It’s important to be meeting your daily requirement for protein. Dietary protein is needed by the body to build muscle tissue, enzymes, hormones and immune compounds. A diet that’s chronically low in protein can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to infection. If you’re looking for results in the gym, an optimal protein intake is important for building and repairing muscle tissue.

Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, and nine of these are essential—that means the body cannot synthesize them at all, or it cannot make them in sufficient quantities to meet its needs. As a result, these nine amino acids must be supplied by the diet. Animal protein foods like meat, dairy, eggs, poultry and fish are considered complete proteins, because they contain all nine amino acids essential for health in adequate amounts. Plant proteins such as legumes, vegetables and grains tend to be limited in one or more essential amino acids.


Complementary Proteins

Vegetarians who eat no animal protein foods must be sure to “complement” their protein foods. By combining two or more vegetarian protein foods so that the essential amino acid missing from one is supplied by the other, vegetarians are able to get all the essential amino acids in their diet. Examples of complementary proteins include beans and rice, peanut butter and whole-wheat bread, and tofu with vegetables and rice. It was once thought that vegetarians had to complement protein foods at every single meal. We now know that if vegetarians eat a variety of protein foods over the course of the day (grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and vegetables) they can fill all their body’s needs for amino acids.

Women at risk for protein deficiency include:

• Those who live alone and don’t often cook meat, chicken or fish;

• Those who frequently grab quick meals during the day—bagels, pasta, low-fat frozen dinners;

• Vegetarians who do not eat animal foods but do not regularly incorporate high quality vegetable protein sources into their diet;

• Those who engage in heavy exercise and fall into any of the above categories.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of

Protein for Adult Females

No regular exercise 0.36 grams per lb body weight

Regular exercise 0.55 grams per lb body weight

Heavy exercise 0.55-0.8 grams per lb body weight

Recommended Nutrient Intakes for Canadians, Health and Welfare Canada, Ottawa, 1983.

To calculate your actual protein requirements for the day, multiply your weight in pounds by your RDA for protein. For example, a 135-pound woman (61 kg) who does not exercise needs 49 grams of protein each day (135 lb x 0.36). If that same woman was exercising three or four times a week, she would need to eat 74 grams of protein (135 lb x 0.55).3

Protein in Foods


Meat, 3 oz (90 g) 21-25g

Poultry, 3 oz (90 g) 21 g

Salmon, 3 oz (90 g) 25 g

Sole, 3 oz (90 g) 17 g

Tuna, canned and drained, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 30 g

Egg, 1 whole 6 g

Legumes, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 8 g

Milk, 1 cup (250 ml) 8 g

Yogurt, 3/4 cup (175 ml) 8 g

Cheese, cheddar, 1 oz (30 g) 10 g

Vegetables, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 2 g

Bread, 1 slice 2 g

Rice, pasta, cooked, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 2 g

Nutrient Values of Some Common Foods, Health Canada, Ottawa, 1999.

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