Protein seems to be the only macronutrient which hasn’t been demonised as something that will make you fat. That being said, there is a lot of misinformation getting around about this important dietary component. I mean it’s good, but if you believe some of the information out there, you would be forgiven for thinking it was the answer to every health woe.
Firstly it’s important to know the role protein has in the body as one of the three macronutrients in your diet, along with carbs and fats. It is important not just for its rock start status role in muscle development and growth, but also immune system function, cell function and structural roles in the body.
Proteins are made up from strings of amino acids rolled together. It may be hard to get your head around this, but if you think of amino acids as the alphabet and protein as words- you need different letters linked together to make up different words, like the different proteins your body needs to function. There are 21 amino acids, some which your body can make and others which you have to get in your diet- these are the ‘essential’ amino acids. Given all the roles proteins play in our body, we can see why adequate intake is so important. However, how much is a topic of hot debate, especially amongst gym goers.
The recommended daily intake for the average Joe/Josephine is 0.84 and 0.75g/Kg body weight respectively, or 15-25 %of daily calorie intake. However for more active people undertaking a strength based program this number to increase to between 1.6-1.7 g/kg body weight. Training type, frequency and work to rest ration during training will dictate how much you need. You will be surprised to know that endurance athletes likely need a higher amount of protein than people who do strength based sports, as their muscle turnover is higher. If you are starting out at the gym and undertaking a new weight s program, you may benefit from a higher intake of protein for the first few months while your body is adapting, however once you’re a hardened gym goer, this increase can actually be decreased because your body will have adapts and becomes more efficient at protein utilisation and recovery. What is more important than overall protein intake is the timing of consumption and type. Research shows that providing readily available protein sources around training, teamed with smaller hits throughout the day will give the best results. It appears that meals containing 20g of protein spread amongst 5-6 meals across the day produces the best results, rather than eating one or two large serves at main meals. It’s likely that the garden variety strength based athlete is getting the recommended amount of protein daily; however, improving the timing of the intake will step up the game.
“It appears that meals containing 20g of protein spread amongst 5-6 meals across the day produces the best results, rather than eating one or two large serves at main meals.”
So why is protein (and more specifically protein shakes) always involved in the weight loss schemes we see today? Well, because to a point protein can assist with weight loss as it is sustaining, and less likely to be stored as fat- however any energy eaten above your needs will stored as fat. It’s not a miracle macro and should take preference within a healthy balanced diet –there is an equilibrium between reducing calories to lose weight and not eating enough to stay healthy.
To add to this, a meal high in protein leaves you feeling more satisfied, which means your will be less likely to be searching for food later on than if you had a carbohydrate dominated meal. Simple sources of carbohydrates rapidly increase a blood sugar level which is followed by a crash, leaving you feeling tired; including protein with good quality sources of carbohydrates will help avoid this situation.
And then there is the question of protein shakes…do we actually need them? Well yes and no… Protein shakes have their place, especially for people with a heavy training schedule. The whey protein which most protein shakes are based on is pretty nutritious and is rapidly absorbed, making them good for after a workout when you want to provide your body with nutrition as soon as possible so it can start the recover y process. There is evidence to show that a protein shake in the immediate period after training can assist in lean muscle development. For people who have low protein intake in their diet- which is very few people- then using a shake to increase protein intake is one way to do it- but it’s important to remember food first. And lastly protein shakes are convenient and quick, so for people after a quick breakfast, adding a scoop of protein to a smoothie is a good option for breakky on the go. Although if you’re downing more than one a day, your likely wasting your money! These products can be pretty expensive, and do pack on the weight loss claims which I am not a fan of, but otherwise, go nuts.
So you can see the fascination with protein, however I’ll stress it again – it’s not a miracle thing. Eating a diet wholly and solely made of protein will lead to constipation, potential kidney issues and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. This is because plant foods contain oodles of antioxidants, vitamins, mineral and fibre, so we need to include these at most, if not all meals to be healthy! You are only as strong as you weakest link. Protein plays a super important role for many functions in our bodies; however it only works if you are eating the other stuff to help it work its magic!