Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Protein

General Consumer Information on Protein and Protein Products

General Protein

There are three main types of chemical compounds that humans primarily ingest: proteins, carbohydrates, and fat (each a macronutrient). In addition to these macronutrients, we also consume vitamins and minerals, but these are consumed in much smaller quantities (and referred to as micronutrients). Macronutrients are primarily used to generate energy for our bodies or to repair and grow tissue. Protein and carbohydrates provide 4 calories of energy per gram whilst fat provides 9 calories. When you hear somebody refer to “macros” they are talking about these (and so “counting your macros” is tracking how much protein, carbohydrates, and fat you are consuming).

  • Protein: Protein helps build and maintain muscle. It also helps control appetite better than fats or carbs as it causes you to feel full for longer. Your body also requires more energy to digest protein than fats and carbs making it even more effective for those looking for weight loss. Meat, fish, and eggs are all good sources of protein.
  • Carbohydrates: Carbs are composed of sugars that your body primarily uses as its first source of fuel. Your body can use protein (or fat) for energy but prefers to use carbs. You can technically live on little or no carbohydrates and this is why many people refer to carbs as “empty calories”. Common carbohydrates include bread, rice, but also fruit and vegetables (that are rich in other nutrients the body needs).
  • Fat: Fat is used by our bodies for long-term energy storage (only accessed after your body has exhausted carbohydrate reserves). Fats also play an essential role in helping absorb vitamins, hormone regulation, and brain function amongst other roles. But Western Diets often include too much fat (and carbohydrates) which can be seen in growing obesity rates. Common sources of fat include oils, butters, nuts, and meat.

Often Western diets include too much carbohydrates and fats (and not enough protein).

Studies have shown that a diet consisting of adequate protein intake is beneficial in not only aiding weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight but also improving your metabolic health. By eating sufficient protein, you help your body to release a hormone called Peptide YY which contributes to a feeling of fullness and staves off hunger. Muscles are built by using protein, therefore a diet full of protein also helps to maintain muscle mass in your body, and contributes to healthy muscle growth.

Some studies have shown promising data that eating more protein can contribute to a reduction in blood pressure (source). Finally, eating more protein as you get older helps your body to deal with muscle deterioration better. More specifically, it can help to battle things like bone frailty, and avoid fractures and breaks as you age.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the minimum recommended protein an average sedentary adult should consume to prevent deficiency is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (e,g., a 75kg individual should consume at least 60 grams of protein). More broadly you should aim for anywhere between 10% to 35% of your total calories to come from protein. So if you’re aiming to consume 2,000 calories that would be about 50-175 grams of protein (200-700 calories). The exact amount is going to depend on unique circumstances including age and activity level.

Once you reach 40–50 you begin naturally losing muscle mass as part of the aging process. To help prevent this, your intake of protein should increase to at least 1.0 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (e.g., 75–90 grams per day for a 75-kilogram person). If you exercise regularly, you should also consume more with 1.1 to 1.7 grams per kilogram recommended (if you regularly lift weights or do strength training, then aim for the higher end of the range). If you are looking to add significant muscle mass (in conjunction with strength training) then consuming 2 grams or more per kilogram of bodyweight may be recommended. We’ve put together a simple table of suggested protein intake by body weight for reference below.

Protein Intake (g)
kgMin40+ YrsActiveStrength

Meat and fish generally comprise the highest protein content natural foods which can make it more challenging for vegetarians and vegans to consume sufficient levels. With that said, nuts (particularly almonds), beans, and grains can provide a good level of plant-based protein. For those looking to supplement their diets with protein, an easy way to do that is through consuming protein powders (concentrated protein from various animal or plant sources) but pay close attention to the ingredient list and nutritional info as not all protein powders are made the same (see FAQ below on protein powders).

In the table below we summarise the typical protein content % of various relatively high protein foods (i.e, consuming 100g of grilled chicken breast should provide about 32g of protein content).

FoodProtein %
Grilled chicken (skinless)32.0%
Lean Pork Chop31.6%
Lean Beef Steak31.0%
Cheddar Cheese25.4%
Canned Tuna24.9%
Grilled Salmon24.6%
Whole Egg14.1%
Brown Wheat Flour12.2%
Cooked Rice10.9%
Steamed Tofu8.1%
Brown Bread7.9%
Red Lentils7.6%

Protein Products

Whilst many natural foods are high in protein content (e.g., chicken breasts or egg whites), many people still turn to consumer-packaged goods or supplements to meet their protein needs (see ‘How much protein should I consume’ above). You may have noticed many goods in supermarkets and pharmacies advertising “High Protein” on their packaging. In the UK and the European Union, there are specific rules about advertising protein content. In order to make the claim “High Protein”, at least 20% of the energy value (i.e., the KJ or calories) of the product has to come from protein. The lesser claim of “Source of Protein” can only be made by foods where at least 12% of the energy value is provided by protein. Note that these thresholds are based on energy levels, not weight. In order to calculate the calories of protein in a product, take the grams of protein and multiply it by 4. You can then divide this amount by the total calories in that serving to get a % protein level (this is calculated for all the products in the database).

