Last month on our nutrional blog post, we talked about the importance of carbohydrates in fuelling your workouts. For this month, I want to focus on protein.
Protein is essential for so many of our body’s processes. Whilst we need protein to build our muscles for our workouts, we also need it for our bones, hormones, enzymatic reactions, neurotransmitters, our immune system and much more! Protein is made up of amino acids, some of which are essential from the diet as our body doesn’t make them.
In terms of protein fuelling your workout, it is actually the hardest source of fuel for our body to use compared to carbohydrates and fats. Saying that, protein is extremely important for building muscle (known as muscle protein synthesis) but you will always need some carbohydrate in the meal for this to be effective.
What are the best protein rich foods?
When we think of protein, we tend to think of meat, fish and animal products in the form of dairy or eggs. Whilst this is true, protein is high in foods such as lentils, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu or tempeh. You can easily get enough protein from a vegetarian diet, but you need to be mindful of mixing up your sources of protein.
As I mentioned, protein is made up of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids but 9 are essential. This means you can only get them from your diet. Meat and meat products will generally contain all 9 but with plant-based sources this is unlikely. You therefore need to source these 9 amino acids from a mix of beans, lentils, nuts etc.
How does a low protein diet affect exercise?
I would never recommend a low protein diet unless there was a medical reason for doing so. If you are not getting enough protein in the diet you are much more likely to experience fatigue and a slow recovery from exercise. It is really important to ensure you have protein at every meal of the day but in particular for breakfast. Breakfast cereal doesn’t really cut it!
A low protein diet will lead to a loss of muscle tissue and strength, both of which we want when working out! If you suffer with regular colds or flu or reduced immunity in general, consider whether you are getting enough protein.
When you miss out protein in a meal, it is rather likely that you will be increasing levels of carbohydrate. This can then lead to you riding a blood sugar rollercoaster where you experience highs and significant lows in energy. This will certainly impact your exercise goals but also your day to day activities. It is particularly important to have protein with carbohydrate to ensure you avoid that blood sugar spike and subsequent crash.
Will high levels of protein improve my performance?
In the scientific literature, it has generally been found that there is no additional benefit in increasing protein levels in terms of performance. This is also true of muscle growth, strength, stamina and speed.
From a dietary perspective, it can be hard to ‘overeat’ protein but too much can be a real strain on kidney health. Bear this in mind, especially with a family history of kidney disease.
How much protein do I need?
Protein requirements are very much dependent on life stage and exercise levels. The RDA is 0.8 – 1mg per kilogram of body weight. If you weight 60kg, this equates to around 20g of protein at each meal (based on 3 meals a day). If you are exercising, lifting weights, breastfeeding, pregnant or an adolescent who is growing, your needs may be much higher. In general, it is harder for women to build muscle compared to men, but this is due to lower levels of testosterone rather than protein intake. It is worth working with a qualified Nutritionist to ensure you are getting the right number of macronutrients to your individual needs.
Are protein powders good for you?
Depending on quality, protein powders can be a useful pre and post workout fuel. There are various ones on the market that tend to be either vegan plant proteins or whey protein. I highly recommend this one which contains all the amino acids:
from Revolution Foods. When buying through the Natural Dispensary you can use my discount code MFLD10 to get 10% off.
An alternative, child friendly brand that my teens all enjoy are from Nuzest:
Again, you can use my discount code for any purchases made on the Natural Dispensary.
Protein powders can be useful post exercise as they have a good ratio of carbohydrate and protein. They help to promote muscle repair and glycogen replenishment within the muscles which is very useful when you are planning to exercise again within 24 hours.
It is worth highlighting that whey-based powders are derived from milk. If you suffer with any dairy sensitivities, then please avoid these. However, the advantage of whey is that it is high in the amino acid leucine. Leucine is a signalling amino acid which means when it reaches muscle cells it triggers protein manufacture which in turn leads to increased muscle strength. Whey is quickly digestible and rapidly absorbed in the intestine.
Protein powders are not superior to real food sources; however, they are just easy to eat and convenient before and after a workout.
Next month I will be diving into healthy fats!