Proteins are organic molecules made up of amino acids – the building blocks of life and it makes up part of the structure of every cell and tissue in your body. This includes your muscle tissue, internal organs, tendons, skin, hair and nails. It’s also needed to make almost all the body enzymes and various hormones like adrenaline and insulin. The word ‘protein’ comes from the Greek work ‘Proteos’ which means the “first one” or the one of “most importance”. The importance of it is undeniable, however, one of its biggest misconceptions is that high quality bioavailable proteins can only be obtained from animal foods sources. However, this is far from the truth and while animal food is an excellent protein source, it isn’t the only one and we can get all the proteins that we need from vegetable foods.
Why Do We Need It?
For growth and repair. Protein is needed for the growth and formation of new tissue and for repair of existing tissues. After workouts, high quality milk proteins (particularly whey) are the most effective in stimulating muscle growth because it leads to a rapid rise in leucine levels (which is a key amino acid for protein synthesis).
To reduce muscle loss. During high intensity exercise and when our glycogen stores are low, our bodies use the protein in our muscles as a source of fuel. So, if we don’t replenish this lost protein, we actually lose muscle mass after a heavy workout – what a waste!
Protein also plays a role in maintaining optimal fluid balance in tissues, transporting nutrients in and out of cells, carrying oxygen and regulating blood clotting.
Sidebar: if you’re on a weight loss programme, you shouldn’t reduce your carbs intake too drastically, otherwise protein will be used as an energy source, causing muscle-loss.
How much do we need?
The amount of protein that each of us need varies greatly depending on various factors such as our goals or physical activity levels and is usually per kilo of your body weight. The ideal intake for:
Weight maintenance is:
0.8g per KG of body weight for a sedentary person
1.2g – 1.4g per KG of body weight for endurance activities
1.4g – 1.8g per KG of body weight for power & strength activities
Vegetarian Protein Sources
Animal sources are regarded as the highest quality sources of protein because their composition is similar to ours, and our requirements. If you think about it, our amino acid (protein) requirements roughly reflects the amino acidic (protein) composition of our bodies because that is what we need to build and maintain our tissues. Since we aren’t cannibals, the next best thing is animal sources. While that’s true, it’s very important to remember that we can get all the proteins that we need from vegetable food sources. Below is an example of a few good veggie protein sources to consider: