Protein is essential in day to day life if you want to be your healthy best. It is that simple. We’ve all heard about it, we see it the word plastered on every new snack at the checkout in the supermarket. Nearly every so-called influencer on Instagram has a new brand to promote each week.

What is actually important when it comes to protein though?

Are these bars just for bodybuilders and competitors?

Does this macronutrient have a place in the diets of recreational exercisers?

Read on to find out!


What does protein actually do?


Protein is an essential macronutrient that contains 4kcal per gram. Proteins are made up of 20 chemical building blocks or amino acids. 11 of these amino acids are synthesised in the body (non-essential amino acids). The remaining 9 are required to be obtained from our diet (essential amino acids).

These amino acids are then combined in different ways to form an array of different proteins which have various functions in the body.

Not only do they make up every cell and tissue in the body, they are also the foundation blocks for:

  • Internal organs
  • Bones
  • Tendons
  • Skin
  • Hair
  • Nails.

Protein is also required for the growth and formation of new metabolic pathways and, in certain circumstances, can be used for energy (during high intensity endurance or low carb diets).

Additionally, protein makes the majority of the bodies enzymes as well as hormones like insulin and estrogen, neurotransmitters and antibodies. Protein also has a role in maintaining optimal fluid balance in tissues, transporting nutrients in and out of cells, transporting oxygen AND regulating blood clotting.

So yeah, I guess you could say it is quite essential to human life, and is not limited to just ‘looking ripped’.



Is there an optimal protein source?


How useful a protein source is can be dictated by its content of amino acids, and how well they are digested in the intestines. This is often referred to as ‘protein quality’ and replaces the outdated ‘complete’ and ‘incomplete’ protein idea. These were used to describe animal and plant proteins respectfully.

The reason for this was the belief that plant proteins contain all amino acids and animal proteins do not. However this is not the case and all 20 amino acids are found in both varieties. Interestingly though, not each plant source has each amino acid in amounts required by the body.

Animal sources such as meat and dairy products provide the 9 essential amino acids in ratios that are closely matched to the requirements of the body, making them considered to be of high quality.

In contrast, only a number of plant proteins fit this criteria, namely:

  • Soya products
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Amaranth
  • Chia and hemp seeds.

Foods such as beans, lentils, peas, nuts and grains contain all 20 amino acids, however some in limited amounts, meaning consuming more than one plant food within 24 hours will make up for the lost aminos and give the body the required amino acids.

Eating beans, rice and nuts for example will give you all 9 amino acids required by the body. The amount of protein absorbed from the large intestine is used to dictate the protein quality of various foods, and in general animal proteins have scores of 100+ (such as milk and eggs), while animal proteins tend to be below 75.



What does this information about essential protein mean for me?


We’ve been over the fact that protein is essential and is the building block of muscle in the body. It is also the most satiating macronutrient. This means that prioritising protein is an excellent tool for fat loss. Not only will eating a good source of protein throughout each meal make you feel fuller, with a resistance training programme in place, it will also promote muscle building.

Having more muscle in the body will increase your metabolism, meaning you will burn more calories at rest. So why not help your fat loss journey and add a high-quality protein source to each meal?

This could be as simple as:

  • Adding some Greek yoghurt and chia seeds to your morning oats
  • Bulking up your lunch with cottage cheese and chicken slices
  • Having prawn, chicken or mince stir-fry for dinner.


Snacks? How about:

  • An easy to transport yo-pro squeezy yoghurt which has 15g!
  • Rice-cakes and peanut butter
  • Trail mix
  • Hummus or edame beans can also make for a hearty source on the move.
  • Find a whey protein you like too and add it throughout your day, either as a snack or to oats/yoghurt.


The most important thing to contribute to sufficient meal building is to make sure each meal contains 20-40g of protein over 3-4 meals throughout the day. Protein cannot be stored in the body, and any excess will be excreted which is why even amounts at each meal is important, and there is no need to overdo it. 1.6-2kg/g of body weight should help to determine the amount required depending on your goals.

Ideally, we don’t want to leave a large gap between sufficient protein intake throughout the day, as your body is constantly in positive and negative protein balance. When your body is in negative protein balance, muscle is being broken down. To sufficiently maintain and build muscle, the body requires to have a constant supply of amino acids, which can be obtained through the diet at even stages throughout the day.

After exercise, we are in a negative protein balance, which is why ideally 0.4g/kg of high quality, easily digested protein post exercise (eggs, milk, whey, or soy) are required. Eating food that contain protein post exercise not only promotes muscle protein synthesis, but it also prevents muscle protein breakdown from outweighing muscle protein synthesis from a workout = more bang for your buck from your training!



In summary


You need protein, it is essential. There is no doubt about that. The body simply would not function without it!

It is the building block to the majority of the body’s components. It is extremely useful as a fat loss tool being the most satiating and promoting muscle building and repair post weight training.

Does that mean we should rush to the store and grab every protein bar we see and that’ll do?

Absolutely not, cause not only would that burn an unnecessary hole in your pocket, but they are often high in fat and contain extra calories and preservatives that will do more harm than good.

Instead, my advice is to base your main 3 meals around a good source of protein; about the palm of your hand which should be 20-30g. This could be meat or dairy sources, soy, tofu or tempeh. Add in whole food snacks also that will also provide you with added vitamins and minerals.

If you don’t eat meat, it is important to remember to have sources that will complement each other throughout the day, ensuring you are obtaining the amounts of amino acids required to build the various protein options. You will start to feel better, look better, and have healthy hair and nails, who doesn’t want all that!?



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Since COVID-19 entered our lives, we have aimed to deliver some great weekly information as to how you can remain healthy, productive and in good spirits. This blog post is the latest addition to a growing library of information. Click to read more on our dedicated COVID support blogs.


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