What is protein and what does the body need it for?

It seems like protein is everywhere nowadays. High-protein yoghurts in the supermarkets, protein shakes in the gym; everyone’s eating protein. But how much protein should you have, and what does protein do in our bodies? If you’re looking for answers to these questions, you’re in the right place.  

What Is Protein?

Protein is one of the main macronutrients that our body uses. From a chemical perspective, proteins are chains of amino acids. Some of the amino acids we can make ourselves, and some of them we must obtain from foods. We call the latter group the essential amino acids. 

Functions of Protein in the Body

You may be surprised by the versatility of protein’s functions. There are around 25,000 proteins in our body, all with different functions. Dietary protein supplies us with amino acids to make them, helping our body function as it should. Some of the functions of protein in the body include:

  • Making up the structure of our cells and our tissues 
  • Making up our hormones, enzymes and active proteins in our cells. These proteins help us carry out processes like digestion, gene expression, and movement of nutrients around the body
  • Supporting immune system function 
  • Helping our cells and tissues grow
  • Building muscle through protein synthesis 

Therefore, proteins have many functions. Supplying our body with protein allows it to use the amino acids from the nutrient to build its own active molecules and help the body function smoothly. 

Sources of Protein

Many foods are good protein sources. Plant foods and animal products contain protein, so you can reach your goal intake no matter your dietary restrictions. Let’s take a look at some of the best protein sources. 

Animal sources

Meats and animal products are typically high-protein foods. Animal protein sources are complete proteins, meaning they have all the essential amino acids our body can’t make. This makes them great options for those who are looking to support their lean muscle mass. 

Lean meats have some of the highest amounts of protein. Chicken breast has 31 grams of protein per 100 grams. One hundred grams of lean ground beef can provide 21 grams of protein. One hundred grams of raw turkey has about 23 grams of protein. 

Fish is also a great source of protein. A pollock fillet contains 22 grams of protein, while a can of tuna has around 20 grams. A hundred grams of salmon can pack around 22-25 grams of protein. In addition to protein, fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. To learn more about their benefits and the role of fats in health, check out our post

For ovo-lacto-vegetarians and meat eaters, eggs and milk products can be a great source of protein. A large egg supplies 6 grams of protein alongside many fantastic micronutrients. The prominent egg micronutrients include vitamin A, iron, choline, zinc and even calcium. The cholesterol in the eggs doesn’t impact blood cholesterol, which means that you can use eggs regularly.

Dairy products are also a superb choice for those who want to increase their protein intake. Milk has plenty of micronutrients and around 3.5% of protein by weight. Therefore, dairy products also offer great high-protein options. For example, 100 grams of low-fat Greek yoghurt contains 10 grams of protein

Another source of dairy protein is protein powder. Whey protein powder typically contains 20-27 grams of protein in a serving, making it a good protein source. They can be taken on their own or added to foods to enrich their protein content. For example, adding a scoop of 100% Golden Whey to a strawberry breakfast glass means you’ll have a protein-rich breakfast to keep you going through the day! 

Learn how to use whey protein benefits, and the difference between whey protein isolate and concentrate in our blog. 

Plant sources

The plant world also has plenty of protein-rich foods. However, it’s important to note that most plant protein sources are incomplete, meaning that they lack a few essential amino acids. Therefore, it’s a good idea to include a variety of plant proteins in your diet to make sure you’re getting all the necessary amino acids. 

One of the exceptions to the incomplete protein rule is soy. It comes from soybeans and has all the essential acids the body needs. 100 grams of raw soybeans have about 36 grams of protein. Soy products like tofu are also an excellent option for a plant protein. 100 grams of firm tofu has around 17 grams of protein in it. 

Other legumes are also fantastic sources of plant protein. In addition, legumes have fiber and many other nutrients that are great for overall health. 

Whole grains can also offer some protein and often contain the amino acids missing from legumes. Therefore, combinations like beans and rice are a great way to get all the aminos in one dish. 

Are there any plant-based proteins for shakes? Yes, absolutely. Vegan protein powders are typically made from soy, hemp, pea, or rice. They can offer a convenient way to top up your protein intake. 

If you want to learn more about foods that provide lots of protein, check out our post. 

How Much Protein Do You Need?

For most people, a moderate amount of protein is enough. The general recommendation is to have 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight if you’re leading a sedentary lifestyle. However, this number increases in some instances. 

People who lead an active lifestyle may benefit from a high protein intake. Increased protein intake can support muscle function and growth, helping you recover from a heavy training session. The recommended amount of protein for highly active people is an extensive range, anywhere from 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. 

Elite athletes may require over 3.0 grams of protein per kilo if they’re trying to increase muscle growth without putting on extra fat. For those who are not well-trained but want to lose fat, increasing your intake to 2.3-3.1 grams of protein can help with weight loss. 

If you’re interested in what the protein requirements for athletes are, check out this post. 

In addition, older people may benefit from increasing their protein intake. The recommended amounts to support bone strength and lean muscle are around 1.2-1.3 grams of protein per day. 

Symptoms and health effects of protein deficiency

Sometimes, it can be hard to tell whether or not you’re getting enough protein. In that case, it’s a good idea to track your food intake for a week or two. By using a food diary or a tracking app, you’ll be able to approximate the amount of protein you’re getting. So, should you need to, you can increase or decrease protein intake. 

But are these any symptoms of protein deficiency?

If you’re not getting enough protein, you may see the following signs:

  • Weakened and brittle nails and hair
  • Feeling hungry all the time or feeling weak, especially in the muscles
  • Weaker bones 
  • Frequent illness due to a weakened immune system 
  • Mood changes, brain fog, or issues with cognitive function 

It’s a good idea to address protein deficiency. The prolonged absence of protein in the diet can lead to malnutrition. However, most of us will be meeting the dietary requirements. If you’re worried about your protein intake, reach out to your medical practitioner. 

Risks associated with excessive protein intake

Scientists are still exploring the risks of a high-protein diet. Some studies have found that there’s no correlation between protein intake and cardiovascular health. A new study suggests that getting a lot of leucine, an amino acid, can set off signaling processes increasing the chances of cardiovascular risk. However, we need more research in the field to support that notion for sure. 

Many people believe that a high-protein diet can impact kidney health. For most people with healthy kidneys, this isn’t a concern. For those worried about bone health, it also appears that high protein intake can help support bone health. 

But as a precaution, it’s better to have a moderate protein intake that meets the requirements of your lifestyle. In addition, it’s better to choose healthier protein sources that have less saturated fats and salt. 

Protein is an essential micronutrient, and your requirements will depend on your lifestyle. You can meet your protein requirements through multiple sources, including animal and plant-based foods. Make sure that your protein choices are healthy and accompanied by a healthy lifestyle. 

You may also like

GET STARTED TODAY

Take the first step in changing your life - today.