Protein has been a hot topic for a while now. We know that protein is essential for countless functions throughout the body, but how much should you be eating? Where should you get protein from? Is too much protein dangerous for your health? And what about protein bars and shakes?
The word protein itself comes from the Greek protos meaning “first”, demonstrating it's integral role in human health. Protein is needed for building and maintaining muscles, bone, skin and hair. It's required to make enzymes and hormones and it's essential for a healthy functioning immune system. Too little protein in our diet can not only compromise our health, it can leave us feeling constantly hungry and struggling to feel satisfied after meals as well as craving sweet and starchy foods.
Speaking to my clients and friends, I know that there is a lot of confusion around protein. Some women worry that increasing their protein intake whilst exercising will make them bulky (girls - unless you're genetically quite unique, it won't). I come across men with the attitude of 'the more the better' - but often their excessive protein intake is having a negative impact on their digestive function and is simply not sustainable.
I wrote this post as a simple, easy-to-implement guide to optimising your protein intake. However, it is important to bear in mind that different circumstances can alter your protein needs so if you're exercising a lot or have a specific health condition or goal, your needs may differ.
Here are my top tips for perfecting your protein intake:
Base your protein intake on YOUR needs
Recommended amounts are typically given as an amount of grams per kg / lb of body weight. (Note that this is based on ideal body weight, not overweight weight.)
The RDA for protein is a minimum of 0.8g per kg body weight per day, however it's recognised that this is the minimum required to prevent deficiency and is not necessarily an optimal amount. Much of the research into protein requirements recommend that averagely active women consume 1.2g protein per kg body weight per day and that men consume 1.5g protein per kg body weight per day.
To put this into context, a 60kg woman should be aiming for 72g protein per day. An average sized egg contains 6g protein, half a cup of lentils provides 9g protein and a tin of tuna contains around 30g protein. It can be helpful to log your diet on an app like MyFitnessPal which tells you how much protein foods contain and can give you an idea of how much you're eating in a typical day.
Eat protein at each meal
Instead of loading your daily intake of protein into one big meal, space it out over the day. Having a palm sized portion at each main meal is a good start. As with most nutrients, the body can only effectively break down and use so much as once so little and often is the key.
Choose your sources of protein carefully
When we think of protein, we often associate it with meat. Whilst meat is a good source of protein, it's not the only source and it's good to vary where you get your protein from. If you eat meat make sure that it's organic or at least traditionally reared (grass fed with beef). Wild fish, free range / organic eggs, seafood, pulses and tofu are also good sources.
A word on protein bars and shakes
Protein shakes and bars can be a useful way of adding easy to absorb protein into our diets. They are invaluable for vegans and vegetarians. That said, it's important to choose good quality products. Avoid protein powders and shakes with added sugars and artificial sweetners, flavours and colours. My personal favourites are Pulsin's Brown Rice Protein (as tasteless as protein powders come and great for mixing into smoothies), Nature's Plus Ketoslim (vanilla flavour and tasty to have alone, also contains added nutrients equivalent to taking a multivitamin) and SunWarrior (an acquired taste but a good quality, complete vegan protein powder). My favourite ‘clean' protein bars are also from Pulsin' – especially the Vanilla and Chocolate Chip.
In the past there has been concern that a high protein
diet is bad for our health, particularly the health of the kidneys. Too much or too little of anything isn't good - even too much water can kill you! As usual, the key here is moderation. In one review of studies, researchers analysed the evidence available on protein intake and concluded that: ‘protein
restriction may be appropriate for treatment of existing kidney disease but
there is no significant evidence for a negative effect of high protein intakes
on kidney function in healthy persons'.
I hope you find this guide useful. If you'd like further help with optimising your diet and working out how much protein meets your needs, please do get in touch.