Protein – How much is enough?
If you are interested in building muscle or changing body shape getting enough protein in your diet is an important part of the puzzle, but how much is enough?
If you ask any trainer how much protein you should be eating you are likely to get a different answer from everyone you ask, this doesn’t make them wrong it just demonstrates what a complex subject nutrition can be.
The answer will depend on a number of factors such as you as an individual including your age, sex and genetic type, your goals or level of activity.
What is Protein?
Protein is an essential nutrient needed for growth and repair of the body (not just muscles!) and maintenance of good health.
It is also a source of energy with each gram of Protein providing 4 calories.
Where to get Protein from?
Different foods contain different amounts and different combinations of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). Protein from animal sources (e.g. meat, fish, eggs and dairy products) contains the full range of essential amino acids needed by the body. However, vegans and vegetarians can get all the amino acids they need by combining different plant sources of protein, e.g. pulses and cereals.
How much is enough?
The minimum required to survive is around 56 grams each day this is based on a male aged 19-50 weighing 70kg or 11 stone. For a women this is around 46 grams aged again between 19-50 weighing 57kg or 9 ½ stone
So if you are training to change the way you look or perform you are going to need more than this!
To get an idea of how many grams of Protein you should be eating daily the recommendation ranges from the example above at around 0.8 gram per kg up to an extreme of 6.6 grams per kilo that would give you a massive 462 grams of protein each day and almost 1850 calories just from protein each day.
You are unlikely to find many people recommended either of the extremes above.
The typical recommendation from Fitness professionals to people interested in muscle gain is around 2.2 grams per kg (or 1 gram per lb). Again, for someone weighing 70 kg that equates to 154 grams of protein each day
What do the scientists say?
In a recent scientific study researchers investigated the question of how much Protein is enough to elicit strength and muscle gains and also what was the highest protein intake after which no more noticeable benefit in increased strength and muscle gains were seen.
What The study found
Responses were seen starting at around 1.4 grams per kilo. Responses started to slow at around 1.6 grams with response plateauing after 2.2 grams per kilo. Loading up on large amounts of protein post a workout was not as effective as spreading the amount over the persons daily intake.
When comparing experienced trainers to untrained people the study found that increasing protein intake had more of an effect on those who had prior experience with resistance exercise training.
What can we say about protein intake and building muscle with certainty is increasing intake above the daily minimum RDI (Recommend Daily Intake) of 0.8 grams per kg is necessary for optimal strength and muscle gains, however this shouldn’t be a surprise given the daily minimums are formulated to prevent malnutrition rather than aid muscle growth.
It is also worth noting that extremely high protein amounts won't necessarily result in increased muscle gains compared to more moderate protein amounts. Protein although a vital nutrient for muscle growth isn't magic substance and simply eating massive quantities won’t necessarily equate to more muscle gains.
When trying to build muscle and or increase strength it would probably be wise to aim for around 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kg of total bodyweight per day (0.73-1 grams per lb) depending on your own personal eating preferences and body composition goals.
There may also be times, especially for people who have very high activity levels, when they might want to consume a slightly more than these amounts to aid recovery. Also if your trying to lose weight specifically fat, increasing protein intake can help while maintaining a calorie deficit. Finally, there is no single level of protein intake applicable to everyone, so you might need to experiment to find your optimal level.
What is protein and why do we need it?
Like any living creature we have to feed our bodies to survive. All foods can be broken down into two main categories - MACRONUTRIENTS (carbohydrates, fats and protein) and MICRONUTRIENTS (vitamins and minerals). Protein is a macronutrient that helps to make up the building blocks of the body. Its main purposes include cell growth, supporting immune function, metabolism, hormone production and most well-known for building and repairing muscles.
In truth, men and women have very different body compositions and it is actually hormones within the body (namely testosterone) that cause men to achieve muscle growth (gains). Women have much lower levels of testosterone, which makes it extremely difficult to increase muscle mass significantly. Eating protein will help to aid muscle recovery after exercise which in turn will build and maintain lean muscle, this creates a lean toned look, it will not however make you grow huge, bulky muscles!
How does protein aid weight loss?
Protein has a higher thermic effect than any other food group, this means that your body has to work harder to digest and metabolize protein… put simply, by eating protein your body actually burns more calories just by breaking it down.
Due to the longer period of time that it takes for your body to break down protein, this increases the time between eating and when you feel hungry again, which will help to curb snacking and avoid unhealthy foods by making you feel fuller for longer. When you are dieting to lose weight you have to maintain a calorie deficit, which means reducing the number of calories consumed daily. By increasing the protein in your diet this will help to maintain the lean muscle that you’ve worked hard for and encourage the body to burn stored fat as a source of energy.
Should I be using a protein shake?
A protein shake is no different than getting protein from whole food sources such as chicken or eggs and can be consumed by EVERYONE from gym bunnies to busy mums that don’t have time to prepare their own lunch. The main difference is convenience. The most important factor to consider when eating protein is the timing. You should aim to include protein with every meal spaced throughout the day so that your body is in constant supply. Protein shakes are also a great low calorie, high protein snack that will help you to feel more full and stop you reaching for the sugary sweet stuff!
Try a high protein breakfast
For most people who work full time or have children, it’s not always easy or time effective to prepare protein rich food throughout the day, especially breakfast time when our go to is usually the most convenient options such as toast or cereal. These are both nutritionally poor, high GI options which means that you will get a quick boost of energy, followed by a crash that will leave you raiding the fridge by mid-morning.
A high protein breakfast will help to keep you feeling more full for longer which will aid weight loss goals and reduce unnecessary snacking! A protein shake is a great option first thing as it packs a huge hit of protein is quick and easy, you can drink it on the go and you can create tasty smoothies to add additional vitamins and minerals to your diet.
How does protein aid muscle recovery?
If you have started exercising or increased how much you are exercising regular exercise intensity to help aid weight loss or reach your goals faster, then a post workout protein shake is vital for recovery. Exercise causes tiny tears in the muscle fibre, the muscles then repair and rebuild stronger – this is how constant training helps to increase muscle strength. Protein is essential to help speed up muscle recovery by repairing muscle fibres, promoting lean muscle growth and replenishing depleted energy stores from workouts. Post workout protein will help to reduce muscle soreness and speed up recovery so that you can continue to perform at your best and give it your all in every session.
Is too much protein bad for you?
There is a certain amount of protein that your body can store and utilize to carry out all of its necessary functions. Any excess protein is eliminated from the body without use. There is little evidence to show that too much protein is harmful, and you would have to be consuming a huge amount to be having too much, however it is more likely that you are not eating enough. Talk to a member of our fitness team at our centres who can help you to work out your protein intake to help reach your personal goals