What is protein?
Protein has had quite a lot of hype in recent years. When you think protein, you may think of gym goers drinking protein shakes and boiled chicken or fish. Protein helps repair and build muscle which is why it has been linked with the gym and big bulging muscles. However, protein also helps aid with weight loss as it is satiable and keeps us feeling fuller for longer. It is an important macronutrient when trying to lose fat as it will help to preserve lean muscle mass which can be lost while in a calorific deficit. When protein is eaten, it is broken down into amino acids. These amino acids are critical for all metabolic processes within our bodies. These amino acids are supplied to us by the food we eat as we cannot produce them naturally within our bodies. There are roughly 20 essential amino acids. Now to get scientific! Amino acids combine in different combinations and each combination will create a different structure. There can be thousands of different combinations! Our bodies require a variety of different protein sources to give us an adequate amount of these amino acids every day. This isn’t to say that we need a variety of protein at each meal, however it is good to be aware that a variety through the day is advisable.
There are complete proteins and incomplete proteins. Complete proteins contain 9 essential amino acids, typically from animal sources. Some examples of complete proteins from animal products are, Dairy (Milk, Yoghurt, Whey protein), Eggs, Meat & fish. There are some plant sources of complete proteins too, for example Quinoa and Soya.
Incomplete proteins are plant based proteins that do not contain the 9 essential amino acids or do not contain an adequate amount of the amino acids, therefore these needs to be combined with other plant proteins to provide an adequate amount. Some examples of incomplete proteins are nuts & seeds, legumes (lentils, beans, peas), grains, vegetables. Some examples of these food combinations that create complete amino acid profiles are, oats and nuts, salads with both beans and nuts, brown rice and beans and peanut butter on whole meal toast.
Benefits of adequate protein.
1) Protein can increase muscle mass and also muscle strength. This is beneficial when trying to increase your muscle size and performance in the gym. It is also beneficial when trying to lose weight as it will help preserve muscle loss.
2) Protein can help keep you fuller for longer and reduce your levels of hunger.
3) It can help you keep fit and help with the consequences of the inevitable reduction in muscle mass as we get older.
How much protein do we all need?
Based on the UK government Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) the guidelines for adults are 0.75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. For example, if you weigh 70kg your intake should roughly be 52.5g per day. The elderly need more protein as our bodies become less efficient at utilising protein, up to 50% more than the recommendations.