We hear an awful lot about ‘protein’ and how important it is for our bodies, but what’s the science behind the hype? We asked nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert to demystify the p-word
So… what is protein?
“Protein is one of three essential macronutrients that our bodies need to survive (the other two are carbohydrates and fat). Some of the main sources of protein are foods like meat, fish, dairy (including yoghurt!) and some vegetables.”
Got it. And why do we need it?
“Protein is crucial for building and repairing muscle tissue. Without it, our bodies can’t form or rebuild muscles, making it essential for exercise. If you’re exercising to get lean or build muscle, the process involves first breaking muscle tissue down so that they can rebuild as stronger, better versions of themselves. Even if you’re not a fitness fanatic, consuming a diet rich in protein is essential for everything from a strong immune system to healthy hair, skin and nails, as well as backing-up your energy supplies.”
Ok. Now hit us with the science.
“Protein is made up of hundreds of smaller units called amino acids, which are needed for almost every metabolic process the body performs. There are about 20 different types of amino acids, including ‘essential’ amino acids, which can only be obtained from food, as our bodies can’t produce them naturally. Each amino acid plays an important role as they create different amino acid combinations which is crucial for functioning every aspect of your body.
Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are called complete proteins. Animal proteins are ‘complete proteins’ as they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Foods that contain animal protein also tend to be high in several nutrients that are often lacking in plant foods. These include Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Omega-3, Heme-Iron, and Zinc.
Plant proteins are ‘incomplete proteins’ as they don’t contain all 9 essential acids. However, plant proteins are still important to consume as they are rich in other amino acids to create the different amino acid structures. In order to be super-duper healthy, our bodies like to have a balance of both animal and plant based protein in your diet, as each amino acid plays a unique role.”