Proteins provide the building blocks we need to grow and repair, in the form of amino acids. Amino acids can be made by the body or obtained from the foods that we eat. There are 20 different amino acids available in foods, but only 11 of these can be made by our body. The remaining 9 are termed “essential” amino acids because we have to get them from our diet.
Amino acids provide fundamental structural and functional elements within our cells and are involved in a wide range of metabolic interactions in our body. They can be found in a range of animal or plant-based foods. Examples of foods which are high in protein include beans and pulses, nuts, grains, fish, seafood, meat, dairy & eggs. These foods also provide a range of vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc and B vitamins important for a healthy diet.
How much protein we need each day, depends on our age, weight and life stage and therefore can change throughout our lifetime. However typically we need around 45-56g of protein a day for a typical adult. Most people meet this recommended intake quite easily.
Protein is important in sports performance, for boosting storage of glycogen, reducing muscle soreness and promoting muscle repair.
Whilst there are benefits to increasing protein intake for athletes, or those performing at a high level, the importance of high protein diets is often overstated for the general population. It is a common misconception that consuming a high protein diet alone will increase muscle mass, this can often mean missing out on getting enough carbohydrate which is a more efficient source of energy for exercise.
The short answer is simple, no! A well-balanced diet is usually adequate in providing the recommended intake of protein. Protein supplements can be useful for people who have certain dietary restrictions or those who have increased requirements (e.g. professional athletes), however, for the general population, a high-quality source of protein in your post workout meal is sufficient.
Unlike those that are animal based, most plant-based proteins do not provide all the amino acids our bodies need in one single source. By combining plant-based sources together, a complete balance can easily be obtained. However, animal sources of protein can have bigger impacts on the environment by on average having a bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions, water use and land use compared to plant-based proteins. But this doesn’t necessarily mean we must all stop eating meat and start living off plants. Animal based proteins are rich sources of other important nutrients, such as zinc, iron, calcium and omega 3, and animal-based agriculture is an important part of land use, biodiversity and the health of our soil.
Instead, shifting our diets to become mostly plant-based with small amounts of meat, fish, eggs and diary is the best way to achieve a healthy, sustainable balance. There are now lots of meat alternatives available such as beetroot burgers and soya sausages which make including more plants even easier.
Remember to look out for the Eat Well Live Well logo for healthy, more sustainable choices, and don’t forget to check out our recipes hub for some inspiration when cooking from home.