What it is?
Protein! One of the most discussed macronutrients, especially among the sport and fitness world. Protein is commonly thought of as the building blocks for our muscles, but goes beyond just that. Protein builds, maintains, and replaces the tissues in our bodies.
Why we need it?
Proteins are broken down into amino acids that our body will use to build tissues, bones, and muscles. Amino acids also play a major role in metabolic reactions, our immune response, and as a source of energy/calories for our body.
Higher protein intake has also been shown to be beneficial in certain individuals including those that are malnourished, sarcopenic patients, burn patients, in wound healing, post surgery, and athletes.
However high protein diets can also be harmful, and there has been a lot of research around protein metabolism and how this impacts our kidneys, which are in charge of filtering and metabolizing proteins. Current available data does show higher protein diets do increase renal workload, however they do not negatively impact kidney health or increase risk of developing CKD in adults. There has also been studies linking a high animal protein diet to increased risk of kidney stones, in male adults. And further, the risk will be depending on whether the source of animal protein is dairy or non-dairy. In one study a higher non-dairy animal protein intake was associated with a modest but not significant increase in stone risk in adults and high dairy protein intake had shown a decrease kidney stone risk in young women.
So how much Protein should I be having?
Requirements are based on age, and it is hard to say how much is too much as the data is variable. Below are the Recommended Dietary Allowances, which are set out to meet the nutritional requirements of 97-98% of people.
Young Teens/Adults: 0.8 gr/kg body weight.
Data suggests up to 1.2-1.3 gr/kg for active adults and athletes and up to 1.4-2.0 gr/kg for those training for muscle hypertrophy and strength. (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, National Academy of Sports Medicine)
Toddlers/Children: 0.95-1.1 gr/kg
Infants: 1.2-1.5 gr/kg
Overall aim for protein to make up 10-35% of total calories split throughout the day. Aim to include a variety of different sources, including animal based and plant based proteins with 1-2 servings of fatty fish per week (includes lots of healthy brain fats!). Make sure you are consuming a well balanced diet consisting of good sources of protein, carbohydrate/grains, and fruits and vegetables!
Dietitian Tip: For those who are looking to increase muscle mass and optimize performance, there is no need to have an excess amount of protein! Instead aim for the higher end of the age based requirements and aim to have ~25 gr of protein following exercise and at each meal! (~0.4 gr/kg/meal)
Sources of Protein
Plant Based Proteins: Seeds, nuts/nut butters, tofu, lentils/beans, some milk alternatives (look for 8gr of protein per serving!). These sources tend to be higher in fiber!
Animal Based Proteins: Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), animal meats, fish, eggs.
The scoop on Protein Powders: Overall not necessary in a healthy diet! Protein powders are very concentrated, processed sources of proteins typically made from cow’s milk protein or soy/pea/rice proteins. Majority of these protein powders have added ingredients which include sugars, artificial flavouring, and thickeners. Dietitian motto: choose whole foods first! Protein powders are commonly used as it is a convenient source of protein, however, you may be missing out on many other important nutrients that comes with food! (fibers, micronutrients)
Natalie’s recommended alternative: Try dried chickpeas as a snack. Provides excellent source of protein as well as fiber and iron!!