Why do we need protein? What are good sources of protein?

If you exercise, work out, or want to lose weight then protein is essential. Think muscle repair and body fuel. Nutrition coaching can help guide you if you are unsure.

So lets start with - What is protein?

The definition of a protein is a substance that has amino acids, compounds, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sometimes sulfur and is found in many foods. Protein is a macronutrient. It is commonly found in animal products, though it is also present in other sources, such as soy, nuts and legumes. There are three macronutrients: protein, fats and carbohydrates. Macronutrients provide calories or energy. The body requires a large amounts of macronutrients to sustain life, hence the term “macro,” according to the University of Illinois McKinley Health Center. Each gram of protein contains 4 calories and Protein makes up about 15 percent of a person’s body weight.

Why do we need protein?

Protein is essential for the human body, even if you are not very active a certain amount of protein is required. Protein helps your body build and maintain your muscle mass, rebuilds your muscles and assists in recovery, this is especially important after you have had a workout. If you are working long days you need to eat the right food, alertness and energy will be affected if you are hungry and not eating correctly.

According to the British Nutrition Foundation, proteins are fundamental structural and functional elements within every cell of the body and are involved in a wide range of metabolic interactions. All cells and tissues contain protein, therefore protein is essential for growth and repair and the maintenance of good health. Protein provides the body with approximately 10 to 15% of its dietary energy and it is the second most abundant compound in the body, following water. A large proportion of this will be muscle (43% on average) with significant proportions being present in skin (15%) and blood (16%).

A lot of people who work out at a very active level are keen to build their muscle mass. They tend to opt for a protein heavy diet, this will include chicken, turkey, eggs and protein drinks, which tend to be 25 to 30g of protein. Even if you do not really do any exercise on top of daily walking, breathing and general living, then the recommended amount of protein required is 0.8-1g of protein per 1kg of body weight. For those who lift weights and are looking to build muscle, 1.4-2g of protein per kg of body weight is recommended. After exercise 15-25g of protein is recommended within 15-30 minutes after exercise.

What are the dangers of too much protein?

There is obviously a balance to be had. Unhealthy high-fat protein foods should be cut from your diet or consumed in moderation, this includes full-fat cheeses, full-fat diary products, high-fat cuts of red meat, sausages, and processed meats. There can also be disadvantages to being on either a low protein or high protein diet. The perfect combination for any meal is a mix of complex carbohydrates (such as green vegetables), starchy carbohydrates (such as wholemeal pasta, rice and potatoes) and protein (such as fish, lean meat and pulses). “Leaning heavy towards one macro can lead to deficiencies in other macros and other vital nutrients,” Jim White, R.D.N., owner of Jim White Fitness Studios, explains. “For example, if you consume 60 percent protein, 20 percent fat and 20 percent carbs, you could be robbing yourself of B vitamins, fibre, and extra energy that you would normally get through a moderate carbohydrate diet.”

Too much protein can also lead to weight gain, bad breath, stomach problems, dehydration and kidney damage. A common sense approach and educating yourself is a very good idea.

What are good source of protein?

According to Matthew Kadey, a registered dietitian writing for Bodybuilding.com, some high-protein meats include:

High-protein foods

  • Top or bottom round steak (23 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving)

  • Lean ground beef (18 grams per 3-ounce serving)

  • Pork chops (26 grams per 3-ounce serving)

  • Skinless chicken breast (24 grams per 3-ounce serving)

  • Turkey breast (24 grams per 3-ounce serving)

  • Sockeye salmon (23 grams per 3-ounce serving)

  • Yellowfin tuna (25 grams per 3-ounce serving)

High-protein dairy foods include:

  • Greek yogurt (23 grams per 8-ounce serving)

  • Cottage cheese (14 grams per half-cup serving)

  • Eggs (6 grams per large egg)

  • 2 percent milk (8 grams per cup)

Some other high-protein foods are:

  • Some canned foods, like sardines, anchovies and tuna average around 22 grams of protein per serving

  • Navy beans (20 grams per cup)

  • Lentils (13 grams per quarter-cup)

  • Peanut butter (8 grams per 2 tablespoons)

  • Mixed nuts (6 grams per 2-ounce serving)

  • Quinoa (8 grams per 1-cup serving)

  • Edamame (8 grams per half-cup serving)

  • Soba noodles (12 grams per 3-ounce serving)

*Sources and references -

BBC good food - protein

Live Science - protein ​

British Nutrition Foundation


Mckinley Health Centre

Healthline.com - protein

Menshealth.com - nutrition

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