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  • Writer's pictureAJfitness

Why you probably don't need to up your protein

In recent years, high protein diets, protein snacks, protein pancakes, protein everything has become a bit of a trend. You go to the gym all you see is protein, protein, protein. You talk anything fitness all you hear is protein, protein, protein.....

Is it just an amazing marketing ploy, or are we all really in need of more protein?

In the UK and in most developed countries protein deficiencies are very rare. Deficiencies in protein, or of one or more of the essential amino acids, will lead to a reduction of growth in children or muscle loss in adults. Susceptibility to disease can increase and in extreme cases can result in death.

According to the British Nutrition Foundation, the average recommended intake in the UK intake for protein should be Men = 55g Women = 45g

But studies found the average intake was actually higher at Men = 88g Women = 64g

How to work out my recommended daily intake for protein?

0.8kg x (your weight in kgs) = total daily protein needs

For example, if you weighed 60kg, 60 x 0.8 = 48g per day. This is just over one chicken breast or 2 servicing of beans/chickpeas. So actually the daily need for protein is quiet small.

That said, the following adjustments are suggested for:

- Endurance training 1.2 - 1.4g per kg body weight

- Strength training 1.4 - 1.8g per kg body weight

Did you know your body can actually make some of the proteins it needs, even if you haven't acquired them from your diet.

How do we get protein?

When the body needs new protein, it looks around for the right amount of each component amino acid to make the new one. If there is a non essential amino acid missing, the body will make a new one. If an essential amino acid is needed,(the ones the body cannot make, which must come from diet) the body will have to wait until a new source is supplied. So yes it is essential for protein to be topped up on a daily basis, but the truth is, people who regularly eat complete proteins such as meat, eggs, milk and cheese, or will have no problem with this.

What makes up proteins

· Proteins are made up of amino acids

· There are 20 standard amino acids that take part in the protein structure,

8 of those must come from diet as the body cannot manufacture them

The other 12 the body can make.

· If you imagine a tangled up chain, each link would be amino acids and the big ball would be proteins

· 8 essential amino acids which cannot be made by the body (can be obtained by diet): Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptopophan, Valine

· 12 non - essential amino acids which can be made in the body: Alanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Aspartic acid, Cysteine, Glutamic acid, Glutamine, Glycine, Histidine, Proline, Serine, Tyrosine

What does it do?

· After water, protein is the most plentiful substance in the body. Proteins grow, maintain, and replace the tissues in our bodies. Therefore our muscles, organs, and immune systems are mostly made of protein.

· Antibodies are proteins - these are produced by white blood cells and fight infections

· Some hormones are made up of proteins - these send messages through the body to regulate cell activities e.g. insulin (blood sugar levels).

· Protein is used to make haemoglobin , the part of the red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body.

· All enzymes are proteins - these control the rate and pattern of chemical reactions within the body e.g. food digestion and extracting energy from it.

· Protein does also provide energy (although this is not its main purpose)

Why do people say vegetarians don't get enough protien?

Most plant proteins are incomplete (meaning they don't contain the full range of essential amino acids needed by the body) but this can easily be solved by combining plant protein sources to make these then complete.

Vegetarians can obtain an adequate supply of the required amino acids by having a good mix of pulses, grains, cereals and nuts. Soya bean products contain the full complement of amino acids.

The following combination are also great for ensuring a good supply of the required amino acids.

- Peanut butter on toast

- Vegetable chilli and rice

- Beans on toast

- Lentil soup

Should I be taking a protein shake after training?

First I'd recommend looking at your current intake vs. your recommended intake.

Second i'd suggest looking at your diet. Is there a variety of different protein sources?

You may reach the decision that some dietary changes should be made, or you may feel that supplementing your protein will be beneficial for you.

When are protein supplements useful?

Strength and power based athletes weighing 80kg + may have a desired protein intake of 144g + this may be difficult to obtain by eating alone.

Equally those on a calorie restricted programme, may find protein via shakes and supplements more beneficial due to a lower calorie intake.

Will protein shakes help me build muscle?

Contrary to popular belief, having protein shakes does not mean you will automatically get bigger muscles. If your aim is to increase lean muscle tissue, you will need to tailor your training to support that.

If you are taking a shake to hit your protein intake, to build muscle, it must be accompanied by the appropriate workload to promote muscle bulk. Without going in to it too much, think lift as much and as heavy as you can for as long as you can (of course with the correct form, rest and recovery) - so think 10 reps of 20kgs will be more beneficial than 1 rep of 100kg as the overall lift will equal 200kgs.

The main take home, like most things, is everything in moderation, it is about balance, listen to your body and do what feels right for you, and not just because someone told you that you should.

As with most things in nutrition, there are debates and disagreements everywhere, so a lot of the information is based on practical experience rather than researched based recommendations. The reason for this tends to be because 1. studies are expensive and 2. there are so many different factors and variables which makes these types of studies complex. So studies tend to be short and are not necessarily able to predict the relationship between variables. Equally the design of the study may impact the value of the results. The information above has been collected from The YMCA awards in nutrition for physical activity and the British nutrition

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