Protein is a macronutrient that’s essential in large amounts in order to keep your body healthy. Here’s all you need to know about this vital nutrient.
The importance of protein
Protein plays a leading role in keeping your mind and body strong and healthy. It’s vital for building and repairing tissues, as well as making hormones, enzymes, antibodies and chemicals in the body. A crucial component of every cell, both hair and nails are mainly derived from protein. When your body gets adequate protein, it helps to build strong and healthy muscles, bones, skin, cartilage and blood.
Anyone who exercises will appreciate the importance of protein in helping them achieve their body goals. Diets rich in protein foods can stave off hunger pangs, allowing you to maintain a healthy weight. Protein also builds muscle and aids recovery time after exercise.
Since protein is so important to the body, it’s crucial that we consume the right amount for our individual needs. Protein can’t be stored in the body, so you need to eat regular amounts of this nutrient, spread out across the day.
Experts reckon that the average adult should consume 0.8-1g of protein per 1kg of body weight. In other words, protein should make up around 10-35% of the daily calorie needs of an adult. This recommended daily allowance is double for children, who are still growing, and the elderly are also advised to increase their protein intake to reduce the effects of muscle loss from ageing.
Bodybuilders who burn extra calories from exercising also need to ensure they increase their protein intake, as this assists with muscle growth and repair. Weightlifters typically need around 1.4-2g of protein per kg of body weight per day, ensuring to include around 15-25g of protein within 30 minutes of exercising, when the muscles need it the most. As a general guideline, bodybuilders should look to include protein in 25-30% of their total daily calorie intake.
Studies have shown that consuming more than the recommended daily allowance of protein is acceptable in the short-term, especially if you’re a weightlifter. However, over the long-term, there are some health implications that you might need to consider. Eating excess protein may cause you to excrete calcium in your urine, which could lead to osteoporosis. It might also aggravate existing kidney problems, contribute to heart disease or cause constipation.
But, how much protein is too much? If more than 35% of your daily calories come from protein, you’re probably overdoing it. As a general guideline, the Department of Health recommends that you should avoid consuming more than twice the daily recommendation of protein.
Protein is abundant in both animal and plant sources, but not all protein is equal. Protein is made up of substances called amino acids, which your body needs for growth and repair. Animal sources of protein contain all of the nine essential amino acids, making them a complete protein. On the other hand, most plant sources are incomplete proteins, which means you often need to consume different plant sources to achieve the full amount of amino acids your body requires. For example, rice and beans combined make up a complete protein source.
Good sources of protein include eggs, fish, dairy products, meat, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses, quinoa and soya. It’s sensible to choose quality, unprocessed protein sources that are low in saturated fat, salt and sugar.
As well as natural sources of protein from plants and animals, you can buy whey protein, protein powders, shakes or bars, which can provide a useful protein hit for those who exercise.
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