What is Protein?
Protein isn't just in shakes for bodybuilders. It is an important macronutrient – one of the major classes of nutrients, alongside carbohydrates, fats, and others.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are essential for our bodies to grow, repair & run smoothly. When we eat protein, our body breaks it down into these amino acids that can then join up to create others which are essential for various bodily functions, tasks and structures.
Protein is generally found in meat, fish, eggs, milk, beans and legumes. If you’re choosing proteins from animals, it’s always best to choose lean cuts of meat or fish to make sure that the fat content isn’t too high, as although animal products are great for protein, they can also contain higher amounts of fat than other foods.
You may also think of protein as a shake. Most people following a weight management program shouldn’t need to use protein shakes in their diet, as it could mean you are consuming unnecessary excess calories and cause weight gain!
Why is protein important?
Well, for starters, protein provides us with about 16% of our total daily energy, with the rest coming from carbohydrates, fats, fruit and vegetables. Protein can be found in every cell of our body – regardless of function. It is a vital macronutrient that helps our bodies to stay healthy and working; needed for pretty much every bodily process that we carry out.
It’s absolutely essential for building muscle mass (something that’s important when you begin to include more physical activity into your daily life), as well as being vital for growth and repair of cells. Generally, protein is a pretty big deal when it comes to nutrition.
In fact, if you don’t eat enough protein, you can end up quite poorly, as not only would you end up losing muscle mass, but a protein deficiency can also lead to anaemia and a slow metabolism – both of which can make you feel sluggish and tired.
So how much protein do I need?
Generally, it’s advised that adults should eat around 0.75g of protein per kilogram of body weight. The good news is that most UK people include more than this, so the chances are, you’re already eating enough protein for your muscles and cells. However, some people may need to take a look at incorporating more protein into their diet, such as those that follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
Luckily, there are plenty of plant-based proteins that are available such as beans, peas, lentils, tofu, and various fruits and vegetables that are rich in protein.
According to the recommended daily amount of protein, if you weigh 200lbs (roughly 90kg or just over 14 stone), you would need to eat 67.5g of protein to make sure that you’re eating enough for your own individual needs. This doesn’t just mean eating 67.5g of chicken breast though, as each food contains different amounts of protein, and it’s the actual protein that you need. To get 67.5g of protein from a cooked chicken breast, you would need to eat roughly 225g a day.
You might find that you’re already eating enough protein from varied sources, or you might need to start adding more plant-based proteins to your diet in place of meat a few times a week.
But what foods have protein?
Most lean cuts of meat and fish, as well as some other animal products like eggs and milk, are a great source of protein but there are other important proteins that you should also include in your diet that come from plant sources, such as beans, legumes, peas and lentils are all good protein-rich foods that can also provide you with fibre.