The goal of ProteinDB is to catalogue as many “High Protein” products (as defined by at least 20% energy from protein) as possible. The database may also capture some popular “Source of Protein” (12%+ energy from protein) products as well.

To achieve a high protein content, most protein products will add either concentrated milk-based proteins (whey, casein) or plant-based proteins (soya, pea, rice, etc.) to their products – usually when you look at the ingredient list it will state something like “Milk Proteins” or “Whey” or “Plant Based Protein Blend”. Occasionally, protein products achieve high protein levels just by including egg whites or almonds or some cured meat. When considering the best protein powder for you, you should consider things like 1) where the protein comes from (e.g., is it animal or plant-based)? 2) what additives are in the product, and 3) the quality of the product. For those who are vegan or vegetarian, a plant-based protein powder like pea or soya protein could be considered best. For meat eaters, Whey protein is usually the go-to option. Whey is a milk-based protein that is extremely easy on your body and light to absorb, so it can act fast and help your body to repair and rebuild post-workout.

The big difference when looking at animal-based proteins vs plant-based proteins is the amino acid makeup of both. Most animal-based proteins are considered complete proteins, whereas with plant-based proteins this is quite rare. To combat this, those who are eating a plant-based diet should mix sources of proteins to ensure they are reaching all 9 amino acid groups. There is no “best” protein, only what is best for you.

In the UK the governmental body in control of food standards and practices is the Food Safety Agency or FSA as they are more commonly known. Protein food products are not considered an exception to the rule of food safety standards and is subject to the same level of regulation and guidelines that all other foods are. The act which governs the sale of both protein supplements and products in the UK is called the General Food Law, in Northern Ireland, they are governed by the EU Food Law. This law provides a list of requirements that all sellers of these products must fulfil to legally sell them. Examples of these requirements are as follows, 1) Records must be kept of sales, invoices etc. 2) all products must be correctly labelled, 3) The seller is legally responsible for all imported goods.

In the EU, the responsibility of food safety standards falls to the European Food and Safety Authority when it comes to food products being transported from one country to another, but each country also has some internal level of discretion when it comes to their food safety regulation. Protein supplements and products are treated as regular foods and are subject to the same laws and requirements laid down in the European Food Law. This law puts in place guidelines for things like maximum and minimum protein levels in supplements, warnings on the labels not to exceed recommended doses and statements on labels regarding food substitutes not being used in place of regular varied meals.

The first, and most important thing you should consider when setting out your goal of finding the ideal protein product for you is what kind of product you want to buy. For instance, is this product something you are looking to fill an afternoon craving and would otherwise replace a chocolate bar? (If so, then most protein bars will be a healthier option than candy bars – but some bars are much healthier than others so pay attention to the ingredient list). If you are looking to hit a certain protein intake, you will want to consider the protein content of the product as well as the number of calories (fortunately we’ve made this easy for you in our database).

When it comes to protein products on the market there is no shortage of options, and it can even seem quite daunting early on when looking through them. You should consider your preferences. For example, if you are a vegan then you must rule out all milk proteins like whey and casein, but still leave you with plenty of options like pea protein, soya protein, or rice protein.

Other things to consider include the ingredient list. Many protein products include lots of added ingredients that may make them tastier or shelf stable but may make them less healthy (watch out for added sweeteners like sucralose for example). You may also want to consider where the ingredients are sourced (e.g., are they natural ingredients?). Budget and availability will also impact your choices.

Whether you are consuming protein supplements or protein-based foods, the best time of the day to eat protein can be considered completely dependent on what your goals are.

If your goal is weight loss, protein can be a vital tool in your arsenal to succeed with this. Protein contributes to that fullness feeling, and so consuming more protein throughout the day can help you to feel full for longer and avoid excess eating. One study showed that individuals who ate a protein-based snack during the day, as opposed to a carb-based snack, ate 100 fewer calories at dinner time. So, for those trying to lose weight, the answer could probably be to consider whenever you are feeling hungry try to reach for something protein based instead of other alternatives, but remember to retain variety in your diet.

