‘How much protein do I need?’ is a common dietary question, whether you’re looking to lose weight, bulk up, or simply eat a balanced diet.
Nowadays you can get just about any foodstuff packed with added protein, even bread, cereal, pasta, flapjacks and ice cream. The P-word stamped on packaging is a sure-fire way to make a sale, it seems, as the nutrient has been marketed as the answer to getting a strong, lean physique. And protein shakes are considered the ultimate post-workout accessory.
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But is it all hype? And how much protein should we really be eating? We explain all...
How much protein do I need per day?
Protein provides the building blocks for everything from muscles to skin and hair, so there’s no doubt it’s vital. ‘The average person needs about 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight a day,’ explains dietician and sports nutritionist Chris Cashin, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.
‘Most people achieve this easily. Often people forget things like bread and pasta contain protein.’ There’s nearly 6g in 100g of wholewheat pasta, for example.
However, if you’re hitting the gym regularly, your protein needs increase. ‘When you exercise, you break down muscle and need protein to rebuild it, especially if you’re doing resistance training,’ notes Chris.
How much you need depends on how often and hard you work out, the type of exercise you do and your size - it’s far from an exact science. ‘If you take the average woman who goes to the gym, whether she’s doing cardio or weights, I’d suggest 1-1.2g per kilogram of body weight would be enough,’ advises Chris.
How much protein should I eat for weight loss?
Various sources would seem to suggest that protein is nature’s own slimming pill. And it’s true it may help with managing weight. ‘Protein is very satisfying, so it can help to make you feel full,’ says Chris. She suggests those on a mission to lose weight might consider upping their intake too.
But, she stresses, it’s still vital to keep a check on your total calorie intake. Protein provides 4kcal per gram, so it’s not a case of the more you eat, the slimmer you’ll get.
How much protein should come from food?
‘Ideally, aim to consume a sufficient amount of protein from food, as whole foods contain a variety of other nutrients,’ says specialist registered dietician Nichola Whitehead. ‘But if your food intake doesn’t meet your protein needs, a powder or a ready-made shake may be useful as a top-up.’
‘Some powders are more or less pure protein, while other powders and shakes contain carbs or other nutrients and may be more of a meal replacement, so look at how the whole package fits with your calorie intake.’
Chris also recommends we get protein from a variety of sources – red meat, poultry, fish, cheese, eggs and vegetarian sources. “This provides a range of nutrients,’ he says. ‘Often people try to eat more protein by having chicken, chicken and more chicken.’
Need to increase your intake? Three easy ways with protein powder
1. Protein balls
Raw protein balls are easy to make and delicious. ‘Make sure you add enough ‘wet’ ingredients (eg, honey or nut butter), or the end result will be powdery,’ says Nichola. Try mixing 30g protein powder with 30g ground nuts and 140g peanut butter, then add 1tbsp honey to make 14 balls. Chill for 30 mins before serving.
2. Protein pancakes
Add protein to your pancake or muffin mix by swapping a quarter to a third of the flour for whey protein powder. Don’t add more than this otherwise the finished product will be dry and rubbery,’ advises Nichola.
3. Protein porridge
‘Stir 1⁄2–1 scoop whey protein into your porridge once it’s cooked to boost your morning protein intake. I personally like vanilla or chocolate flavour,’ says Nichola.