Life without an adequate protein intake would result in little structure to our skin, bones, hair and body (ref 1). Protein is used throughout the body as a key building block and in a range of processes.
While we generally meet our recommended dietary intake of protein each day, intakes above this level may provide additional health benefits (ref 2).
Why is protein so important?
- Protein is well recognised for its ability to help with muscle growth and maintenance, but it’s also essential for healthy bone growth and development (ref 3).
- Protein can also act as an enzyme, a hormone, an antibody, or a vehicle to transport other nutrients around the body (ref 1).
How much protein do we need?
- The amount of protein you need will depend on your:
– activity levels
– overall energy intake
- The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for most adults is between 0.75-1.07g protein per kilogram of body weight per day (46-81g protein per day). This is the minimum amount needed for normal growth and maintenance of body tissue.
- However, protein intakes higher than the RDI can have additional benefits. This is reflected in what is known as the acceptable macronutrient distribution range or AMDR. This measurement recognises the need to balance the intake of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat) for optimal health, chronic disease risk reduction and also to ensure adequate intakes of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Using this scale, around 15-25% of your total energy intake should come from protein. For an adult consuming around 8700kJ, this is between 77-128g protein per day. (ref 4)
Main sources of protein in our diets
- Protein is found in abundance within foods derived from animals, such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products.
- Plant based foods, such as legumes, soy bean, nuts, and certain vegetables also contain protein. (ref 5)
Ways to benefit from your protein intake
- As well as considering how much protein we eat, protein quality also has a role to play in supporting optimal health. High-quality proteins contain a complete set of essential amino acids that are needed for protein synthesis in the human body, while low-quality proteins don’t.
- High-quality proteins are commonly found in animal-derived foods and soy, while lower-quality proteins are often found in other plant sources. Dairy protein is a particular high-quality protein and it’s easily absorbed.
- Choose high-quality protein, or ensure you are getting a range of plant-derived proteins throughout the day (for example, combine beans with grainy bread).
- Protein may also help you to feel full after eating – so aim to include a protein-rich food at each meal, spreading your intake across the course of the day. (ref 1)
- Understanding Nutrition. Whitney E, Crowe T, Rolfes S R, Smith D C, Walsh A. Melbourne Cengage Learning Australia. 2013.
- Rodriguez, N. Introduction to Protein Summit 2.0: continued exploration of the impact of high-quality protein on optimal health. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(6):1317S-1319S.
- Food Standards Code Australia New Zealand, Schedule 4 – Nutrition Health and related claims.
- National Health and Medical Research Council and Ministry of Health. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand including Recommended Dietary Intakes. Canberra and Wellington: National Health and Medical Research Council and Ministry of Health; 2006.
- The Concise New Zealand Food Composition Tables, 11th Edition 2014. S. Sivakumaran, L Huffman, S. Sivakumaran, Palmerston North, Zealand. The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited and Ministry of Health, 2015.