Most of us recognise that we need protein in our diets but do you know how much you need and why? And do you know the best sources for you?
What is a protein?
A protein is a complex molecule made up of amino acids and is responsible for specific and unique functions within the body.
We need protein to build muscle, but proteins perform many other functions in the body. More than 10,000 types are found in everything from your organs to your muscles and tissues to your bones, skin, and hair.
Sources of protein in food
Dietary sources of protein are of 2 types, depending on their amino acid content:
1. 'Complete' proteins contain all of the essential amino acids that the body requires for making proteins
2. 'Incomplete' proteins are low in some essential amino acids
Animal proteins are high in essential amino acids, therefore are 'complete' proteins.
Plant proteins are low in some essential amino acids, therefore are 'incomplete' proteins. You would need to eat more of them than of animal proteins to get enough proteins for all your body's needs.
What if I am vegetarian or vegan?
If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can still easily meet your protein requirements if you consume the full range of essential amino acids. The key is to consume a wide variety of plant foods, as amino acids that are lacking in one food will be present in another.
It is certainly possible for a person with a vegetarian or vegan diet to get the amount of protein they need from their diet. The key is to get a good balance. What you want to avoid as a vegetarian is consuming all of your protein simply from dairy products, as this could lead to a diet that is too high in fat, particularly saturated fat.
What do we actually need protein for?
Your body needs proteins for:
1. Building & repairing body tissue
2. Producing enzymes, hormones & other substances the body uses
3. Regulating body processes such as transporting nutrients
4. Resisting disease
5. Producing stamina & energy to prevent tiredness
But how much protein do I actually need?
The average person requires approximately 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day or approximately 10-15% of their total daily calorie intake.
Most people in the UK consume well over the 1g/1kg average ... The average consumption in British diet is around 17% of their total energy intake.
Athletes do usually have higher protein requirements than the average person, possible as high as 2g/1kg body weight.
What happens if I have too little protein in my diet?
Not eating enough protein can lead to:
1. Low energy & stamina levels
2. Poor resistance to infection
4. Slow healing of wounds
5. Prolonged recovery from illness
When should I be consuming my protein?
The best approach is to ensure you are spreading your protein intake out across your day. Here are some ideas below to help you on your way ...