• Dairy Goodness
  • Protein

How to optimise your protein intake

By Courtney Gerlach

Courtney is a Registered Dietitian at Fonterra. She holds a BSc. Food Science & Nutrition, and a MHSc in Nutrition & Dietetics

  • Dairy Goodness
  • Protein

You probably know that getting enough protein, as part of a balanced diet, is essential for maintaining optimal health.

While New Zealanders often consume enough protein, it turns out we could do more to help our bodies make the most of its benefits. So how much protein are we eating on average, and how can we improve what we’re doing?

How much protein do we need and how much are we eating?

Most New Zealanders eat more than the minimum amount of protein required to cover basic needs – for most people aged over 14 years, this is between 45-81 g of protein per day. However, there may provide additional health benefits from consuming more. This is reflected in the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR), which was developed to help prevent chronic diseases, meet micronutrient needs and support optimal lean body mass.

The AMDR recommends that protein should make up between 15-25% of your total energy intake. For someone with an overall energy intake of 2,000 Cal (8,360 kJ), that’s roughly between 73-123 g protein each day. The last Ministry of Health NZ Adult Nutrition Survey from 2008/2009 found women and men, on average, were getting 71g and 102g respectively, which was around 16% of their overall energy requirements. So while we have a pretty good idea that we’re eating more than our minimum protein requirements, it is on the lower end of the optimal range. But there’s more we can do to reap the benefits of having more protein. 

Three ways to optimise your protein consumption
1. Consume protein evenly throughout your day

People tend to eat the majority of their protein during their evening meal. But this can negatively affect the balance of muscle growth and breakdown that happens in our bodies every day.

Emerging research suggests that spreading your protein consumption across your meals throughout the day may actually help to stimulate muscle growth more effectively. This when combined with exercise could lead to a more positive muscle balance.

Increasing your protein intake can also help you to feel fuller. If you find you are struggling with hunger during the day, adequate protein in your main meals or a protein-rich snack between meals may be the answer to satisfying hunger without consuming large quantities of food

Here are some creative and tasty ways to help you spread your protein intake throughout your day.


Many breakfast foods, such as cereal and bread, tend to be carbohydrate-dense. While the body does need carbohydrates for energy, you can easily boost the protein content of a classic breakfast by including milk, cheese and yoghurt, legumes, eggs or nuts and seeds. This can be as easy as adding some Anchor Protein+ milk and nut butter to a smoothie, or a dollop of Anchor Protein + Yoghurt with Honey and a sprinkle of nuts or seeds to your bowl of cereal.

For something that requires a bit more prep, such as overnight oats or Bircher muesli, mix 35g oats with ½ cup milk and 1 cup high protein yoghurt, and refrigerate overnight.

If you love toast, there are a number of different toppers, tweaks or additions that can help to ensure you are getting around 20g of protein in your morning meal. Picking a wholegrain toast will already give you a head start – 2 slices of wholegrain bread can provide around 8g of protein alone!

Add 40-50g cottage cheese and avocado to your toast, along with a coffee made with Anchor Protein+ milk on the side

Spread 2 tablespoons of peanut butter to your toast and top with ½ a banana, and 4 tablespoons of chia seeds

Scramble 2 eggs with Anchor Protein+ milk and serve on toast with wilted spinach and a sprinkle of cheese


Liven up your lunchtime salad or sandwich by adding chickpeas, cheese, quinoa, nuts, seeds, fish, meat, yoghurt or egg. Have a look at the table below to get an idea as to how much protein they can add to a meal.


 Serve size                 

 Protein per serve    


 10 Almonds

 2.5 g

Boiled eggs

 2 eggs

 13 g

Cashew nuts

 10 nuts

 2.1 g

Cheddar cheese

 40 g

 9.8 g

Chicken breast

 1 breast, shredded

 33.4 g


 1 cup, cooked

 9 g

Chia seeds

 2 Tablespoons

 1.5 g

Cottage cheese

 45 g

 6 g

Haloumi cheese

 40 g

 9 g


 1 cup cooked

 6 g


 1/2 cup

 21.5 g

Tuna, canned

 95 g tin

 25 g

Anchor Protein+ plain unsweetened 


 180 g serve

 14 g



Instead of just an apple, adding a pottle of high protein yoghurt, such as Anchor Protein+ plain yoghurt & a sprinkle of cinnamon will provide you with 14g protein. Other high-protein snacks can include;

A few handfuls of nuts

Crackers with tuna or a few slices of cheese

2. Choose high quality proteins, or a range of protein-rich, plant-based foods.

While overall protein consumption is important to consider, the quality of the protein you eat is just as essential! There are around 20 different amino acids that can be found within protein – some of which our bodies can create. However nine of these are what we would consider essential – meaning that we must get them from our diet. Luckily, high quality proteins found in dairy and other animal-based products, contain all nine essential amino acids that our bodies are able to absorb easily.

If you don’t eat meat or prefer to follow a vegan-based diet however, there is no need to fear! While many plant based foods may not always contain all indispensable amino acids (which we need to get from the diet), consuming a range of protein-rich plant-based foods over the course of the day can help you get all the amino acids you need. 

3. Remember to combine regular exercise with your protein intake.

Protein has a huge role to play with helping to stimulate muscle growth, but simply meeting your minimum daily protein requirement may not be enough to obtain or maintain an optimal body composition. Consuming protein after weight bearing exercises can result in an increase in lean body mass and an improvement in strength, when compared to other nutrients. In fact, consuming between 20-30g of high quality protein in a meal, following a weight bearing exercise can minimise protein breakdown and help stimulate muscle growth. While it might sound like a lot, this could be as easy as including a chicken breast into a salad or topping a bowl of oats with yoghurt.