When you hear the word protein, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Images of beefed up body builders and huge plates of meat? Yes, protein plays an important role in muscle building, maintenance and minimising muscle loss as we age, but that is just one of its many functions. Consuming adequate amounts of dietary protein is just as important for optimal health, growth, development and function throughout life.

What are proteins?

Amino acids are the building block or proteins, and there are 22 of them in total. There are non-essential amino acids (ones we make ourselves) and essential amino acids (ones we can’t make and can only get from our diet). It’s important we consume enough dietary protein in order to meet our essential amino acid requirements. Our body breaks down dietary protein back into amino acids, then creates different proteins that our bodies require. Having a steady supply of protein and amino acids is needed to support normal growth and conservation of cells and tissues.

What roles does protein have in the body?

• Forms enzymes to help speed up chemical reactions that take place within cells i.e. digestion & metabolism.
• Forms cellular transporters to facilitate movement of nutrients into and out of cells
• Supports the regulation and expression of DNA & RNA
• Creates neurotransmitters (the body’s chemical messengers)
• Function as hormones
• Build and conserve lean muscle mass for improved strength & function
• Assists with satiety by reducing ghrelin (appetite stimulating hormone) and increasing leptin (appetite reducing hormone). This can be beneficial for fat loss and weight maintenance – check out our blog on protein and fat loss.

How much protein do we need?

While general guidelines recommend less than 1g/day for men and women, there is an abundance of research showing higher requirements benefit most populations including active individuals, athletes and elderly. These are for reasons including the growth of muscle (muscle protein synthesis), the maintenance of lean mass and also slowing the reduction of muscle as we age (sarcopenia). There is also evidence to show the benefit of regularly consuming protein across the day for appetite control and weight management, as protein is the most satiating nutrient (fills you up the most).

Research suggests that most adults, male or female, should aim for 20-40grams of protein at each meal and snack. What we know from how most Australians eat, is they don’t get enough at breakfast and snacks, but get more than this at lunch and dinner. Below is a list of protein rich foods – you can use this table to do a quick calculation on popular foods you might eat at meals and snacks to see where you sit.

Protein in Foods

65g Cooked Beef 21g 2 Eggs 11g 1 cup Cow’s Milk (regular fat) 8.8g
65g Cooked Lamb 18g 30g Nuts 7g 1 cup Almond Milk 1.4g
65g Cooked Pork 20g 170g Tofu 20g 1 cup Soy Milk 8.0g
80g Cooked Chicken 23g 1 cup Chickpeas, canned & drained 9g 3/4 cup (200g) Greek Yoghurt 17.4g
100g Cooked Salmon 23g 1 cup Kidney Beans, canned & drained 21g 2 slices Cheddar Cheese 9.8g
100g Tinned Tuna 26g 1 cup Lentils, canned & drained 11g 1/2 cup (120g) Cottage Cheese 18.5g