Protein is probably the only macronutrient which hasn’t been demonised by diet culture. Unlike carbohydrates and fats, it seems like we can’t get enough of this nutrient. Wherever you look there’s protein powders, bars or even protein-fortified breakfast cereals.
This increased popularity has lead to many people questioning whether they’re eating enough protein and whether they should start using a protein powder. This blog is here to answer some of the most common questions I’m asked about protein.
Why do I need protein?
Protein can be found in every cell in the body. You might only think of protein being the building blocks for muscle growth and maintenance. However, protein helps to form other crucial elements of our body, including (1,2,3):
Hair, nails and skin
Antibodies (which are involved in an immune response)
Enzymes (which speed up reaction rates in the body)
Haemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen)
How much protein do I need each day?
Your protein needs are unique to you. Protein requirements are calculated based on body weight. The current protein recommendations are 0.75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. The easiest way to calculate this is 0.75 x bodyweight (in kilograms).
However, if you’re very active or an older adult you may require greater amounts of protein (1,2,4).
Can I get enough protein on a vegan diet?
Protein can be found in both animal-derived and plant-based foods. Animal-derived protein sources are known as complete proteins. This is because they contain all of the nine essential amino acids, which can only be obtained through diet (2,5). Plant-based proteins are typically known as incomplete proteins, since at least one of the essential amino acids is missing (2,5). The exception, however, is soya and Quorn, which are actually complete proteins, as they contain all nine essential amino acids.
This doesn’t mean that if you’re on a plant-based or vegan diet that you can’t get all the essential amino acids. By combining different plant-based protein sources, you’re able to provide your body with all of the essential amino acids. For example, baked beans on toast offers you all nine essential amino acids.
Which foods can I get protein from?
Meats: Chicken, turkey, duck, beef, lamb, pork, etc.
Dairy: Milk, yoghurt, cheese
Nuts and seeds (including nut and seed butters)
Soya-based foods: tofu, tempeh, edamame
Beans, pulses and lentils: Red lentils, chickpeas, black beans, butter beans, etc.
Meat alternatives, such as Quorn
Do I need to use protein powder?
I always encourage a food first approach when it comes to looking at your diet. Whilst many people are concerned about their protein intakes, the average UK man has 85g/day and the average UK woman has 67g/day of protein - much more than they most likely need. As a result, many people don’t need a protein powder supplement.
However, if your protein needs are greater or you’re struggling to eat enough protein, a protein powder supplement may benefit you.
Most of us are getting enough protein through our day-to-day diet to support our health. It’s unlikely you’ll need a protein powder supplement unless your protein needs are slightly higher. Always opt for a food first approach before looking at protein powder supplements.