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RPN #12: Are You Getting Enough Protein?

This week I’m going to be talking all things protein.

By the end of this edition of the news letter I hope that you will have a better understanding of the role protein plays in your health, why it’s not just quantity, but quality matters, how much you should be consuming and what the best sources are.

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One of the first things I ask my clients to do when I start working with them is to start tracking what they’re eating.

This is step one, regardless of what their goal is.

Before making any change, it’s important to know where we’re starting from.

Quite a few people have a rough idea of how many calories they’re consuming, but almost no one has any idea what those calories are made up of.

The results are quite consistent.

Most people’s diet tend to be high carb, high fat, low protein.

Quite often protein intake is so low that it’s below the World Health Organisation minimum recommended daily intake of 0.8g of protein per kg of bodyweight. A number which some believe to have been underestimated by 30 to 50%!

I think is in part because most people don’t really understand the important role protein plays in how our bodies function, but also the vast majority of messaging is about calories, calories, calories.

Also, the misleading and confusing information surrounding meat and it’s links to diseases such as cancer has scared some people into reducing their intake, resulting in a potentially health-impacting low protein intake.

The Role of Protein in the Body

While calories ultimately determine whether you’ll gain or lose weight, what those calories are made of (macronutrients and micronutrients: protein, cabs, fats, vitamins and minerals) actually matters.

Human beings are built from these building blocks so the quantity and quality are pretty important if you want to be high-functioning, healthy human.

While fats and carbohydrates can be thought of as energy macronutrients, protein is more of a structural and functional macronutrient, forming bodily structures and involved in a number of necessary bodily functions.

Protein and amino acids are primarily used to create bodily tissues; to form enzymes and cellular transporters, as cell signals; to maintain fluid balance; to maintain pH balance, in the production of hormones and neurotransmitters; and in the immune system.

As you age, you’ll naturally lose muscle mass. I wrote in the Newsletter last week how muscle mass and strength have been closely linked to longevity, so it’s important that you pay close attention to how much protein you’re consuming if you want to maintain as much muscle mass as possible in your later years..

Whoa, that’s the dry sciencey bit done. But hopefully you get the message that protein is REALLY important.

Quality Matters

The second-most important factor in meeting your protein requirement is the type of protein that is eaten.

When it comes to protein, all sources are not created equally.

Protein is made up of amino acids and a protein source has a quality score that is based on the number of essential amino acids it contains, and its digestibility.

Protein quality also refers to the completeness of a protein. A complete protein is a food source that contains all of the essential amino acids in appropriate quantities. In general, animal proteins are complete proteins and plant proteins are incomplete proteins, with the exception of soy, which is also a complete protein.

Those who advocate a vegetarian or vegan diet will claim that you can get adequate amounts of protein from plant sources.

While on the face of it, the headline amount of protein contained in the combination of foods you consume each day may appear to meet your target number, it’s really not that simple for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, to get an adequate amount of these essential amino acids foods needs to be combined because some plants have more of certain amino acids and other plants have a different combination and consuming each source in isolation would result in an inadequate intake of some essential amino acids.

The second issue is that the amount of protein in plants is quite small and is often less digestibly that protein from animal sources which can mean someone following a vegetarian or vegan diet has to consume a lot of food in order to get enough protein. This can be very difficult if they are also trying to restrict calories to lose weight.

One of the most important of the essential amino acids is leucine, which plays a primary role in signalling the body to begin the process of muscle recovery and growth.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

How much protein you need really comes down to your current body weight, your activity level or sport, and body composition goals (want to lose weight or build muscle etc).

The range for most people is between 1.2 grams to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day.

Because protein plays such an essential role in recovery from exercise by repairing a building new muscle as well as helping to maintain existing muscle mass while restricting calories to lose weight, it is generally better to aim towards the higher end of the scale.

I advise the vast majority of my clients to aim for 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day.

What Are the Best Sources of Protein?

As I’ve written above, animal sources are by far the best in terms of having a complete amino acid profile and digestibility. While it is technically possible get enough protein from plants, the quantity of food you’d need to eat makes it very sub-optimal. Plants are a great source of vitamins and minerals, but animal sources are the hands-down winner when it comes to protein.

Some great sources include:

  • All meats (lower fat cuts if you want to keep calories down)
  • All fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Soy beans
  • Beans
  • Nuts

As I have said many times, steer away from highly process junk food and milk substitutes. It doesn’t matter whether it’s animal or plant based, junk food is junk food. Stick to whole, unprocessed and organic where possible.


Protein is an essential nutrient in human nutrition with a wide range of roles throughout the body.

Proteins are made up of amino acids. Some amino acids are essential and must be obtained in the diet.

One of the most important amino acids is leucine which signals for muscle recovery and growth.

Greater protein intake seems to be better for health, body composition, and athletic goals.

Aim to consume between 1.2 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (from complete protein sources) per day.

Spreading out protein intake throughout the day has been shown to be a better approach than eating a large amount over 1 to 2 meals.

If you have any questions about how to get more protein or anything else fitness or nutrition related, just hit reply to this email with your question and I’ll happily help you out.

Quote of the Week

“You are what you eat, so don’t be fast, cheap, easy, or fake.” – Unknown

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