Protein is everywhere right now, and is truly the macro of the moment. Anyone for Protein cheese? Protein coffee? Protein bread? No problem- these items can all be found with relative ease (albeit with rather large price tags)
We have become conditioned to believe protein supplements are an essential requirement. If you want to make fundamental changes to your body, it's almost a badge of honour to be seen swigging down protein shakes and chomping on bars (sprinkled with a little bit of creatine for good measure, of course)
So, before you stock up on protein powder, here’s the lowdown on protein- its uses, when supplementation is required, and how much we really need each day.
Protein is an essential macronutrient- to live and function properly, your body needs protein. Every cell and organ in your body needs protein- Muscle, skin, hair, bone, and connective tissue all require protein.
The RDA for protein intake is 0.75g per kg of body weight per day, and this should be adequate for a person with average activity levels and who exercises lightly. If you are more active, Anita Bean, a specialist sports nutritionist, has some good advice for those who are more active:
“If you’re more serious about your exercise (e.g. exercising at a moderate-high intensity for more than 30 minutes more than three times a week), you’ll need between 1.2 and 2g/kg of body weight per day – that’s 84 to 140g protein for a 70kg person. This extra protein helps to repair and rebuild muscle cells damaged during intense exercise”
The good news is that this requirement should be able to be met through a varied and healthy diet. For example, a single egg contains around 6g protein, an average (125g) chicken breast around 36g protein, and ½ tin of tuna can contain up to 20g.
Vegetarian or vegan and worried about meeting your protein quota? Anita says: “It is perfectly possible to get all the protein you need on a vegetarian or vegan diet. The key to include a wide variety of plant proteins.” e.g. 4 heaped tbsp cooked beans or lentils contain 18g protein; 5 heaped tbsp cooked quinoa contains 11g, 1 small handful (25g) almonds has 6g.
Inevitably there will be periods where our protein intake is lower than optimum, and those who have vegetarian or vegan diets may be at an increased risk of having a lower protein intake. In this case, a high-quality vegan or whey protein supplement may be useful.
The take home message is- always try in the first instance to gain your protein from whole foods, and remember the supplement industry is big business … so the next time you are about to spend money on a protein shake ask yourself: "Does my body really need this?"