The 7 most common protein questions
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, get fit and toned or build muscle, protein is important to support your training and fitness goals – within reason. Protein is essential, but you don’t need to overdo it either. A variety of protein-rich foods, consumed at the right times and in the right amounts can help you reach your goals. Want to know more? Here are six common questions about protein, answered.
1. Why do I need protein?
Protein is made up of amino acids which are the body’s building blocks, essential for total body functioning. Here’s how it might affect your fitness or body goals:
Protein can keep your blood glucose levels stable, reducing hunger and cravings meaning you’re fuller for longer and less likely to snack.
If you don’t consume enough protein, you may end up compensating by consuming extra carbohydrates and fat, which can make you gain weight (and not necessarily the muscle kind).
You need adequate protein to maximize muscle protein synthesis – the process that drives muscle growth. This is crucial even if your overall goal is to lose fat: The more muscle mass you have the higher your metabolism, helping you burn more calories while resting.
2. What food should I eat for protein?
It’s found widely in animal and plant-based food, including:
Red meat and poultry
Fish and seafood
Nuts, seeds and legumes
Lamb Rissoles with Salad are a weeknight protein win.
Complete proteins contain the full range of amino acids and include foods such as milk, lean meat, chicken, eggs and soybeans. Soy products are the highest quality plant-based protein sources.
Although quinoa is a complete protein, it is not a good source of ‘high quality’ protein because it is limited in some of those amino acids. Many plant sources of protein often lack one or more essential amino acids so a variety of protein sources over a week are required for vegetarians and vegans to meet their protein needs (more on this later).
3. How much protein do I need?
Daily protein needs for adults range from 1g per kilogram of body weight per day (a kilogram is 2.2 pounds) for inactive folks to 2.2g or more per kilogram of body weight per day for those with muscle-building goals (you'll find information on consuming more than this below).
For example, a 140 pound (63.5 kg) woman would need between 63-140g per day depending on her activity level and goals.
You don’t want your protein intake to drop too low, even if you’re trying to lose weight, because protein has a greater thermic effect compared to carbohydrates and fat, meaning your body needs to burn more energy to digest it. Protein also helps to keep you feeling full and satisfied after meals, potentially leading to less calories consumed overall.
With this in mind, most non-vegan Centr meal plans have around 30-50g protein per meal, and vegan plans around 20-30g. The total amount of protein on your plan will vary depending on your goal.
Keep in mind that we also encourage the regular intake of snacks to help you hit your daily protein goals. It’s all about adequate protein spaced well over the day, and appropriate overall calorie intake, to support health and training needs.
4. How much protein is too much?
If the protein requirement for most people who want to build muscle is 2.2g per kilogram of body weight per day, do you need to be worried if you eat more than that?
Not at all, says Centr nutrition expert Angie Asche, who advises that consuming more than this amount isn’t going to harm you “unless you have a specific medical condition that requires a lower protein intake”.
In fact, in some very rare cases, you may benefit from more protein, Angie says.
“If your total calorie needs are much greater than average – for example if you’re trying to put on lots of mass and you exercise at a high intensity regularly – you may have a much larger energy expenditure. If that is the case, all three of your macronutrient needs will increase, not just your protein needs.”
If you think you might fit this profile, Angie recommends consulting a registered sports dietitian.
5. How much protein can my body absorb at once?
“I’m often asked whether eating more than 20-25g of protein at a time is ‘a waste’. Thankfully, that’s not how protein works,” Angie says.
“All the protein that you consume gets utilized by your body, but not all for muscle synthesis. Protein is also used to create hormones and enzymes, and improve bone health and immune function.”
However, for optimum health and muscle growth, Angie does recommend spreading your consumption by eating protein regularly throughout the day.
“The best starting point is following the Centr meal plan for your goal, then adjusting as needed based on your results.”
6. What if I’m vegan?
You still have plenty of ways to get your protein in. But it can be a little more challenging to get the protein balance right with vegan meals – in particular the mix of essential amino acids.
The Spicy Tofu Stir Fry is satisfying and easy.
Centr meal plans are created to provide a range of vegan protein sources, from legumes, tofu and tempeh, to nuts and seeds and high-protein grains. Our approach is to ensure most nutrition comes from fresh foods. However, high-quality vegan protein powder can be useful for ensuring the right mix of amino acids at the right time, so are often incorporated into smoothies and snacks.
7. Do I need supplements or protein powder?
Resistance training seems to be synonymous with protein supplements, and the bigger and more expensive the bucket of powder, the greater the perceived effectiveness for building muscle. But this isn’t the case. Having protein powder after a workout is far less important than eating well overall.
If you do wish to have some protein powder after a workout, you can use simple, good-quality whey or plant-based protein powder. Around 20-25g of protein can help to stimulate muscle protein synthesis after training. Our breakfast smoothies also contain protein powder, including plant-based ones, to help provide a complete meal profile.
But post-training protein can be found in a range of nutritious food options, not just powder. Centr has post-workout ideas to help your recovery – simply head to the snack section to find recipes. You could also try scheduling your workouts around your protein intake, or just snack strategically.
Try some of our favorite high-protein recipes
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