FOOD

This Is Exactly How Much Protein You Should Eat At Every Meal

It's easier than you think.

30/01/2017 10:40 AM AEDT | Updated 30/01/2017 7:06 PM AEDT

In a protein obsessed world, it's tricky to know how much of this macronutrient you need -- and not what that inspiring fit athlete or supermodel consume.

Protein is an important part of any diet and while it's not hard to eat the required amount, knowing your ideal protein intake is a great way to keep your energy levels steady and to support your training goals.

"Protein is one of the most important molecules which is found in our body. This is because it's involved with nearly every different cellular function that we have," accredited practising dietitian and sports dietitian Chloe McLeod told The Huffington Post Australia.

The most notable role protein plays is in the maintenance and repair of muscles, but there's actually much more to this nutrient.

"It's really the building block of our muscles," McLeod said. "Also, protein makes up things like hormones and enzymes and allows them to work effectively. Protein is also used to help transport different molecules, and plays a really important role in immune function."

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More active people have a higher protein requirement.

While protein deficiency is extremely rare in Australia, when our meals don't contain enough protein, it begins to affect our energy levels and satiety.

"What you will notice first is you'll get really hungry -- protein is very satisfying so if we've had enough, we usually feel full and don't look for more food," McLeod said. "We not only feel hungry, but we can feel quite tired and low in energy.

"Also, not having enough protein also increases the risk of getting sick, and that comes down to the impact it has on the immune system."

How much protein you need per day depends on your age, activity level, sex and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

"The recommendation for everyday people who are sitting at their desk jobs and exercising a few times a week is around one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day -- that's for both men and women," McLeod told HuffPost Australia. "Say you're 60 kilos, then you would only need 60 grams per day."

Tom Merton
If you're like most Australians who sit at their desk all day, your protein requirements are easy to achieve.

If you're a male who regularly performs endurance-type exercises, you will be needing somewhere between 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilo of body weight each day.

"If we look at people who are doing more muscle mass building through resistance and strength training exercises, in early training the protein requirements are only 1.5-1.7 grams of protein per kilo per day."

With female athletes, the daily protein intake figure is around 15 percent lower than what males require, per above.

"Say it's one gram per kilo per day, for women it would be 0.85 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day," McLeod said.

If you're reading this and thinking "there's no way I eat 60 grams of protein per day", chances are you do without even trying.

"In countries like Australia, we've got lots of different, wonderful foods around us, and it's actually incredibly easy to eat enough protein each day -- even if you're a vegetarian or vegan. It's just about choosing the right foods," McLeod explained.

Sources of meat and plant-based protein

  • Lean meats -- Beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo, lean (lower salt) sausages
  • Poultry -- Chicken, turkey, duck, emu, goose, bush birds
  • Fish and seafood -- Fish, prawns, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops, clams
  • Eggs -- Chicken eggs, duck eggs
  • Nuts and seeds -- Almonds, pine nuts, walnut, macadamia, hazelnut, cashew, peanut, nut spreads, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts
  • Legumes/beans -- All beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, tofu.

Source: EatForHealth

YelenaYemchuk
Protein comes in all shapes and sizes. One cup of green peas contain eight grams of protein.

"For the average person who is sitting at their desk for most of the day, most people are eating about 2-2.5 grams (or even more) of protein per kilogram per day. That comes down to the fact that it's so easy to get enough protein in," McLeod said.

"There's no harm in eating protein in this quantity because it helps you to feel more satisfied (meaning you're less likely to snack on other things), but if it's going up to 5-6 grams of protein per kilo, then we would probably start to be a bit concerned about how that can affect kidney function."

Considering how easily people reach their total daily protein requirements, supplementing with protein powders is not usually necessary for the average person.

"Most people don't need to supplement with protein. However, they can be convenient," McLeod said.

"With a lot of the athletes I work with, because they have got such high energy requirements in general, a supplement in the form of a powder (and afterwards, a liquid) is not quite as filling, so it makes it easier to consume enough protein."

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Opt for a protein-packed post-workout meal instead.

If you're not an athlete but still exercise regularly, it's best to go for whole food protein sources as much as possible.

"For your average Joe, protein supplements can be useful, but I would be using them quite strategically rather than just a post-workout shake," McLeod said.

"For most people, we're consuming appropriate amounts of protein a day. If you're going home from the gym and having breakfast straight away, such as protein-rich yoghurt with muesli or eggs on toast, then you don't actually need the protein shake as well."

Although we typically eat most of our protein at lunch and dinner, for optimal energy, muscle gain and satiety, McLeod recommends spreading out your protein over the course of the day.

"I would usually be recommending between 10 and 25 grams of protein for each main meal, particularly if it's after physical activity. Having the protein intake spread out over the course of the day helps satiety and also helps to improve muscle mass," McLeod said.

"If you look at the typical Australian diet, a lot of people have only a very small amount of protein at breakfast, and that builds up to quite a lot by the end of the day."

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Here's what 25 grams of protein looks like at each meal throughout the day.

Breakfast

"An example of 25 grams for breakfast could be two eggs, toast and a milky coffee," McLeod said.

"If you're having muesli and yoghurt for breakfast, 200 grams of yoghurt will give you 10 grams of protein. A Greek-style yoghurt is richer in protein so you would need a bit less.

"On top of the yoghurt, one cup of whole grain flake-type cereal will give you more protein, so that's around 30 grams' worth in total. Muesli will have around five grams of protein."

If you can't tolerate dairy or are vegan, soy milk is a high protein alternative.

"Having 300ml of protein-rich soy milk will give you around 10 grams of protein as well, so that can be a good way to top things up."

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Add nuts and seeds to your brekkie bowl for extra protein.

Lunch

"For lunch you could have 70 grams of cooked meat and half a cup of lentils along with some salad or vegetables. That's around 25 grams of protein," McLeod said.

Try making a Buddha Bowl with lots of salad, roast veggies, chicken or fish, lentils or chickpeas, and a tahini dressing.

Dinner

"If you're wanting a bigger portion of meat, you could have 120 grams of chicken, which will give you 30 grams of protein from the meat alone, plus veggies and brown rice," McLeod said.

"From a vegan or vegetarian perspective, instead of the chicken you might have 120 grams of tofu, which has around 10 grams of protein depending on the type of tofu (standard tofu has more protein than a soft or silken tofu)."

To get enough protein, pair the tofu with a cup of cooked rice, lentils and veggies.

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"People often think protein equals meat, and part of that is because you get a lot of bang for your buck. Whereas to get the same amount of protein in meat from plant-based sources is harder," McLeod said.

"However, it doesn't mean that you need meat. There's so many other ways to get protein. Even pasta and rice contain protein."

Snacks

To get the most out of your day (and your workout), make sure your snacks also contain some protein.

"For your snacks, aim for about 10-15 grams of protein. An example of that would be around 200 grams of yoghurt, a milky coffee and a few handfuls of nuts and seeds. It is relatively easy to get it in," McLeod said.

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