Are You Getting Enough Protein?

Most nutrition and health practitioners agree that protein is critical for health. Protein is essential for muscles, bones, organs, enzymes, hormones, the immune system, and more. Without protein, you wouldn’t be able to repair damage, digest food, fight infections, build muscle and bone, create hormones, and even think and have good moods. Protein can also help with satiety (feeling full after a meal), and subsequently can help with weight management.

 Protein is one of the three macronutrients (the other two being fat and carbohydrate) which we normally eat in our daily diet. It is made up of molecules that are broken down by the body into amino acids, the smallest unit of protein. These are used as building blocks in the body and not just for great skin, hair, and nails or muscle building, it’s critical for health.

There are three kinds of amino acids in the body. The first of these is essential amino acids, which cannot be made in the body and must therefore be eaten in the diet. The other is referred to as conditionally essential amino acids. These are amino acids that the body can’t always make enough of to meet our body’s needs, for example, when we are under stress. Finally, there are non-essential amino acids, which the body can usually make.

Therefore it’s important to ensure that we get enough protein in the diet.

But how much is enough?

The minimum recommendation for a healthy adult with minimal physical activity is a daily average of 0.8 g/kg body weight per day. For a 70 kg (11 stone) healthy non-athlete adult, this works out at about 55 g protein per day.

However, this level represents only the minimum daily average dietary intake of protein that is considered likely to be sufficient to meet the requirements of most healthy individuals. In other words, it’s not likely to be optimal and therefore not necessarily sufficient for good repair, digestion, immune function, muscle/bone building, hormones, thinking and great moods. It’s also not enough for athletes, the elderly or those recovering from an injury.

Athletes, who usually train long and hard, need more protein than the minimum recommendation for their energy and muscle mass, while the older person needs more to help ward off muscle and bone loss that’s common as one gets older. And those recovering from an injury need more for recovery and healing.

But, in general, the biggest determinant of how much protein one needs is level of activity.

Amounts of 1 g/kg, 1.3 g/kg and 1.6 g/kg body weight per day have been recommended in the literature for individuals with minimal, moderate and intense physical activity respectively. So, for a 70kg healthy adult, this translates to 70g, 91g and 112g protein, depending on how active they are. In terms of safety, 2 g per kg body weight per day is considered safe for long-term protein intake for healthy adults.

Don’t rush out and try and eat all of your protein needs in one go though.

When you eat protein, it’s broken down during digestion into the amino acids, which then go into an “amino acid pool”, a reserve that the body draws upon as needed. The size of this pool fluctuates through the day, as the body uses up the amino acids and as it is replenished from the protein that’s eaten.

However, the size of this pool is finite, which means that eating all of your protein needs in one fell swoop won’t increase the size of the amino acid pool beyond a certain level. The excess will simply be excreted. That’s why regular protein intake over the course of the day is needed to replenish the amino acid pool, with 20-30g per meal (or dose) being supported by most research.

Here’s what this looks like in terms of real food.

  • 100g chicken breast has 31 g
  • 100g salmon fillet has about 24 g
  • ½ cup cooked red lentils contains about 9 g
  • A large egg contains 6 g
  • ¼ cup nuts contains 4-7 g protein (different nuts have differing amounts).
  • 100g of cooked rice contains about 3 g

Have you been eating enough protein for your needs? And is your body able to properly digest and use the proteins that you do eat?

Why not book a consultation for a general review of your nutrition with Veronica Lim who is partnered with PTF as our nutritionist.

Email LimeSt.FitnessCentre@willistowerswatson.com to book.

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