As society continues to strive towards fitness goals, body aesthetics and an overall healthier self, there is a driving need to increase protein intakes. And this is not to say that increasing protein intakes should just be reserved for those hitting PB’s in the gym or professional athletes, it is beneficial for everyone!
Protein definitely gets a good wrap in regard to being the star or most important macronutrient to hit daily amongst trending diets. Although a lot of protein is consumed through animal sources, there is a growing following of people choosing to take a more plant-based approach where plants encompass 57% of daily protein intakes globally.
So, how do you know if you’re getting enough protein? Read on to find out.
What Do Proteins Do?
Protein has many health benefits and is a star for a reason. Structurally, proteins are large molecules that are composed of many amino acids linked together in a chain-like arrangement. In food, protein is present as these large molecules and when digested is broken down into the smaller amino acids for utilisation by the body. And boy are these amino acids essential for so many whole-body protein functions!
Enzyme Function – Enzymes are types of proteins that are found in human cells performing actions which trigger events such as metabolism, cell signalling, digestion, muscle and nerve function. 80% of the body’s reactions would not take place if enzymes weren’t present. For instance, our large protein molecules are broken down into amino acids by enzymes called proteases.
Maintain Muscle Mass – A significant amount of the body’s tissues are made up of protein such as organs and skeletal muscle. Dietary intakes of protein are essential for maintenance and the building of skeletal muscle from available amino acids.
Immune Health – Meeting optimal protein intakes has a significant impact on our immune health. The amino acids in particular play a role in immunity by regulating the white blood cell activation and producing antibodies – the MVP’s when it comes to recognising a virus/pathogen/illness and eliminating it from the body.
Benefits of Eating Protein
Aside from fundamental biological functions, proteins offer some serious benefits that can increase your quality of life.
Regulating Blood Sugar – Our blood sugar is a main source of energy and when blood sugar levels are either too high (spike) or low (dip) this can lead to symptoms such as feeling fatigued, having low energy and a decreased focus. By prioritising macronutrient balanced meals that contain adequate amounts of protein, fats and carbohydrates this will not only lower the glycaemic response – slowing the increase in blood sugar – but also increase meal satiety leaving you fuller for longer.
Maintaining Strength – Particularly important for healthy aging, having an adequate protein intake promotes health by maintaining strength through skeletal muscle mass. Skeletal muscle is made from amino acids, so it goes without saying that without the right amount of protein this can lead to muscle wasting. This muscle wasting is often seen in ageing populations such as the elderly which are predisposed to a form of muscle loss known as sarcopenia.
Weight Management – Studies have found that higher-protein diets are beneficial for improving appetite – less cravings/snacking -, cardiometabolic risks and managing weight. When higher-protein diets are followed higher fat mass loss and lean mass preservation is seen. We know protein assists in increasing muscle mass, but in turn more muscle increases the body’s basal metabolic rate (BMR) which is responsible for energy expenditure. Essentially, more muscle equals the ability to eat more food – ideally wholefoods – without excessive weight gain.
So, How Much Protein?
Navigating the protein world can be hard, especially if you don’t want to get caught up in all the numbers and fall into the trap of weighing your food. There are guidelines in place for the Recommended Daily Intakes (RDI) for protein. In Australia, these guidelines look like 0.75g/kg for females and 0.84g/kg for males. However, it could be argued that these are insufficient for the general population when physical activity levels are taken into consideration as these recommendations are only to prevent protein deficiencies.
Everyone will have different protein requirements as this is based on individual weight and also physical activity or fitness goals. Higher protein intake recommendations between 1.2-1.6g/kg, or simply making sure each main meal contains 25-30g of protein with smaller snacks also comprising 8-10g of protein has notable benefits.
Major dietary sources of protein include animal products – dairy, meat, fish, eggs – and plant-based proteins like soy, legumes, seeds, nuts and wholegrains. However, not all proteins are created equal. Animal products contain all nine essential amino acids (cannot be made by the body) though most plant foods – soy being an exception – contain some but not all essential amino acids. For those following vegetarian/vegan diets pairing different plant proteins within the same meal – like brown rice and legumes – is a great strategy for increasing essential amino acid intake.
It can also be surprising to know that what you may consider a high protein source may not be as high as you think. For reference, having two eggs at breakfast will only provide 12-13g of protein. So, you may need to up your breakfast protein intake if you’re looking to increase muscle mass.
A fabulous source of increasing amino acid intake is through the addition of collagen. Our Active Collagen All-In-One contains 18 different amino acids that can help boost your intake of both essential and non-essential amino acids for facilitating the fundamental and beneficial roles that proteins play in our bodies.
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