Providing your body with what it needs is the secret to achieving your goals. If carbohydrates are the fuel of our body, proteins are the building blocks. These are often the most difficult of the three macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrate) to get enough of and are often overlooked. But optimum body function and exercise results rely on proteins.
Proteins are organic compounds containing long chains of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, although the human body is able to synthesize 11 of these itself. The remaining 9 are known as the Essential Amino Acids, or EAAs, because you need to be getting these in through your food to maintain optimal, healthy body function. How much you need and how you should get them are dependent on your goals, your body, and your lifestyle. To be healthy and to live an active life, it is important to make sure that each meal that you eat everyday contains a protein source. This way, you will know you are getting sufficient protein to meet your body’s requirements.
Proteins come from both plant based and animal based sources. Animal sources include meat and poultry, eggs, fish and dairy products. These are also complete sources of protein, meaning they contain all of the amino acids in each option. Essentially, if you eat meat, eggs, diary or fish during your day, you can be assured that you are eating all of the amino acids. Alternatively, plant sources are not normally complete sources of amino acids, although there are some exceptions – quinoa and hempseeds for example. This means that if you want to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, it absolutely is possible to get the protein that you need, it just requires a lot more research and planning to make sure you are getting all of the amino acids that your body needs.
No matter whether you are vegan, vegetarian or a meat eater, protein should be your focus when planning your meals. The human body cannot store protein, what it has is used now and any excess is eliminated from the body. If your body needs protein, you need to eat some immediately. An important time is straight after exercise when your muscles have been worked and need to repair themselves. What’s more, eating more protein is shown to make meals more filling and keeps you full for much longer. It is also important to keep your protein sources varied as the balance of amino acids in each source is different. Too much of one particular amino acid can lead to hormonal imbalances in the body. As variety is the spice of life, keeping your food varied is interesting!
Getting insufficient protein will cause your muscles to waste away, or atrophy. Your body needs to continually repair itself, build antibodies and synthesize hormones, all of which are made of amino acids. If what you’re consuming does not have sufficient protein in it, or is insufficient in particular amino acids, your body will break down its own muscle to use those amino acids instead. Having less muscle slows your metabolism (meaning you’re more likely to put on body fat), makes you weak and lowers your immune system making you more susceptible to infection and illness. Not an ideal state to be in.
So how much protein do you need? Using your hand as a measurement, one serving of animal protein in a meal is approximately equivalent to the size of your palm in thickness and size. So that’s one decent size steak, a full chicken breast or maybe two chicken drumsticks? What about the vegetable protein sources? These are much lower in protein, so you need to eat more of them to get your required protein. Try to add hemp seeds to a smoothie in the morning, top your salads with pumpkin seeds and lentils or have chickpea hummus with vegetable sticks. If you’re not vegan, cheese, full fat Greek yoghurt and eggs are great protein sources too. Alternatively, if you don’t think you are getting enough protein in your day, you can look to supplement your intake with protein shakes, and bars. Remember though, that these are highly processed and are a SUPPLEMENT and should not be relied on to be a main source of protein for your day.
Scientific studies have shown that for building muscle, 0.7grams of protein per pound (lb) of bodyweight is a minimum. Therefore, a 60kgs female would require about 3 servings of animal protein per day. Clients are most astonished when I remind them that they need to be getting this amount of protein every single day in order to maximise their training efforts, fat burning potential, and seeing changes as quickly as possible. If you are already training hard and not seeing changes, consider your protein intake!