For those hitting the gym and trying to build muscle, it can be somewhat of a challenge to get sufficient protein. There is a concept known as the ‘anabolic window’ which many gym goers will be familiar with. This is the period of 1-2 hours post gym sessions where your body can utilise the most out of protein, but this concept has become more widely debated and some people have now argued that the window is much larger than previously thought. For the average gym goer, the most important thing is simply getting a sufficient protein intake. For heavy lifters, you should likely be getting some form of protein in within 2 hours after a gym session anyway as 1) you need to be eating protein so regularly throughout the day anyway and 2) it can't harm you aiming for the ‘anabolic window’.

We live in an age where health and fitness is a much more popular topic than in previous generations. This means our knowledge of concepts like the importance of adequate protein intake is also progressing. With so many people regularly attending the gym or working out from home, you will find it much easier to buy protein products on the go now. If you walk into pretty much any petrol station, supermarket, shopping centre or corner shop now you will find an abundance of protein bars, protein shakes, meats, eggs and protein-based products lining the shelves.

We have also tried to make it easy for you to buy protein products listed on ProteinDB by linking both directly to the product website and also providing an Amazon link where available

The use of natural ingredients, simply means that the product uses things that are naturally occurring in nature as flavourings instead of artificial sweeteners and flavours. This can sometimes lead to a less powerful taste in the product, but in the long run, is much more beneficial for the consumer as you aren't putting excess chemicals into your body. Things like cacao, vegetable extract, honey and sea salt are common natural ingredients you will see in protein products.

Protein Bars

Considering the wide array of available protein bars, it is difficult to answer a question like are they healthy (some are much more healthy than others)? The first and most obvious benefit to eating more protein bars is the extra protein content that you are getting in your diet. On average, most protein bars contain 15-30 grams of protein, which is a hefty additional dose to give yourself throughout the day. They tend too also pack a hefty dose of additional macronutrients into each bar, which is a generous bonus to go along with your protein snack.

Potential things to avoid when you are shopping for your protein bars are things like high sugar content in your bar, high sweeteners, high-fat content and a high price tag, as you will tend to see protein bars can set you back more than your average snack of choice. In general, protein bars can be considered a pretty healthy and easy snack to have on the go (especially if they would otherwise be replacing a chocolate or candy bar). They provide many nutrients for your body and high protein content with very little work involved. Just like everything else, enjoy them in moderation and as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Some things to consider when choosing a protein-based snack include:

1) the nutritional profile including the protein content in the bar. This may seem obvious to some, but not all protein bars are created equal. If you are trying to maximise your snack and ensure the most protein possible in this food window, then check those contents and make sure you get as much bang for your buck as possible. Calories can also differ quite dramatically between bars.

2) The source of the protein in the bar. Is it a high-quality protein and is it hitting the 9 amino acid groups. If not then maybe it's better to ditch it for one that will.

3) The flavour of the protein bar. With so many choices on the market now, you have what may seem like a daunting task in deciding the flavour that's right for you. Shop around with some different brands and find the perfect flavour to compliment your mid-day snack, maybe it's not even one flavour but lots!

4) Finally look at the additional contents in the bar. Many of these bars will have harmful additives like extra sugar, sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup shoved into them. These can be not only harmful to you in the long run, but they also work to mitigate the positive effects that you are getting from choosing your healthy snack.

If you see this label on your protein bars, it means that some of the contents have been tested and shown to have laxative effects in larger quantities. The most common of these ingredients that you will find in foods are polyol sweeteners like sorbitol that are used in liu of natural sugar to replicate sweetness. As with all labels and warnings, you should heed the advice and avoid overconsumption, or look for a bar that does not contain such warnings.

Protein Powders

Protein powders are a great way to increase your protein intake without sacrificing too many calories or consuming signficant fat and carbohydates. When selecting a protein powder, beyond protein content you should look at:

1) sugar and sweetener content. Some powders add these in the boat load to make it taster when it is certainly not necessary. Avoid powders that have too much of either of these things added and it immediately becomes much healthier.

2) type and source of protein. Consider your own body, and things that may cause adverse effects within you. The most common protein powder is whey protein, which can be an irritant for some people especially if they are lactose intolerant.

The most common two things to mix with your protein powder are either milk or water and which one you choose should be based entirely on your situation. Those who use milk, are likely doing it for the extra taste that the milk provides, the extra protein and calories that the milk gives and the fact that they do not have any adverse effects with milk. Those who choose water are likely doing it to avoid adding excess calories to their shakes or they may likely have lactose intolerance so want to avoid dairy product consumption or they are possibly vegan.

You need to look at your situation and decide which is the best option for you. Are you lactose intolerant? Water is the superior mixer. Are you trying to bump your protein number and have no problems digesting milk? Well then add some milk to that powder and get to stirring. Way up the two options and decide what's best for you.