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How much protein do I really need?

Thanks to the internet, there's now a vast amount of nutrition information out there that's easily accessible and available to all of us. Just tap the word “diet” into Google and you get a never-ending stream of webpages and articles on the subject. But like so many things you read online, separating the facts from the fiction can be a bit overwhelming.

One area of nutrition where there tends to be a lot of confusion is on the subject of protein. People often ask me why it's so important, how much they should be consuming and what are the best sources to eat?

Let's start with why protein is important. Simply put, protein is important because it is a component of every cell in the body. It's the building blocks for your bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, hair, nails and blood, and is essential for building and repairing body tissue, as well as making hormones and enzymes and supporting proper metabolic function. That's quite a list of tasks this one macronutrient is responsible for!

Protein is made up of amino acids, some of which can be made by the body. These are known as non-essential, but there are a number of others that can't be manufactured by the body, known as essential. The only way to get essential amino acids is through the foods that we eat. In this way, it's easy to see why it's necessary to include protein in your diet and why you'd want to avoid falling short of your daily quota.

Which brings us neatly on to the next question: how much protein do you really need?

The truth is there is no “one size fits all” magic amount that each and every one of us should be looking to consume. As we're all individuals, with very different bodies that function in different ways, our protein requirements also vary considerably.

A few of the key factors that need to be taken into consideration when determining your own individual needs are your current body weight, the level of activity you do, and what your physique goals are. If you're more or less sedentary and happy with your current weight and body shape, the daily recommended amount of 0.4-0.6g per pound of body weight should be enough to support normal everyday function.

If you exercise moderately, to quite a lot, your protein needs are going to be greater. This is because when you exercise you put your body under stress, depleting your muscles and causing minor tears in them. This is all part of the muscle regeneration and growth process and is completely normal; they will repair and grow stronger, but crucially require protein to begin this process.

If you work out a few times a week and are looking to develop lean muscle, then 0.7-1g per pound of body weight is a good range to aim for. This will ensure you're getting enough for regular body function, as well as sufficient amounts to allow your muscles to repair and grow properly.

Finally, what are the best sources of protein? Protein can be found in a variety of foods, but the best choices are good quality poultry, meats, fish, eggs and dairy products, as these all contain the full ranges of essential and non-essential amino acids that your body needs.

There are also a variety of plant-based sources that you should look to include too, such as quinoa, legumes and nuts. With so many protein powders on the market, I often get asked if you need to take protein supplements in order to develop lean muscle mass. The short answer is, not necessarily. If you are able to get your daily protein quota through whole food sources then there is no need to include supplements too. However, many people struggle to get all they need into their diets through food alone, so protein powders can provide a convenient way to help you hit your quota.

Lastly, if weight loss is your goal and you really struggle with cravings or never feel full, upping your protein intake may help. Protein is much more satiating than both fat and carbs, so it can help reduce appetite and may prevent overeating, which in turn means you'll consume fewer calories overall. Bottom line, don't skimp on your protein intake. This macronutrient plays a huge part in optimal health no matter what your fitness and physique goals are.

•Becky Wright is a qualified personal trainer, nutritional therapist and international bikini fitness champion. She has worked with clients worldwide. Contact her at www.inspirefitnessretreats.com or becky@inspirefitnesscoaching.com

Building blocks for your body: a simple, delicious chicken salad and a lemon meringue pie protein smoothie are two of Becky Wright's favourite high-protein meals (Photograph supplied)

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Published April 13, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated April 13, 2016 at 12:09 am)

How much protein do I really need?

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