Protein: are you getting enough?

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Protein intake has become a nutrition topic of major interest – especially in the fitness industry where it often seems to be the case that too much is never enough.

So, how much protein do we all actually need?

In Australia, the recommended daily intake (RDI) for men aged 19-70 years is 0.84 grams per kilo of body weight (ie, around 67 g/day for an 80 kg man). While for women, it’s 0.75 grams (ie 45 g/day for a 60 kg woman). Pregnant women need a bit extra – their RDI is 60 grams per kilo of body weight.

It doesn’t sound like much but people tend to get confused about how much protein is actually in food. So if you have a 100g grilled fillet steak you probably think you’re getting around 100g protein right? Wrong!

In actual fact, 100g beef fillet gives you about 30g, so you’ve still got a fair bit to go. Eating one poached egg only gives you about another 5g of protein. Legumes, nuts, dairy, chicken – they’re all good sources. But if you exercise quite a bit and you often feel hungry, adding a bit of extra protein to your day, preferably from natural food sources, will help you feel full and also maintain your muscle mass.

What about using protein powder to hit those figures? Well, for some people it might be absolutely unnecessary and you might be able to get there using quality ingredients alone. For me, this is always the better choice than going for something processed. But, if you exercise intensively, adding a bit of extra protein to your day via a high-quality protein supplement can help you reach those protein goals.

If you decide to use a protein powder, remember this: although it’s hard to eat too much protein when you’re having a normal balanced diet, it’s possible to do it once you start having protein supplements. It’s no good for your kidneys when you eat too much (think kidney stones), so make sure you stay within the serving sizes on the pack.

Also, don’t forget that just like carbs and fat, protein also contains calories – 4 calories (17kj) per gram – which is exactly the same as carbs (and fat is 9 cals (37 kj) per gram). So, remember that protein can contribute to weight gain, just like anything else.

Protein timing

If you train regularly, you’ve been told that you need to get some protein into your body pretty soon after you finish your session to get the muscle building benefits – certainly within the hour.

But actually the science around that advice is pretty shady, and one huge meta-analysis done a few years ago suggests so long as you get enough protein in the day it’s not crucial if it happens directly before or after training. The moral of the story is, if you left your protein ball at home, don’t stress – it’s still worth having it whenever you get the chance.

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'What guides me is home cooking, listening to my appetite, using whole food ingredients, prioritising plant foods and keeping highly processed foods out of my kitchen.'