Protein: an overview

PROTEIN is derived from the greek word ‘protos’ meaning first, since protein is the basic material of all living cells.  Protein diets, protein shakes, protein powders……..what’s all the fuss about?


What is protein?

Protein is found in all the cells of the body from the hair to the fingernails, which explains why 20-25% of our body weight is protein.  It is required for growth and repair of tissue, hence it’s association with muscle.  It also helps to create enzymes that enable us to digest food, antibodies  to fight infection and hormones that keep the body working properly.  Protein can also be converted to energy when the body is running low.


Amino Acids

Once eaten, protein is gradually digested in the body into much smaller proteins call amino acids.  There are 25 different types of amino acid, 17 of which can be made naturally by the body.  The other 8 amino acids must therefore be eaten in the diet.  These 8 aptly named `essential` amino acids can be used like building blocks to form any of the other 17 amino acids.


How much protein do we need?

Daily protein intake of around 1g per KG of body weight is adequate for most people (for example someone weighing 70kg would require around 70g of protein per day).  This amounts to around 15-20% of total calorie intake.  In sports performance protein plays an important part in growth and recovery and is therefore required in higher amounts.


Bodybuilders may consume anywhere between 200-400g  of protein per day, although this is the extreme end of the scale!  There still remains diversity among nutritionists with quite varied .recommended intakes   Between 1.5g  and 2.5g per KG of body weight is generally adequate even for top athletes.


  • If we consume enough calories, then we will get enough protein unless our diet is high in sugar and fat.
  • Too little protein will clearly impair performance and recovery, leading to loss of lean tissue.
  • On the other end of the scale, beware excess protein puts a strain on the liver and kidneys


Quality not quantity

Protein content is high in meat, fish, eggs, pulses, dairy products, nuts and

seeds.  Animal sources tend to account for 60-70% of the protein intake and

although meat, particularly red meat is an excellent source of protein, it is

high in saturated fat bringing with it negative health factors.  Beans on the

other hand may only contain 50% protein but the remaining calories come

from slow release carbohydrates and no fat!!


The way forward

Try to vary your protein sources and don’t rely on meat too heavily.  Eggs are the most complete protein source, containing a range of vitamins and minerals as well.   Cottage cheese is a great natural source due to its value and anti cancer properties.  Oily fish, nuts and seeds are other great options – high in protein as well as essential fatty acids which bring many health benefits.