Qualified nutritionist and MNU Practitioner Emma Chadwick gives Mums of the Shire the low-down on the importance of protein and how you can make sure you’re getting the right amount in your diet.
Nearly every single client I see in the clinic is not eating enough protein, both male and female.
Unless you’re really into muscle gains, most people don’t even know why we need protein or what it does for us. I’m on a mission to change this as I think most nutritionists would say it’s their favorite macro and we prioritize it over the other macros (carbohydrates and fats), for good reason.
I’m going to try and keep the science bit to a minimum but do bear with me as it’s important you understand it.
What is protein anyway?
Proteins are large, complex molecules. Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids, which are attached to one another in long chains. There are 20 different types of amino acids that can be combined to make a protein. There are essential and non-essential amino acids that we consume through food.
Protein is an essential macro-nutrient, our body has to have it.
But why do I need protein?
Let’s clear one common misconception about protein. You do NOT eat/drink protein then turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger (if only). We do need to consume protein from our diet to provide amino acids for growth and maintenance of tissues.
So, the amount you need really depends on your health and activity level. If you have had surgery, for example, eating a higher protein diet will help your recovery. If you’re training hard with heavy weights you may need a higher protein amount to support the recovery of your muscles and help them grow.
If you’re in a calorie deficit because you’re trying to lose fat it’s important to keep your protein high so you don’t lose muscle mass.
There are lots of other reasons that are not just muscle growth-related as to why we need protein, here are a few more and each one could have its own article!
- Immune function support
- It has a high thermic effect of food – which means you burn more calories metabolizing it
- Supports weight loss – higher protein meals have higher satiety (ie. keep you feeling full)
- Supports healthy nails and skin growth
- Protein is also an energy source
Protein myths debunked
Myth 1 – You can only digest 20-30g of protein in one sitting – NOT TRUE
We digest all of our protein however you may not need more that 20-30g per sitting for muscle protein synthesis AKA muscle growth.
Myth 2 – Protein makes you fat – NOT TRUE
The only thing that makes you gain fat is a calorie surplus.
Myth 3 – Too much protein is bad for your kidneys in healthy individuals – NOT TRUE
There is not one study that supports this statement.
Myth 4 – Protein shakes are for bodybuilders – NOT TRUE
Protein shakes are great if you don’t have time to sit and eat food, they are not better than food but a complete protein is a complete protein.
So how much protein should you be having?
The standard recommended amount is 0.8g per kg of body weight but evidence supports that we should consume more than this.
I would recommend a guide of 1.2 – 2.7g for kg of body weight.
The 1.2 would be for a non-active healthy person, the more active you are the more you should increase your intake. 1.5 is a great start. A 60kg female would need around 90g of protein.
Where should your protein come from?
We have complete and incomplete protein. Remember those amino acids I mentioned at the beginning, well they are pretty important. We need them to make up complete proteins.
Complete proteins –They contain all the essential amino acids in adequate amounts.
They are found in all animal-based protein sources.
Incomplete proteins – which means deficient in at least one essential amino acid
Usually, plant-based sources, which can be difficult for vegans as they can’t have any animal products. It’s not impossible though. Vegans need to be aware of how to combine their protein source to make up a complete one. For example, mixing rice with beans.
Side effects of not getting enough protein.
- You’re tired – your body isn’t recovering and it’s affecting your energy levels
- Brittle nails
- You’re not making the progress you wanted in the gym
- Loss of muscle mass
- Increased risk of bone fractures
- Risk of infections and a low immune system- you keep getting sick
I think that’s enough incentive to check how much protein you’re eating. You may not even know that it’s low. Take a look at your diet and see how much you’re eating.
Tips to increase your protein intake
- Aim for 20g minimum per meal
- Make your snacks high protein – tuna, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, eggs, lentils, chickpeas
- Throw in a protein shake or bar if you’re struggling to consume through food – you can add protein to your oats, smoothie or yogurt