Protein: The Basics

Updated: Nov 17

Valerie Wissmach

Nutrition for Sport and Performance

Fitness and Health Promotion

Culinary Skills


“Am I getting enough protein?” is a question we receive often at Free2Be Wellness. While protein may seem complicated, especially with the internet over-complicating nutrition, we want to make nutrition simple. So, what is protein anyway?



What is protein and why is it so important?


Protein is an essential macronutrient that the body needs to function properly. You’ve probably heard “protein is the building block for our muscles, " which is 100% true. Our muscles cannot grow or regenerate without protein, but it also plays a major role in other functions of the human body. Protein is found in your bones, skin, hair, and all the tissue within your body. It also helps power chemical reactions and helps to carry oxygen in your blood.


What is the difference between complete proteins and incomplete proteins?


Complete Protein: Refers to protein from animals. Animal protein contains all essential amino acids. Amino acids aid in bodily functions, including helping the body break down food


Incomplete Protein: Refers to plant proteins. Plant proteins do not provide all essential amino acids which is why it is commonly referred to as an incomplete protein.


Both complete and incomplete protein make up a well-rounded nutrition plan.

How do you know how much protein you need?


How much protein is needed is an individual question. Depending on what your goal is, the amount of protein required for the body varies. If your goal is to gain muscle mass (aka, build strength), consuming approximately 0.8g - 1g of protein per pound of body weight per day is the rule of thumb. If your goal is to maintain the muscle that you already have, anywhere from 0.5-0.8g per pound of body weight would be sufficient. The absolute minimum amount of protein that you should be consuming to prevent deficiency is 0.36g of protein per pound of body weight per day.


The truth is, many of us are not consuming nearly enough protein. Stats Canada reports that in 2015, only 17% of daily intake consisted of protein for individuals 19 and older. That's 40% less that the amount needed to gain muscle mass. As we age, protein becomes increasingly important. It provides the strength and support needed to keep bones strong, reducing the risk of fractures. Without sufficient protein you may feel tired or sluggish, suffer from a low immune system (getting sick more often), experience brittle nails and weak hair, and may feel hungry quickly after eating. Eating an adequate amount of protein helps to keep you feeling satisfied and full longer.

The Canadian Food Guide is an excellent resource that provides tips, recipes, and information that can help guide you through your nutritional journey. The Canada Food Guide recommends that about ¼ of your plate be a protein source with each meal, and to incorporate a plant source of protein each day which will provide you with fibre and cut down on excess saturated fats.


If you are just starting out your nutrition journey, it may be helpful to use food tracking tools such as myfitnesspal to track what you eat and get an idea of the nutrient values in the foods that you are eating regularly. After some time doing this, you will have a good idea of what/how much you need to consume to meet your nutritional goals without having to track it!


What foods have protein?


Many plant and animal sources of protein are available that can accommodate different dietary needs. Most of the foods that you are already consuming contain some amount of protein in them, take a look at the list below for some ideas!