The World of Fitness loves its protein. It is by far the most discussed macro of the lot when it comes to chats about healthy nutrition. If I asked you to give me a word/phrase associated with “sports nutrition”, chances are you’ll hit me with something protein-related : “protein powder”, “whey protein”, “lean protein”.
Protein is one of the 3 macronutrients that constitutes the daily caloric intake of the human diet. It has a variety of vital functions in the human body, both fitness- and non-fitness related, which I will go into more detail below.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you will understand the truth about the P-word and the impact it can have on your progress towards your fitness dreams and aspirations. I am also going to poach some well-established myths that are, unfortunately, pretty commonplace in the media.
SO, WHAT’S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT?!
Much of the emphasis placed on protein is with good reason. It is, quite literally, the building blocks of life: every cell, every muscle, and every bone in our body is made of up of it, so it’s not really surprising that it is held in such high regard.
They are made up of 20 different Amino Acids (AA’s); molecules that bind together to form various types of protein. Luckily, 11 of these can be manufactured by the body and are classed as non-essential, whereas the remaining 9 AA’s are classed as essential due to the fact that we cannot synthesise them in the body and are therefore required through diet.
The reason why fitness fanatics in particular love protein so much is the pivotal role it plays in muscle growth and repair. Without an adequate supply of protein in our daily diets, muscle protein synthesis (MPS), the primary process responsible for the development and maintenance of lean muscle mass, would be unable to occur.
This important function of Protein explains why every single vending machine in any gym will undoubtedly be rammed with snack-bars and shakes boasting ungodly amounts of “FAT-BLASTING PROTEEEEEEEEIN”
PROTEIN & LOSING FAT
High protein foods are not inherently thermogenic (i.e. fat-burning). However, the combination of maximising daily protein intake, a moderate calorie deficit, and a sound exercise programme together will indeed cause the fat to melt away.
Along with aiding the development of lean mass (and thus increasing your BMR), protein can play a great role in a fat loss diet.
Regularly topping up on protein throughout the day will help you stick to a calorie deficit, and will reduce the perception of “being on a diet” through feelings of fullness and satisfaction.
Fat loss relies on a calorie deficit, and maximising your protein intake will significantly facilitate the process.
Think of a high protein intake as the centre-forward of Fat Loss FC; you are able to live without it, but you need it in the team to be able to thrive and succeed.
WHOLE > SUPPS
These days, protein supplements (shakes, powders and fortified foods) have tend to overshadow the benefits of real, whole-food sources of protein.
Whenever I talk to my clients about bumping up their protein intake, their first response is usually something along the lines of “right, so I should start necking 12 scoops of whey on the reg then?” (Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but you get the jist…)
Although there is very definitely a place for a high quality protein powder in a healthy diet (more on this in a sec), using them in place of real foods may mean that you are missing out on the plethora of health benefits of real foods.
Take lentils, for example; one of the best vegan-friendly sources of protein. Lentils (daal), as well as packing g of protein per serving, are bursting with fibre; a satisfying form of carbohydrate that keeps you fuller for longer.
Compare that to a measly 300ml liquid shake, and you see why Daal beats Powder in a game of ‘Daal, Powder, Scissors’
Just like lentils, other high protein foods like chicken, beef, black beans, and fish all rate highly on the Satiety Index; a scale that identifies how full you feel after eating a given food. This means that, you feel more satisfied eating, say, a chicken salad than guzzling a quick shake.
If you struggle with overeating, always opt for whole foods over supps; eating your calories as opposed to drinking them will help you stick to an appropriate diet.
THE PLACE FOR POWDERS
Once you’ve got yourself a healthy, nutritious meal plan stuffed with lean proteins, there may be cause to add a high quality protein supplement to your diet so you can hit your all-important targets.
There have been extensive studies in nutrition science that suggests that highly active individuals, particularly those undertaking some form of weight training >4 times per week, benefit from a daily protein intake of 1.8-2.2g per kg bodyweight.
People shooting for this high intake of protein often struggle to hit this goal with solely whole foods; in which case, they may choose to bump it up with a serving or two of protein powder as part of their daily diet.
The most common way in which people use protein supplements is to follow a filthy session of pure pumpage with a quick scoop of whey (or vegan alternative) mixed with water. And with good reason: protein shakes are rapidly digested by the body, so that your muscles get an instant dose of aminos to facilitates MPS in the 1-48hrs following resistance training.
This explains why sports nutrition companies that offer drinks that speed up recovery usually emphasise their high protein content .
Furthermore, if you are looking to put on some serious mass, many companies offer higher calorie options that serve as an easy source of energy if you struggle to reach your daily caloric goal.
When purchasing mass gainers of this sort, just watch out for the additives that make it higher in calories; I highly recommend the TPW Mass Gainer formula if you have this particular goal.
MYTHBUSTERS : THE PROTEIN EDITION
I thought it would be useful do dedicate a section to poaching some common myths you have probably read online with regards to the P-word…
Myth #1 – High protein diet = chicken 24/7
Chicken, and meat in general is a cracking source of top class protein. However, it is not the ultimate antidote to a crap diet; broaden your horizons & shoot for a wider variety of both animal- and plant-based proteins.
Myth #2 -If I want to build muscle, I should drink Shakes 5-times-a-day
Your body can only use so much protein for MPS. Although studies are yet to find damaging effects of an excess of protein in otherwise healthy people, any surplus of protein will either be excreted through your urine, or potentially converted and stored as fat. In this case, caning it on the supps will just be burning a hole in your wallets with no proportionate impact on your progress.
Myth #3 – Vegan/Veggie = Low Protein
Three words: tofu, lentils, tempeh. Three of the leanest sources of protein on the planet. And if you see people criticising the lack of all 9 essential amino acids (I.e. ‘incomplete’ proteins), just hit them with some quinoa, or the classic rice-beans combo. No further questions, your honour.
Myth #4- More Protein = More Fat Burn
Like I said earlier, cranking up your protein alone won’t automatically give you the Shredz. Add a calorie deficit, regular weight training, and a sprinkling of HIIT, and it’s a different story.
THE FINAL WORD
Protein is your best pal when it comes to pretty much every health-and-fitness-related goal there is; muscle gain, fat loss, or general fitness. It is a one-way ticket to ramp up your performance and take things to the next level thanks to it’s role in muscle growth and recovery.
Aim to get the majority of your protein from whole food sources, and consider using a supplement pre- and/or post-workout to speed up recovery and maximise gains from a consistent weight training programme.
Furthermore, trying to spread protein intake across all meals during the day is a great strategy to ensure a continued supply of protein to your muscles, as well as optimising most other markers of physical health. Just having a big slab of meat with your meal won’t really suffice; the aim of the game is to keep it steady and regular throughout the day.
A good approach to adopt on this point is “PFC every 3”: the idea that every 3 hours, you eat a meal/snack that contains a decent proportion of proteins, fats and healthy carbs. Here are some ideas to get you started:
If you want any further tips and tricks on how to increase your protein intake, then drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org; you may find it tricky to see where in your normal diet you can look to bump up the protein content, so go ahead and crack us a message and we can sort something out!
Just remember, Protein is a cracking weapon to speed up your progress, BUT you should also consider your dietary intake as a whole; focus on lean proteins, wholegrain carbs, and healthy fats, and you’ll be well on the way to your goals 🙂
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