June 11, 2021

The macronutrient protein plays an important role throughout the human body. It is essential for growth and repair, acting as enzymes and hormones, helping muscles contract and providing structure to bones, skin and hair. Importantly, as we start to age (from our 40’s onwards) and we slowly start to lose muscle mass, eating adequate protein becomes even more critical to help retain our hard-earned muscle mass. Additionally, protein increases satiety (the feeling of fullness) and the thermic effect of food, so is an important macronutrient for long-term weight management. 


But what exactly is protein?

Proteins are made up of many building blocks called amino acids, which can then be classified as essential (must be provided through diet) or non-essential (made by the human body). Proteins are found in a variety of foods, including both animal and plant based.  Generally animal based proteins (meat, fish, eggs, cheese, yoghurt & milk) provide higher quality protein, containing all essential amino acids (which we call a complete protein). Plant based proteins (vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains and legumes) tend to lack one or more of the essential amino acids and contain less protein per weight. The good news is, when you combine two different plant proteins (say rice and beans) they together become a complete protein. Even better they do not need to be eaten at the same time to reap the benefits, just over the course of a day. By eating a varied diet of wholegrains, legumes, seeds, nuts and vegetables, both vegetarians and vegans can receive all the amino acids they require for good health. SO, whether an omnivore, pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan, VARIETY is the key, and we should all be including a range of different proteins in our diet.


How much do we need?

Like most things, our protein requirements vary depending on how old we are, sex and activity level. Our recommended dietary intake (RDI) for protein is calculated on men needing 0.84g and women 0.75g per kilo of body weight which equates to


Women: 45-60g per day

Men: 65-80g per day


To meet this RDI, it is recommended adults eat 1-3 serves of protein rich foods per day. However growing research shows it’s not just the total protein intake that is important, but to really gain the most benefit (for maintaining lean muscle mass) it should be evenly spaced throughout the day.


For these reasons, I always recommend a small serve of lean protein three times a day (eg with each main meal). This equates to approx. 15-20g protein with breakfast, lunch and dinner PLUS at least one protein rich snack per day.  We also know that consuming some protein ideally within 1 hour (but up to 2 hours still has benefits) after a workout is also optimal. This further maximises your body’s ability to build and repair muscle and again maintain and increase lean muscle mass.


What is considered one serve of protein?



One serve

Animal proteins


beef, lamb, pork, veal, kangaroo, poultry, lean mince

100g raw (or 60g cooked)

fish fillet or other seafood

115g raw

tinned fish

1 small 95g can





Plant based proteins


legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas)

1 cup (cooked)





nuts (such as almonds, pistachios, cashews, brazil, pecans, walnuts)


Seeds (such as linseeds, sunflower seeds, pepitas, chia)



Other good sources of protein


Dairy & alternatives

Dairy products (such as cheese, milk and yoghurt) are all excellent sources of complete protein. Just one cup of milk contains an impressive 8.8g protein. Soy milk (unlike many other alternative milks) is also a great source of protein.


Wholegrains such as oats, quinoa, bulgur, buckwheat and amaranth are all excellent choices containing up to 9g protein per one cup cooked.



We don’t immediately think protein when it comes to veggies, but these nutrition superstars also contain mentionable quantities of protein Once cup of peas has 8.3g, one medium cob of sweetcorn 6.8g and one medium potato has up to 4g. Other great sources with over 2g of protein per cup include broccoli, edamame, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and mushrooms. Legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils and black beans, are even higher in protein, containing up to 18g protein per one cup cooked. 


Putting it into practice


Breakfast: I find breakfast is the meal that people often skip protein, instead tending to be carb dominant. For example, instead of toast with butter and vegemite for breakfast or processed breakfast cereal with milk, swap with 1 slice wholegrain toast topped with 1-2 poached eggs and spinach or oats with high protein yoghurt and fruit.


Lunchtime: likewise, at lunchtime ensure you add a protein to your salad or wrap such as 1 cup legumes, a small tin tuna, or say 60g cooked shredded chicken


Dinner: this is when we generally consume the most protein – but remember the serve does not need to be big (no 200g steaks required!), instead it needs to be consistent throughout the day. A small piece of lean meat (100g raw weight), fish (115g) some tofu or 1 cup legumes will get you over the line.


Protein rich snacks


Natural or Greek yoghurt

1 serve nuts (30g)

Boiled egg on wholegrain crackers

Roasted chickpeas or fava beans

Steamed edamame

Apple slices topped with nut butter

Small tin tuna or salmon on wholegrain crackers



Article formulated for HUSTL. HEALTH.
Created by ®Chrissy Freer