Protein intake is a key component of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, and it plays a critical role in recovery, hormones, enzymes and antibodies as well as muscle development. Protein also helps your body to maintain a proper fluid balance, builds and repairs tissues, transports nutrients, and provides other essential functions.
But do you know how much protein your body needs? Everyone needs a different amount and there are many different factors that impact your number.
What is protein?
Before we dive into how much protein your body needs, we want to first take a closer look at what protein actually is and why it’s important.
Protein is a macronutrient that is essential to building muscle mass. It is commonly found in animal products, though is also present in other sources, such as nuts and legumes.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “Protein foods are broken down into parts called amino acids during digestion. The human body needs a number of amino acids in large enough amounts to maintain good health.
As we have already mentioned, amino acids are found in animal sources such as meats, milk, fish and eggs. They are also found in plant sources such as soy, beans, legumes, nut butters and some grains (such as wheat germ and quinoa). You do not need to eat animal products to get all the protein you need in your diet.
You can read more about protein in our ‘Why Protein?’ post.
Why is protein important?
We’ve already discussed the importance of protein for a number of critical roles in the body. From gaining muscle to repairing tissue damage to providing you with energy for physical activities, protein is an important element in helping to keep your body healthy and nourished.
Everyone has different protein requirements and no matter where you get your sources of protein, it’s important to monitor your daily protein intake and ensure you are getting enough protein in your diet to fuel your lifestyle.
When it comes to the importance of protein, we want to talk a little more about some of the key reasons for people to monitor their protein intake and in some cases, to supplement their daily intake with a protein supplement such as Two Islands Pea Protein Powder.
Can protein help you gain muscle and strength?
One of the main reasons people look to supplement their daily protein intake is if they are trying to add muscle mass.
Muscles are largely made of protein and as with most body tissues, muscles are dynamic and are constantly being broken down and rebuilt.
To gain muscle, your body must synthesise more muscle protein than it breaks down. As such, people who want to build muscle often eat more protein, as well as exercise. A higher protein intake can help build muscle and strength.
For others, gaining muscle mass and ‘bulking up’ is not what they are hoping for when they take a protein supplement. Taking a protein supplement doesn’t mean you are suddenly going to ‘bulk up’ – it will completely depend on your lifestyle and the exercise and activity you do on a day to day basis. You can read more about the impact of protein and ‘bulking up’ in our recent post.
Protein during pregnancy and post-pregnancy
During pregnancy, the body needs more protein for tissue development and growth. Protein benefits both the mother and baby.
Post-pregnancy, especially for breastfeeding mums, getting enough protein postpartum is especially important to help your body recover from the strain of pregnancy and childbirth, plus support your energy levels. New babies also require protein for good growth and immune cell function.
Read more about the role of protein for breastfeeding mums.
Protein and resistance training
According to the Sports Science Institute, “Protein ingestion and resistance exercise both stimulate the process of new muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and are synergistic when protein consumption follows exercise. In healthy persons, changes in MPS are much greater in their influence over net muscle gain than changes in muscle protein breakdown (MPB).”
Many athletes choose to take a protein supplement or eat a meal high in protein following a workout, particularly if that workout focused on resistance training, in order to maximise the impact of protein on the body.
How much protein does my body need?
Now we understand more about protein and its importance, it’s time to take a closer look at how much protein the body needs.
The Nutrition Foundation here in New Zealand recommends the following daily intake of protein:
|Age (Years)||RDI Protein (grams/day)|
As you get older, you can start to lose muscle mass and you may need more protein. As mentioned above, other factors may also impact the amount of protein you may require for example physical activity or pregnancy.
The above data, provided by the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation, does not take into consideration a number of important factors when it comes to calculating your individual protein needs.
Your weight and your level of activity also have an impact on the amount of protein your body needs, along with your own personal goals.
The recommended daily intake of protein in the table above is a great guideline but to go one step further, you need to understand your own individual needs which will provide you with a more accurate assessment of the amount of protein you need.
How to get enough protein in your diet
The best sources of protein are meats, fish, eggs and dairy products, as they have all the essential amino acids that your body needs.
Some plants are fairly high in protein as well, such as quinoa, legumes, nuts and seeds.
However, most people generally don’t need to track their protein intake.
If you’re healthy and trying to stay that way, simply eating quality protein sources with most of your meals, along with nutritious plant foods, should bring your intake to an optimal range.
If you do want to supplement your diet with an additional protein source, it’s important to do your research and make sure you are taking a protein supplement that is right for you.
At Two Islands we use a natural pea protein sourced from golden peas. It is highly digestible and hypo-allergenic, making it a great fit for almost any diet. As well as being a good source of protein, pea protein powder is also a good source of iron. It’s also rich in amino acids lysine, arginine and glutamine.
Learn more about pea protein powder and discover more about our own Two Islands Pea Protein Powder.
Can I get too much protein in my diet?
On the flip side, it is possible to eat too much protein. Some people believe that excess protein is excreted in the urine. However, only part of the protein is excreted. Another part of the protein is converted to glucose for energy or stored as fat.
So, if you have a high protein diet—and consume too many calories as a result—you run the risk of gaining weight from excess calories. If your calorie goal stays on track but you get more protein than you need, you are likely not getting enough carbohydrates or fat for your body to function properly.
Whilst this can be an issue for a very small percentage of people, more typically, people don’t consume enough protein in their daily diet. An estimated 1 billion people worldwide suffer from inadequate protein intake.
In New Zealand, the Nutrition Foundation has also identified a number of groups that have increased protein requirements and struggle to consume enough protein as part of their diet. These groups include:
- Growing teenagers during their adolescent growth spurt, protein needs are high to cover both energy requirements and support the growing body.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women - protein requirements are increased to support the changes in the mother and fetal growth.
- People with illnesses (such as cancer) and injuries - as protein aids the repair of body tissue, and keeps our immune systems healthy. When your body doesn’t get enough protein, it might break down muscle for the fuel it needs. This can make recovery time from illness longer and can lower resistance to infection.
- Athletes and the very active - Endurance athletes in heavy training require extra protein to cover a small proportion of the energy costs of their training and to assist in the repair and recovery process after exercise. Strength athletes, who are interested in gaining muscle size and function, require more protein in the early stages of very intensive resistance exercise.
- Older adults - The increased protein recommendation for older age groups counters the age-associated loss of muscle mass and overall body protein stores. Eating more protein as we age can reduce the risk of falls, frailty and infection.
- Vegetarians and Vegans – it can be difficult for vegans and vegetarians to get the recommended amount of protein unless they consume a lot of protein rich foods such as tofu, oats, wheat, nuts, seeds, lentils and beans. A protein supplement can help to ensure vegans and vegetarians are getting the required amount of protein every day.
The key to proper nutrition is achieving the proper balance of macronutrients. Eating large amounts of protein can lead to dehydration, even in elite athletes. So, if you follow a high protein diet, it’s important to ensure you are also drinking plenty of water.