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What is protein & are you getting enough?




Protein provides the foundation for all structures in our body. It can be found in our skin, hair, muscle, nails... virtually all the tissues in our body. Enzymes and haemoglobin are also constructed using proteins, both of which play essential functions for us to simply live.


Proteins are long chains of amino-acids. Of these 20+ amino acids, nine are 'essential' and must come from our diet. The consumption of all nine essential AAs are necessary to ensure our body can create the proteins necessary to create and repair tissue (1). Animal-based protein sources (e.g. meat, poultry, eggs, dairy) contain all nine essential amino acids, whilst most plant-based proteins (e.g. beans, legumes, quinoa, soy) do not. Hence vegetarians/vegans - or just individuals trying to reduce their intake of animal produce - need to ensure they're consuming a variety of plant proteins to ensure they are consuming all 9 essential amino acids throughout the day.


How much protein should we be aiming for?


Although Recommended Dietary Allowance is 0.8g/kg of bodyweight, research shows that 1g-1.5g/kg of bodyweight is more beneficial for the average individual (2). When we consider goals like building muscle or sustaining muscle when trying to lose weight, 1.8g-2.2g/kg of bodyweight is a more beneficial target. Hence, protein intake varies for each person, we aren't built the same and don't have the same goals and so will require different levels of protein in our diet. Nevertheless, as we age, the importance of protein in our diet increases. Muscle mass declines as we get older and the risk of osteoporosis increases (particularly for post-menopausal women), hence ensuring that we give our muscles the best chances to stay strong is important. As a result, studies have shown that increased protein consumption increases strength in older people (3). It's important, therefore, that we don't just consider protein to be something that's important for 20-somethings working out in the gym!


What are the other benefits of increasing our protein intake?


Satiety

Protein plays a role in satiety and hence makes us feel fuller for longer (1, 4). Insufficient protein intake increases our appetite and so, if this is not fulfilled with a protein-rich meal, excess energy consumption is likely to occur and can contribute to excess weight gain (2). As a result, a higher protein diet is correlated with weight loss.


Bone Health

Protein contributes to bone structure and hence functions to protect against osteoporosis in later life (5, 6).


Increase muscle mass & strength

Building stronger muscles not just for aesthetics but for use in everyday life is not possible without the consumption of high-quality protein (3, 7). Essential amino acids are the building blocks for all tissues in our body, including muscle.


Where do I get protein from?


Some great sources include:

- Poultry

- Eggs

- Dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt...)

- Beans & legumes

- Wholegrains

- Quorn and other veggie proteins

- Soy (tofu, tempura...)

- Nuts & seeds

- Upbeat Drinks (https://upbeatdrinks.com/)


References


(1) Lonnie, M., Hooker, E., Brunstrom, J.M., Corfe, B.M., Green, M.A., Watson, A.W., Williams, E.A., Stevenson, E.J., Penson, S. and Johnstone, A.M., 2018. Protein for life: Review of optimal protein intake, sustainable dietary sources and the effect on appetite in ageing adults. Nutrients, 10(3), p.360.


(2) Carbone, J.W. and Pasiakos, S.M., 2019. Dietary protein and muscle mass: translating science to application and health benefit. Nutrients, 11(5), p.1136.


(3) Bauer, J.M. and Diekmann, R., 2015. Protein supplementation with aging. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 18(1), pp.24-31.


(4) Cuenca-Sánchez, M., Navas-Carrillo, D. and Orenes-Piñero, E., 2015. Controversies surrounding high-protein diet intake: satiating effect and kidney and bone health. Advances in nutrition, 6(3), pp.260-266.


(5) Bonjour, J.P., 2005. Dietary protein: an essential nutrient for bone health. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 24(sup6), pp.526S-536S.


(6) Kerstetter, J.E., Kenny, A.M. and Insogna, K.L., 2011. Dietary protein and skeletal health: a review of recent human research. Current opinion in lipidology, 22(1), p.16.


(7) Pasiakos, S.M., McLellan, T.M. and Lieberman, H.R., 2015. The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review. Sports Medicine, 45(1), pp.111-131.


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