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The Power of Protein

Oct 17, 2014

So it’s pretty common knowledge that we need protein, we have all heard or been taught that it is needed for growth and repair, we are aware that there are a lot of fad diets out there that insist on making you ditch the bready carbs in favour of steak and chicken shaped protein portions but what really is all the fuss about?

Protein is an essential macronutrient made up of large complex molecules formed from thousands of smaller units known as amino acids. There are actually only 20 amino acids however these can be muddled up, a bit like a fruit machine, to form many different combinations.

So what does protein actually do?

Although one of protein’s jobs is as a structural component to form muscles, tendons and our organs, proteins also include:

  • Antibodies: your body’s flag system which binds to harmful pathogens telling your defence system where it needs to put up a fight
  • Enzymes: the mini laboratories in our body that perform chemical reactions working to form new molecules, aid digestion and so much more!
  • Transport and storage: some proteins work like pick-up trucks, binding to small molecules and transporting them around the body to where they are needed.
  • Hormones: your bodies messenger molecules telling specific parts of your body what they need to do and when

Ok that great, but why make such a big fuss?

So here’s the deal: our bodies cannot make protein, neither will they store protein in the same way that they store fat. Fat is stored as a reserve, just in case it is needed later, but protein is only used if required. Therefore when we don’t have enough, our body will pull it from our tissues or break down the muscle we already have. To stay healthy we need to get protein from our diet. There is definitely truth in the term “we are what we eat”.

So how much protein do we need?

If you are now thinking that the way to the toned or muscular body you have always dreamed of is to down a protein shake every hour, then think again. As already touched upon, your body cannot store excess protein but instead excretes it as a waste product (creatinine). As to how much protein is too much, it is very much down to the individual, your size and the efficiency by which your body digests protein. If you are looking for a guideline though, go with 30g of protein per meal (national daily protein intake recommendations), which is about 0.4g of protein per pound of your body weight. On top of this, you need to consider your activity levels. The more heavy things you are lifting, intervals you are sprinting and prowlers you are pushing, the more protein you will need in order to allow your body to repair and build new protein. Aim for around 0.8g per pound of body weight. Look at what you have eaten today – have you eaten too much or too little?

This is not an absolute

As I have pointed out, this is not an absolute, everyone’s body is different so at the end of the day the best way to work out how much you need is to listen to your body! Here are some signs that your body is trying tell you that you need to consume more protein:

  • You’re always hungry: if you are always hungry try adding a bit more protein. High protein, low carbohydrate diets act on relevant metabolic targets of satiety AKA protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrate and so it fills you up more. If you are hungry all the time, try increasing the protein in your diet by adding some lean meat, fish or a handful of almonds.
  • You’re on a diet: if you are reducing you energy in take (daily calories) your body weight will decrease but your lean body mass will decrease too. By eating more protein or even making sure that you are still getting 30g protein with each meal, you will offset the muscle loss whilst staying satisfied for longer.
  • You’re lifting heavy things: the reason we keep mentioning lifting heavy things is because people tend to put exercise in a box. If you work on a building site, doing manual labour all day, your energy expenditure is going to be higher than if you work in an office. Add some weight training at the end of the day and the builder’s requirement for protein will be significantly higher than the more sedentary office worker. Resistance training, whether in the form of bicep curls or lifting bags of cement, are both going to increase anabolic rate leading to increased muscle size and strength. Plus, the more you do, the better your body becomes at processing protein. It’s a win/win situation really.  Try our Anabolic Drive for a superb post training recovery drink, mixed with berries, absolutely fantastic way to end your training session!
  • You’re a no meat athlete: it is not as easy to get all of the essential amino acids from a vegetarian or vegan diet as it is from animal protein. Having said that, there is research to suggest that too much animal protein is carcinogenic so it’s a bit of a dilemma. The solution: variety. Get as many different types of protein into your diet as possible, from lean meat, legumes and nuts to greens such as spinach and broccoli. If you are a fussy vegetarian/vegan and want to make sure you are having enough protein, try supplementing with a vegan based protein shake: Pulsin Hemp Protein, Sunwarrior Protein and Vega Protein are all great options.
  • You’re an endurance junky: if you spend your life running/cycling/swimming round the island then you need to make sure you are getting your protein hit. Some of the triathlon girls I know started to complain mid-season about how flat their bottoms had become! This is a prime example of when protein intake needs to come up to stop the muscle loss shed from a combination of high-energy expenditure and a high carbohydrate/low protein diet. The best way to do this is to make sure you are having a combination of carbohydrate and protein in your diet. For optimum performance, consider consuming the ration of 3:1 carbohydrates to protein 30 minutes after a hard or long endurance based training session. This will allow your muscles’ energy stores to be replenished while the protein assists in recovery and repair. If you have trouble eating after a training session, consider trying a recovery shake such as Phil Richards Anabolic Drive. This has the tried and tested, correct combination of carbohydrate to protein to ensure optimum recovery.
  • You’re stressed: stress comes in many forms, from a stressful job/home life or loss of a loved one to a broken bone, serious burn or even a sprained ankle. Stress can be catabolic for a number of reasons. If you break a bone, you have to stop using the muscles around and if your body ain’t using them, the body doesn’t need them so it chucks them out, rather like we do with things we no longer need. In the case of a burn victim (even a less serious burn), the body’s metabolism goes into hyperdrive, stress increases and as a result muscle tissue breaks down. All the more reason to get consume that extra bit more protein!

So there you go: next time you find yourself raiding the fridge following an epic workout consider, whether you have had enough protein. Is it maybe time to substitute in some good quality protein?

Train Hard…Live Easy

Viki x



T. Colin Campbell, PhD, Whole Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, BenBella Books; 1 edition, Dallas, 2013.

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