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Protein has a huge role to play in the body. From our skin, hair, nails, nerves, bones and, of course, muscles, protein is everywhere! It even has a role to play in our blood; for example, haemoglobin is a protein that transports oxygen around the body. Our immune systems and hormones are made up of protein, and even the way we burn energy requires enzymes, which are all proteins.

Are we getting enough?

Everyone’s protein needs are different, but the daily recommended intake for adults is roughly 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, a 60kg adult female would need roughly 60g of protein per day. To simplify it even further, roughly 15 to 25% of our total energy (calorie) intake per day is from protein sources. However, most people get more than their daily recommended allowance from food. Recent health surveys show that Aussies are consuming about double the recommended dose of protein per day, so reaching your daily targets isn’t as hard – or expensive – as you may think.

Who needs supplements?

Most experts agree that dietary protein is best consumed in foods instead of supplements, but there are some exceptions: athletes who find it difficult to hit their daily protein targets, body builders who are starting an intense training program or trying to gain weight, or those recovering from an injury or surgery. Protein supplements can also benefit individuals who may otherwise miss out on ample dietary protein, such as the ill, the elderly, pregnant women and some vegans or vegetarians, in which case a shake can be useful.

What about weight loss?

A modest increase in dietary protein can assist with weight loss. Replacing meals pre- or post-workout with a protein shake may help reduce your overall energy (calorie) intake, which can help you drop kilos. However, if you rely too heavily on protein shakes to replace regular meals, you may miss out on the nutritional benefits of whole foods.

 Common ingredients

 Protein best for

Whey is one of the two proteins found in milk. It’s the highest-quality form of protein as it contains all the essential amino acids, particularly branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) like leucine, which plays a critical role in “switching on” muscle protein synthesis.

Fast absorption post-workout.

Like whey, casein is another protein found in milk, although it’s much slower to digest, which may cause bloating and inflammation when used in large enough dosages.

Slow release,
particularly if you’re doing cardio.

Soy protein is a plant-based option that’s fast-acting and makes a great alternative for vegans and vegetarians or those who are lactose intolerant. But while soy isn’t a complete protein, it still has a good amino acid profile.

Vegans and those who are
lactose intolerant.

Pea protein, which comes from the yellow split pea, is a complete protein, which means it contains all nine of the essential amino acids, including BCAAs.

 Sensitive stomachs.

Hemp is another plant-based protein that’s high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and fibre. It’s not considered a complete protein because it has very low levels of lysine and leucine.

Plenty of nutrients.

 

More isn’t necessarily better

The question of “protein overdose” partially depends on how much extra protein is being consumed. You can happily have up to 2-3g of protein per kilo of body weight and still be within the safe levels. So for the 60kg adult female, that would be roughly 120-180g of protein per day. Daily intakes above this range can cause intestinal upset. There’s also evidence that higher protein levels can hurt the kidneys and bones, particularly if someone has an underlying kidney issue.

Bottom line

Eating a nutritious, balanced diet shouldn’t be overlooked. Balancing your protein intake (such as nuts, dairy, lean meats, tofu, legumes, wholegrains) with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit will most likely provide your body with all the building blocks it needs so you can perform at your peak.

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