When it comes to building muscle and burning fat, protein is a nutrient that will make or break your results, but it’s also a nutrient that is often misunderstood. If you’re confused about why protein is important, how much protein you need, or when you should consume it, this beginners guide to protein, from Super Vitality, should help you understand the basics.
Protein is a fundamental nutrient needed by everybody on a daily basis. All cells and tissues contain protein, therefore protein is essential for growth and repair and the maintenance of good health. It is made up of essential and non-essential amino acids, which are the ‘building blocks’ for healthy bodies. Protein is in fact the second most abundant nutrient in the body, second only to water and has a number of different roles in the body, including:
- Building and repairing muscles and bones
- Repairing cells
- Providing a source of energy
- Controlling many of the important processes in the body related to metabolism
When we consume protein, it is broken down through digestion into individual amino acids, these amino acids are then absorbed and reform in order to create new proteins that are then used by the body.
There are 22 different amino acid and these are divided into two groups: essential and non-essential amino acids (14 non-essential amino acids and 8 essential amino acids). Non-essential amino acids are not essential as they can be created by the body and do not have to be derived from food.
However, the body cannot produce the remaining 8 essential amino acids, and therefore they must be consumed.
Protein sources that contain all of the essential amino acids are called ‘complete proteins’ and are superior sources of protein to ‘non-complete proteins’.
The recommended daily allowance (now referred to as Reference Intake/RI) for adults is 50 grams of protein (that’s approximately two tins of tuna). However, studies have shown that regular exercise significantly increases your need for protein, which means that active people need a lot more. For best results, most experts recommend that active individuals should consume around 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. To work out how much protein you need, multiply your bodyweight in kilograms by 1.5 (e.g. a 60kg woman would aim for 90 grams of protein per day).
Most experts recommend taking protein shakes in two servings: one an hour or so before you train, and another within 20 minutes of training to help repair muscle damage and fuel the growth of new muscle tissue. Protein shakes are a great way of getting protein in to your system, as they are quickly absorbed by the body. They’re also a great way of enhancing everyday food such as porridge, or getting essential nutrition on the go in the form of shake.
Not only does protein help you build muscle, it also plays an important part during a fat loss programme. As well as helping to preserve lean muscle, which is easily lost when you cut back on your calorie intake, protein-rich foods tend to make you feel fuller than foods rich in carbohydrates or fat. So including a lean source of protein with a meal can help to minimise feelings of hunger and decrease overall energy intake.
An occasional low-protein day will not affect your progress too much. But if you don’t get enough protein in your diet on a regular basis, then your body starts burning muscle for energy and your progress in the gym will grind to a halt.
My kids always snack less when they've had a meal with plenty of protein in, especially meat, so it's worth eating some at every meal to stop the snacks on carby food after.
If I don't eat enough protein I get very hungry not long after eating. I good meat and two veg meal really does keep me fuller for longer than a vegetarian option, although I like both.
AS a vegetarian,. i would be interested to know if plant-based proteins such as lentils are considered a good substitute for meat when you're working out a lot. Thanks.
I enjoyed that - nice to read something not afraid of science. I didn't know how important protein is, even for those of us not doing serious body building. Time to review my diet.
Very interesting to read in detail about protein, especially when there's so many mixed messages nowadays. I am active and tend to eat meat/fish every day and protein at every meal so think I am ok.