Nearly every single client I see in the clinic is not eating enough Protein, both male and female.
Unless you are really into muscle gains most people don’t even know why we need it and what it does for us. I have to try and change this as I think most Nutritionists would say it’s their favorite macro and we will prioritize it over the other macros, for good reason.
I’m going to try and keep the science bit to a minimum but do bear with me as its important you know.
What is protein anyway?
Proteins are large, complex molecules. Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids, which are attached to one another in long chains. There are 20 different types of amino acids that can be combined to make a protein. There are essential and non-essential amino acids that we consume through food.
Protein is an essential macro-nutrient, our body has to have it.
But why do I need Protein?
Let’s clear one common misconception about protein. You do NOT eat/drink Protein then turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger (if only). We do need to consume protein from our diet to provide amino acids for growth and maintenance of tissues. So, the amount you need really depends on your health and activity level. If you have had surgery for example, eating higher protein diet will help your recovery. If you are training hard with heavy weights you may need a higher protein amount to support the recovery of your muscles and help them grow.
If you are in a calorie deficit as you are trying to lose fat its important to keep your protein high so you do not lose muscle mass.
There are lots of other reasons that are not just muscle growth related as to why we need Protein, here are a few more and each one could have its own article!
· Immune function support
· It has a high thermic effect of food – which means you burn more calories metabolizing it
· Supports weight loss – higher protein meals have higher satiety
· Supports healthy nails and skin growth
· Protein is also an energy source
Protein myths debunked
Myth 1 - You can only digest 20-30g of protein in one sitting – NOT TRUE We digest all of our protein however you may not need more that 20-30g per sitting for muscle protein synthesis AKA muscle growth)
Myth 2 – Protein makes you fat – NOT TRUE The only thing that makes you gain fat is a calorie surplus.
Myth 3 – To much protein is bad for your kidneys in healthy individuals – NOT TRUE There is not one study that supports this statement.
Myth 4 – Protein shakes are for body builders – NOT TRUE Protein shakes are great if you don’t have time to sit and eat food, they are not better than food but a complete protein is a complete protein.
So how much Protein should you be having?
The recommend amount is 0.8g per kg of body weight but evidence supports that we go higher than this.
I would recommend a guide of 1.2 – 2.7g for kg of body weight.
The 1.2 would be for a non-active healthy person, the more active you get then it should increase. 1.5 is a great start. A 60kg female would need around 90g of Protein.
Why should your Protein come from?
We have complete and incomplete protein. Remember those amino acids I mentioned at the beginning, well they are pretty important. We need them to make up complete Proteins.
Complete proteins –They contain all the essential amino acids in adequate amounts
They are found in all animal-based protein sources
Incomplete proteins – which means deficient in at least one essential amino acid
Usually plant-based sources which can be difficult for vegan’s as they can’t have any animal products, its not impossible though. Vegan’s need to be aware of how to combine their protein source to make up a complete one. For example, mixing rice with beans.
Side effects of not getting enough Protein.
· You are tired – your body isn’t recovering and its effecting your energy levels
· Brittle nails
· You are not making the progress you wanted in the gym
· Loss of muscle mass
· Increased risk of bone fractures
· Risk of infections and low immune, you keep getting sick
I think that’s enough incentive to check how much protein you are eating. You may not even know that’s its low. Take a look at your diet and see how much you are eating.
Tips to increase protein
· Aim for 20g minimum per meal
· Make your snacks high protein – tuna, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, eggs, lentils, chickpeas
· Throw in a protein shake or bar if you are struggle to consume through food – you can add protein to your oats, smoothie or yogurt