By: Kelly Atyeo, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec.
When you eat protein, your body breaks it down to amino acids that are then used to make protein in the body.
Protein helps build and repair the cells in your body.1 It is also used to make hormones and enzymes that help regulate important functions like growth, development and metabolism.1,2
Without consuming the necessary amino acids through dietary protein, your body simply could not function. This makes getting the right amount of protein in your day essential.
Know the Recommendations
One of the key things to make note of is your recommended daily intake, which is calculated using the following formula:
Weight (kg) x 0.8 g/kg/day = Average Daily Protein Need3
Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding require more protein to support the growth and development of their child and maintain their own health. The following is a formula for calculating the protein needs of pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding:
Pregnant women need: 1.1 g/kg/day2
Women who are breastfeeding need: 1.3 g/kg/day2
There is a misconception that people who weight train need to eat a high protein diet to increase muscle mass.4,5 This is not true. Muscles grow and strengthen through exercise and your body uses dietary protein to support the growth of muscles. However, simply eating more protein will not increase your muscle mass.4,5
Choose types of Protein wisely
There are 2 types of dietary protein: complete protein and incomplete protein.2,6
This is the type of dietary protein that contains all of the essential amino acids we need to build protein in the body. Complete protein is found in all animal sources of protein, like chicken!2,7 Also, soy is a plant food that contains a complete source of protein.2, 6
Chicken is a great option because it is an excellent source of protein and has less saturated and trans fats than many other animal sources of protein.
This type of dietary protein does not contain all of the essential amino acids that the body needs. If you only ate incomplete protein, the functions in the body that protein supports would be compromised. The majority of plant foods (beans, nuts, grains) are considered incomplete proteins.2, 6
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat plant-based sources of protein. You just have to find “complementary proteins” to eat together.6 For example, some grain products contain amino acids that legumes and beans don’t contain. When eaten together, there’s enough of that specific amino acid present to consider the entire package a complete source of protein.6
Protein in Your Meals
Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide suggests that you enjoy servings of food that contain protein at each meal (i.e. lean meats, low-fat milk products etc.).7 Recent research suggests that as you age, including about 25-30 g of protein at every meal is important.8 These researchers also found that the body has a limit to the amount of protein it can break down at one time.8 This makes eating smaller portions of protein-rich foods throughout the day possibly more beneficial than getting all your protein in one sitting.
Get Creative with Cooking!
Adding protein in your diet doesn’t need to be boring if you get creative with your cooking! Below are some fun recipes from Chicken Farmers of Canada to help you get protein at each meal.
EatRightOntario. (2013). Introduction to Protein. Retrieved October 2, 2013, from http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Protein/Introduction-to-protein.aspx#.UlG0PihSba4
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. (2011). Protein For Active Canadians. Retrieved October 2, 2013, from http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/publications/dfc/Protein_booklet_e.pdf
HealthLinkBC. (2011). Quick Nutrition Check for Protein. Retrieved October 6, 2013, from http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthyeating/protein.html
Better Health Channel. (2013). Protein. Retrieved December 24, 2013, from http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Protein
Medline Plus. (2013). Nutrition & Athletic Performance. Retrieved December 24, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002458.htm
CDC. (2013). Nutrition For Everyone: Protein. Retrieved October 2, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html
Health Canada. (2011). Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide. Retrieved October 6, 2013, from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php
Paddon-Jones, D & Rasmussen, B. (2009). Dietary protein recommendations and the prevention of sarcopenia: Protein, amino acid metabolism and therapy. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 12(1): 86–90. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2760315/pdf/nihms111079.pdf