The Low-Down on Protein

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Protein is such a vital macro-nutrient responsible for numerous health functions in our bodies.
However, like everything, abuse of this macro-nutrient can lead to health issues.   In recent times it has been exposed that numerous athletes including Mo Farah have been taking extreme dosages of the amino acid (L-carantine) to improve their performance. However, side effects are very common.

In recent times the benefits of eating a moderate to high protein diet are becoming more mainstream and understood…

  • Protein keeps your metabolism running efficiently.
  • Protein is the building block of our muscle tissue so is vital for muscle growth and repair.
  • It helps you LOSE weight.
  • Protein helps increase satiety, thereby keeping you feeling fuller for longer, thereby reducing the risk of overeating and snacking.

 

In the fitness industry protein seems to have become the latest buzz word in the fitness industry – why you may ask?
Well, in the last number of years there has been a big shift in people’s views on exercise and nutrition and not necessarily in a bad way either…
Women are starting to slowly venture into the weights rooms in their local gyms after realizing the benefits of strength training and how it can dramatically change their physiques, AND THEIR HEALTH.
With this new gym culture comes slogans like –

“Strong is the new skinny”
“Strength is not only for men”
“Lifting weights doesn’t make women huge, cupcakes make women huge”
“Look like a beauty, lift like a beast”

The days of long bouts of cardio, pounding the pavement or the treadmill have almost become a thing of the past.
Because of this new focus on a different kind of training, more emphasis has also been put on the protein and the importance of it in our diets.

So how much protein do we actually need?

Well, the average person will require around 0.5g of protein per pound of lean body mass.
However, people who exercise a lot (especially strength training) will require more – usually anywhere between 1-1.5g per pound of lean body mass.
So let’s take a 25 year old female who has recently started an intense weights training program.
Her overall weight is 126 lbs (9 stone) with a lean body mass of 91lbs (6 stone 7 lbs).
Her goal is to increase her lean tissue to get more lean and toned.

This would put her at the higher end for daily protein intake.
So if she started at 1g of protein per pound of lean body mass, this would put her daily protein intake at 91g.
How could she get this in through her diet??
Well, if she aimed to eat 6 small meals/day the protein could come from the following sources;

Breakfast: 3 eggs (In an omelette): 18g protein
Snack: Protein shake: 20g protein
Lunch: Tuna/mackerel (in salad format): 20g protein
Dinner: Chicken/turkey fillet (with veg): 20g protein
Snack: Protein shake: 20g protein.

Here are some signs to look out for if your current diet is low in protein (especially if you are training hard);

  • Anxiety/depression (amino acids fuel the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine that prevent depression and anxiety)
  • Poor injury recovery (protein fuels muscle recovery and regrowth)
  • Hair Loss/Breakage (protein supports collagen production in the hair, skin, and nails)
  • Inability to focus (amino acids support brain performance)
  • Constant muscle pain (protein helps muscle recovery and aids in repair)
  • Brittle/Breaking Nails (protein supports collagen production in the hair, skin, and nails)
  • Poor muscle tone, even with exercise (protein builds and maintains lean muscle mass)
  • Constantly fatigued (protein is needed for a healthy metabolism)
  • Digestive issues (protein aids in digestion)

However, it is important to get balance in our diets.  I find, as humans that we can tend to go to extremes and  the food industry happily follows suit in response to our demands.
For example, fats were and are still to a large degree deemed bad and are the cause of fat gain.  Peoples response was the cut fats from their diets completely (which has its own health implications) and the food industry followed be offering numerous products that are low in fat or contain zero fat.
Then followed carbohydrates which led to gluten free and low carb products filling supermarket shelves.
You can already see with protein where things are going.  Producers are coming up with anyway they can to label their products a “high protein product”.  We now have a high protein Weetabix shake for breakfast, high protein milk, high protein mars bar…..I mean, where does it stop??

Protein is essential for health and longevity but don’t get too fixated on it as the solution to your health problems.  Yes, it plays a vital part but it is not the ANSWER all on its own, just like cutting carbs and fats isn’t either.
Learn to understand and listen to what your body needs and use the warning signs above to monitor your protein intake and adjust accordingly.

To your health & fitness
Ciaran

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