Proteins – What are they and How much do I need?
Proteins consist of amino acids and are considered to be the ‘building blocks’ for the important cellular functions of your body. There are 22 amino acids necessary for by your body to retain good health; 60% of these are made by your body (these are classified as non-essential). The other 40% are required to be eaten through the foods you eat (these are classified as essential).
All protein sources orginated from animal sources (e.g. meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy) are important protein sources because they hold all the essential amino acids required by the body. While some plant-based foods also have protein (e.g. soy products, nuts, seeds, grains, lentils, legumes), they are normally lower in their protein content and are missing at least one of the essential amino acids. If you are a vegetarian, you need to ensure that you eat a high quality range of plant-based foods to make sure you are getting all of your essential amino acids.
It is critical to eat ample protein as it is used by the body for:
- growth and is especially important for children, teens and pregnant women
- building and repairing tissue, including lean muscle tissue
- immune function
- making essential hormones and enzymes
- energy – if there are insufficient carbohydrates available in the body, it will use proteins
- preserving lean muscle mass.
How much protein do you need?
Your protein requirements, as well as your overall calories, are dependent on a number of factors including:
- how active you are
- your stress levels
- your general physical condition – including if you are pregnant or recovering from an illness.
Your everyday requirements can be calculated in the following ways:
Method 1 – calculate your daily calorie requirement and then simply consume 30-40% of this from protein sources.
Method 2 – use the palm of hand as your measurement guide. For each of your six meals through the day, you should eat one serving of protein which is equal to the size and thickness of the palm of your hand (not including your fingers). Using this method is a simple and easy way of measuring and will still provide you with between 30-40% of your daily calories in protein.