When you think of protein you may think of gym work outs and muscly atheltes. That can be so, but protein is very important for all of us at every age from a young child to an older person in their later years.
Why? Protein is a busy nutrient it has many roles from replacing your body cells such as your skin, supporting your immune system and repairing and building muscle. And maintain muscle is more important for all of us than you may think.
Protein is found in many foods more than we might realise. Foods such as meat, (duck being a very lean, delicious protein), fish, eggs and milk as well as many grains and legumes such as oats, quinoa, rice, chickpeas and lentils that also add to our daily protein intake.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
- 0.75-1.0 grams per kilogram body weight for the average adult
- 1 gram-1.2 grams per kilogram body weight during pregnancy and lactation.
- 1.5-1.8 grams per kilogram body weight for extra requirements, such as heavy training loads, wanting to increase muscle mass, illnesses, wound repair, the older person ( >70 years)
You can estimate your needs with this Australian Government calculator. Are these recommendations too low? The RDI’s are set at the minimum intake of protein to prevent deficiency. Many of us eat more than the RDI each day but what seems to be critical is eating your protein spread out over the day, not a large serve in the evening and not much along the way. There is research indicating that 25-30grams per meal is an optimal amount of protein for the body to continually build protein.
The body also needs movement, physical activity to stimulate the muscle to grow, hence the saying, ‘move it or lose it’. From the age of 30 our muscle mass starts to decline so it is not just an old age concern. To live active lives, we all need to make maintain muscle a priority. That is why being active, combined with a good diet is powerful for us all!
Why else is protein important?
- Protein helps with keeping you full for longer (satiety) which is helpful for weight management.
- Protein also slows the rate that a meal is digested so carbohydrate is turned into glucose (a type of sugar) more slowly. This is called the glycaemic index of a meal. More gradual release of glucose from the carbohydrate food means a slower rise in blood sugar levels; that is a good thing.
- Protein is used to produce many hormones and enzymes the body uses for your immune system, growth, reproduction, metabolism and that influence you energy levels.
How do I get enough protein?
Having around a fist size or a quarter of your plate of protein at each meal is usually enough as suggested by the Australian Guide To Healthy Eating.
It can be tricky including enough protein at breakfast and hit 25grams. Think about milk, yoghurt, legumes (e.g. baked beans), eggs, cheese, muesli with nuts and seeds or maybes something less traditional like Vietnamese rice paper rolls with egg, tuna or duck or a breakfast burrito with duck, beans and salad.
At lunchtime plan with plenty of vegetables and some protein.
- Eggs poached, scrambled, boiled, omelette, quiche
- Soups- minestrone with beans
- Wraps- duck makes a perfect filling with plenty of fresh finely sliced vegetables
- Tuna, salmon, smoked salmon, sardines or herrings on toast with tomatoes
- Salads- with plenty of vegetable colour (e.g. green leafy, capsicum, carrot, red onion), sliced marinated duck, goats cheese.
Remember protein is important for all life stages, spread out over the day as part of not a balance of protein, carbohydrate, good fats, vitamins and minerals in our diet.
Simone Austin – Advanced Sports Dietitian