Protein is without doubt the most important of the macronutrients. And you’re probably not getting enough for optimum muscle health and function.
According to Don Layman (Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and one of the world’s leading experts in protein metabolism), adults need to eat at least 1.6 g of protein per kg of body weight per day.
So, for a 75 kg person, that’s 120 g of protein per day. And it should be split over over 3 main meals, to achieve around 40 g of protein per meal. That’s quite a lot. And probably more than you are currently eating.
Here’s what a daily intake of 120 g (c. 40 g/meal) of protein looks like in animal-based meals and plant-based meals:
Animal-based meals (less than 1,000 Calories in total):
- 2 eggs + 3 rashers of bacon for breakfast
- 1 tin of tuna for lunch
- 200 g sirloin steak or chicken breast for dinner
Plant-based meals (nearly 4,000 Calories in total):
- 5 bowls of porridge for breakfast
- 3 pots of humous for lunch
- 7 portions of lentils for dinner
As you can see, it’s relatively easy to get sufficient protein from animal foods, but very difficult to get sufficient protein from (whole) plant-foods. If you want to get all your protein from plants, you should seriously consider having a (complete) plant-based protein shake with every meal.
But why do we need so much protein?
Because we need sufficient quantities of all the Indispensable Amino Acids (IAAs) – the building blocks of proteins – to signal, and provide the materials for, muscle protein synthesis (growing and maintaining skeletal muscle).
The UK Recommended Nutrient Intake (RNI) for protein (0.75g/kg/day) is woefully inadequate. It’s sufficient to avoid protein malnutrition and keep all of our critical organs and processes ticking over, but it’s not enough for optimal muscle protein synthesis.
Increasing muscle mass (and strength) in our early decades and maintaining it into our later decades is one of the key predictors of a longer and better life. The average adult loses 3-8% of muscle mass every decade after their 30th birthday, and this decline accelerates beyond age 60. Sarcopenia (muscle loss) is debilitating and deadly, and the only way to slow it down is to do plenty of resistance exercise AND eat enough protein.
If you want to optimise your protein intake, follow these steps:
- Start by calculating your minimum daily protein requirement in grams (1.6 x body weight), and your meal requirement (daily requirement / 3)
- Then, over a few typical days, calculate your protein intake per day and per meal, either old-school (using food labels) or new-school (using a fitness/nutrition app)
- Correct any shortfalls by adding protein rich foods (meat, fish, eggs, or dairy) or – if you’re on a plant-based diet – protein powders (use ‘complete’ plant protein blends with no nasty ingredients)