You are not alone if you think you need to have a cupboard full of protein supplements to get enough protein to achieve results, what you may not realise this is, in most cases, incorrect. Protein is in the group of macronutrients or a major nutrient your body needs to build and repair all the cells in your body, so how much do you actually need in a day?
Most people need 70-120% of their body weight in protein in grams to meet their daily needs, so if you are a woman who weighs 60kg you need 42-72g over a day. The only time when the amount of protein you need is increased is in earlier stages of life during times of fast growth in children and adolescence, also during pregnancy, during illness and post-surgery and for athletes competing in power sports such as weight lifting in the early stages of their training regime. So how much protein can food give your body? Is it enough to meet your needs or is a protein supplement worth the cost and for some of us taste? Here are few examples of different types of foods and beverages which give you 10g of protein:
45g white fish
40g of cheddar cheese
200g reduced fat yogurt
300mL reduced fat soy milk
200g baked beans
3 slices of wholemeal bread
85g firm tofu
60g (2 small handfuls) of cashews
An example of what this could look like as meals and snacks over a day to meet your protein needs could look like this:
200g baked beans on 2 slices of wholegrain toast with some low fat cheddar cheese (30g of protein)
200g of low fat yogurt with half a cup of berries or a small piece of fruit (10g)
2 slices of wholemeal bread with a tin of salmon in spring water (100g) with a cup of salad. (30g)
2 Weetabix topped with 30g 100%n peanut butter and a banana (13g of protein)
½ cup of whole grain pasta with 80g of chicken breast and a cup of stir fried vegetables using 2 tsp of extra virgin olive oil (27g of protein)
250mL of warm skim milk with some cinnamon (9.25g)
Total protein over the day: 119.25g
As you can see if you eat a balanced diet which includes some wholegrains and a lean source of protein in most meals you can easily reach 70-120% of your weight in grams of protein in a day. Before you reach for the supplements try looking at your overall diet and if needed make some tweaks here first. The benefits whole foods can give your body are far greater than what can be provided from a supplement and you will save a lot of money choosing ‘real food’ over supplements as well.
You may think that more protein equals more and quicker results, unfortunately this is not the case and your body can only process between 20-30g of protein at most in a meal. What happens to the excess? You store as fat. This is why taking additional supplements are not needed and in some cases can add unnecessary energy to your diet which can make it even harder to achieve the results you desire. To help prevent some cancers like upper digestive tract and kidney cancer an upper limit of 25% of your total diet from protein sources over a day or 2g/kg/day or around 120g of protein is recommended. The increased risk of developing other types of cancer like breast cancer with high intake of protein have some evidence but not enough to set an upper limit. Above these potential risks to your health if you eat excess protein you may have noticed supplements have been front and centre in the media for all the wrong reasons. Additional ingredients which have not been disclosed on the packet have been found in some supplements. This may lead to you unintentionally providing your body with ingredients or substances which may make you sick or if you are an athlete can even spike a drug test.
Take home message: By choosing whole foods and beverages over supplements you can, in most cases, easily meet your required protein needs to achieve the results you desire. Remember whole foods provide your body with far greater health benefits than a supplement can as well as keep your wallet happy with the money you will save. If you ever need more assistance to create a diet which meets your individual needs and gives your body all the protein it requires for results seek the support of an Accredited Practicing Dietitian who can help you succeed in achieving long term results.
Government A. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Australia: Australian Government; 2017 [updated 02-04-2014. Available from: https://www.nrv.gov.au/chronic-disease/macronutrient-balance.
Stewart R. The Handbook of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics 4th ed. Australia: Dietitians Association of Australia; 2007. 248 p.163-180.