Protein is one of the three macronutrients along with carbohydrate and fat. It is essential to the body for tissues and cells to function, muscle mass, enzymes and hormone building, hair and skin. Proteins are made up of amino acids that are the building blocks forming long chains. There are twenty different amino acids, nine of which are essential (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine), which the body cannot make and must come from the diet. Animal foods contain all the essential amino acids.
Dairy protein is high in the amino acid leucine. Leucine helps ‘switch on’ muscle protein synthesis. Dairy also contains an easy to eat and drink protein source.
Protein is found in animal products predominately, meats, fish and dairy along with smaller amounts in plant foods like legumes, nuts, tofu and seeds.
Protein has been shown in studies to improve appetite control in foods such as yoghurt when compared to high fat snacks. Including protein in meals can improve the feeling of fullness. Combining a protein food with a carbohydrate food can aide with blood glucose control, reducing the glycaemic index (how quickly the carbohydrate is digested and raises blood glucose levels) of the meal.
The recommended daily intake (RDI) of protein for the average adult is t 0.75-1.0 grams/kilogram body weight. It increases to around 1 gram-1.2 grams per kilogram body weight for pregnancy and lactation. There is discussion that the RDI is too low particularly for the older person who uses protein less efficiently and with great importance to maintain muscle mass. Extra protein is also needed for heavy training loads in endurance and strength training athletes, in illnesses and for wound repair. A protein intake of 1.5g-1.8g of protein per kilogram body weight per day is recommended here.
Spreading protein intake out over the day with 20-30grams per meal and 20g in post training snacks for athletes is recommended as the body is limited as to how much protein it can use at one time. Breakfast is a time that many people don’t take in enough protein. Adding yoghurt, milk, probiotic milk, cheese, eggs, baked beans, sardines, nuts and seeds are ways to increase your protein breakfast levels.