You know protein is a non-negotiable, but this is exactly how much you should be eating, according to a dietitian.

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If you’ve been hitting the gym (well done, firstly) it’s more than likely you’ve been on the receiving end of someone’s unsolicted opinion on how much protein you need, when you should eat it and in what form it should be consumed. But, gym bores aside, we all know this is the stuff is an essential part of a balanced diet. But how much is enough? Accredited practicing dietitian Robbie Clark settles it once and for all – so you can politely disengage, next time someone tries to con you into buying three kilo tub on protein powder – if nothing else.

There are multiple factors that play a role in determining how much protein you need in your diet. These predominantly include weight, age, health status and level of physical activity. As a rough guide, the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for protein is as follows:

· 0.75 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for adult women

· 0.84 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for adult men

· Approximately 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and for men and women over 70 years of age

· The needs of children and adolescents also vary according to their age and weight

The RDI is the amount of a nutrient you need to consume to meet your basic nutritional requirements. In a sense, it’s the minimum amount you need to keep from getting sick — not the specific amount you are supposed to eat every day. Most Australians eat far more protein than they actually need, so deficiencies are rare.

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There may be certain population groups or health conditions that require higher amounts of protein. For example, people who are physically active need more protein than people who are sedentary. Other instances where you might require more protein is if you have a physically demanding job, you walk a lot or do any form of exercise.

Athletes, in particular strength and resistance training athletes e.g. body builders, and contact and power sports athletes are amongst the population who require the most amount of protein (1.4 – 1.7g/kg body mass), followed by endurance athletes (1.6 g/kg body mass). This is to aid in muscle recovery and building, and to meet their higher energy requirements.

Elderly people also need significantly more protein to help prevent age-related health conditions and/or diseases such as osteoporosis and sarcopenia (reduction of muscle mass and strength).

Finally, people who are recovering from injuries or surgery and those with chronic disease may also require more protein to help prevent further tissue damage and assist repair.

The best source of protein, animal protein, provides all the essential amino acids (building blocks for protein) in the right ratio for our bodies to make full use of them. Good quality animal protein sources include:

· Lean meat, poultry and fish

· Eggs

· Dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt

It is possible to build complete protein from plant-based foods by making sure you consume a variety of them over the course of a whole day. However, you will need to consume approximately 20-25 percent more plant-based protein to have the same benefits that animal-based protein sources provide. Some good quality sources of protein from plant-based foods include:

· Legumes and beans (such as peas, chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils

· Nuts, seeds and nut butters and milks

· Soy products e.g. tofu, tempeh and soy milk

· Spreads such as hummus and tahini

· Some grain and cereal based foods such as quinoa, amaranth, brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta, oats, barley

When thinking about what you should consume with protein, the following general rule of thumb should apply to all main meals. Your “plate” should consist of about 50 per cent vegetables (think different colours), 20-25 per cent lean protein (animal or plant-based), 20-25 per cent minimally processed, low GI, complex carbohydrates (such as wholegrain bread, oats, legumes, quinoa), and 5-10 per cent healthy fats (such as avocado, nut butters and spreads, chia seeds, flaxseed oil, extra virgin olive oil).

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November 2, 201610:41am

nutrition | body+soul

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