetables, fruit and whole grains will provide your body with all the building blocks it needs so you can perform at your peak.
Sarah is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Pilates instructor and Personal Trainer specialising in women’s health and hormonal conditions. She offers Personal Training, small group Pilates classes, and Health Coaching focusing on nutrition, exercise, and mindset to help you reach your wellbeing goals. Visit www.skactive.com.au to find out more.