Protein- What, Why, When?
This is one of my favourite subjects. I love me a bit of protein! But a lot of people seem resistant to eating more protein because they associate it with bodybuilders and power athletes.
Protein is one of the 3 main macronutrients and perhaps the most important one in terms of biochemical mechanisms within the body. Protein contains 4 kilo calories per gram. Protein is made up of important elements called amino acids, these are very important for our health but some foods are missing the essential amino acids.
Essential amino acids are so called because we can’t make them in our body and need to source them from foods. Essential amino acids are found in animal products such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs.
Plant based protein sources are mostly ‘incomplete’ and therefore it is necessary for vegans and vegetarians to combine food sources like grains and pulses to get a full spectrum of essential amino acids.
Protein not only builds muscle (important for healthy weight loss) but fortifies cells, promotes growth and repair and can even be used as an energy source once carbohydrates are depleted.
Protein is highly satiating which means if you ensure each of your main meals has a healthy helping of protein food you will be far less likely to snack between meals and therefore may create ‘automatic’ weight loss. Initially, many people find the idea of consuming more protein intimidating and create a lot of resistance to doing so. If you are struggling to eat enough protein the answer is simple, just eat more protein. But, of course you need to understand which foods are good sources of protein so do your homework.
The bigger you are or the more active you are the greater your need for protein. Research is also now showing us that aging populations also have an increased need for protein in order to avoid degenerative diseases like sarcopenia (1).
The ISSN recommend a minimum of 1.2g of protein per KG of bodyweight for active individuals with as much as 2 g/kg BW for sportsmen and women (2).
At GymCube we recommend a range of 1.5-2 g/kg BW for body composition because when you are on a diet more protein will keep your metabolism high and ensure you are losing fat, not muscle. The lower end is for those staring out and still getting to grips with the basics of nutrition and developing an exercise habit. The higher end is for those of you getting fitterr and leaner and doing a minimum of 3-4 hours of exercise per week.
This one is simple. Protein is the one macronutrient that should remain consistent at all times. So if you weigh 70kg and are aiming for 2 g/kg this means you need 140g of protein a-day (that’s protein weight not food weight so read your food labels).
So, you need to eat 140g of protein every day regardless of your activity levels and can easily split this over 3-4 meals. Think eggs for breakfast, tuna salad for lunch, steak for dinner. Easy!
However, these ratios are aimed at normal healthy populations, if you are overweight then it makes sense to set your protein based on your target weight rather than your current weight. So, if you weight 90kg and want to get down to 70kg, you will aim for 1.5-2g x 70 instead of 90. Make sense?
Sometimes a protein supplement can help you to hit your protein target and can be convenient after a workout or on busy days when you can't stop to eat. You can also use a protein supplement like this one for adding to smoothies, sauces or baking, like some of the tasty protein recipes we have on this site. But, a protein supplement isn’t necessary if you can get your protein from normal food.
1. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009 January ; 12(1): 86–90. doi:10.1097/MCO.0b013e32831cef8b.
2. Kreider et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2010, 7:7