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By Shaun Wadham, Level One Triathlon Coach, Registered Fitness Leader

Protein is essential for normal growth & development and plays a vital role in the repair and recovery of damaged tissues such as muscle.  It also acts as a fuel source during exercise, especially when carbohydrate stores are depleted.  Athletes require more protein than the recommended daily intake for the sedentary person.  Sedentary people require 0.8 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. Athletes involved in light exercise require 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  Strength and endurance trained athletes require daily protein intake of approximately 1.2-1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Most people can easily meet their protein requirements, simply by following a balanced diet.  Protein intake over daily requirements is converted to and stored as unwanted fat tissue.  In addition, excess protein increases calcium loss from the body and may negatively affect calcium balance.

Protein rich foods often provide valuable nutrients such as iron, calcium, zinc and B group vitamins.  Animal protein foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy foods provide the most complete source of dietary protein.  Lean meats and low fat dairy foods are your best choice as they are compatible with other nutritional goals.  Plant protein foods provide incomplete sources of essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) and are best combined with other plant food sources of protein or with animal protein foods.  This does not mean that vegetarians need to combine protein foods at individual meals.  It simply means you need to eat a variety of plant based foods to provide a balanced dietary intake.

The following table provides the protein content of regularly eaten, protein rich foods.

Food Protein (grams)
Animal food sources
Fillet steak-1 average (80gms) 23
Fish-average (100gms grilled) 21
Tuna-small can (105gms) 29
Lean beef or lamb (120gram cooked weight) 39
Chicken breast lean (80gms) 22
Eggs-2 large whole 6
Reduced fat cheese (30gm slice) 25
Low fat milk-1 cup (250ml) 9
Low fat fruit yogurt (200g carton) 8
Sustagen nutritional energy boost drink (250mls) 11
Plant food sources
Whole bread-1 slice 3
Average breakfast cereals (60gms) 5-12
Weet Bix (1 biscuit) 2
Tofu-raw-firm (150gms) 10
Cooked lentils or kidney beans (1 cup) 14
Baked beans (1 cup, 150gms) 7.5
Cooked brown rice (1 cup, 160gms) 7.5
Cooked pasta or noodles (1.5 cups, 200gms) 10
Mixed nuts (handful, 60gms) 10
Sanitarium Rediburger (60gm slice) 15