Protein is one of the three macronutrients that your body needs to function properly and so you need to meet your daily protein requirement. It means protein in much larger doses than other nutrients (micronutrients). Protein is made up of compounds called amino acids and is used to create, repair old ones and maintain your cells, tissue, skin, hair and of course, muscle.
There are 20 types of amino acids, split into three categories. The main two are essential and non-essential amino acids. 11 are non-essential ones, which are made by the body. The remaining 9 are essential are need to be acquired through your diet. There are also conditionally essential amino acids that occur during specific circumstances, such as if your body is fighting off an illness and disease and cannot create an essential amino acid as it should.
Why protein is important
Protein is something that you need to consume daily, especially if you want to build muscle. When you exercise, your muscles tear. Protein assists in repairing the muscle tissue and with the right stimuli (resistance training), it’ll repair to become bigger and stronger.
Recommendations for daily protein intake
An individual’s recommended daily protein intake will vary. There are many considerations to take into account such as your sex, height, age, lean body mass and activity levels. However, despite contrary belief, consuming more protein than your body needs will not speed up the muscle-building process.
As illustrated in this study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, there is no significant impact between those who eat the recommended levels of protein compared to those who eat greater than the recommendations.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 advises that 10-35 percent of your total daily calories should be from protein. As one gram of protein is four calories, this means that for the average person on a 2,000 caloric intake, 200-700 calories should protein.
Those who should adjust their protein intake based on lifestyle include athletes and/or those who train frequently/high volume as well as older adults.
For a more specific number, to begin with, you can visit the DRI Calculator and input your details. They ask for your sex, height, weight, activity levels and age. It also takes into account pregnancy and lactation.
There are many food and drinks that you can consume to reach your daily protein target. Even for those with dietary requirements, there are several food sources that you can choose from.
Turkey, chicken, tuna and salmon have some of the highest levels of protein from animals. There is also great results from eating lean white fish such as cod.
If you’re a vegetarian who eliminates animal sources but eats dairy and egg, then take advantage of the egg benefits. 100g of boiled egg gives you 13 grams of protein with minimal carbs and fat (which comes mostly from the yolk). Yoghurt, particularly the Greek kind, is also great.
Don’t eat any meat, eggs or dairy products? You still have an array of options to choose from including lentils, legumes, beans and tofu. There is also vegan protein powder available, from pea or soy.
How to reach your daily potein intake
You can significantly increase your protein intake by making simple changes to your daily diet. Even just adding a couple of ingredients to meals you already have or making some food swaps can make a difference. Here are some ideas on how to do so:
- Prioritize your protein. Ensure that every meal has one big protein source.
- Add quinoa, beans or lentils to your salad.
- Mix in protein powder where you can. Add it to your smoothies, yogurt and even your pancakes. Use protein powder mixed with milk with your cereal. You can even get flavorless protein powder so you won’t be able to taste it.
- Swap your yogurt for Greek yogurt (which is higher in protein).
- Snack on cottage cheese
Your daily protein intake will change
As you grow older and your body composition, lifestyle and training change, then you may need to adjust your intake. This will also be the case if you’re cutting or bulking. While it can be confusing to know where to start, use the calculator as a guide to give you a starting number and go from there. If you find that your training Is going well but you’re not building muscle, then it may be a sign that you need to increase your protein levels.