What is it??
Most people have some idea what protein is (steak and eggs I hear you saying?). It sure is found in steak and eggs! Basically though it is a fundamental macronutrient (just like Carbohydrates and Fats), essential in our diets in order to build and maintain muscle tissue, along with some other functions we’ll talk about later.
There are 20 smaller ‘building blocks’ called amino acids, which make up protein molecules. 11 of these amino acids are ‘non essential’ and our body can make these itself. However, 9 of these amino acids are essential in our diet, which means we need to make sure we are eating the right foods to make sure we fuel our bodies optimally.
Why do we need it??
Protein is the prime macronutrient responsible for muscle tissue synthesis (i.e. you need protein if you want to build lean muscle! Females and males alike)
Whenever you train, especially during strength training, there are tiny tears caused in the muscle. During the recovery process, your muscle will repair and grow back stronger assuming you have adequate protein available to do so.
Protein also plays an important role in repair and growth of all cells with in the body. Think about your skin cells, formation of bone, and strong hair and nails.
Along with these reasons, protein also plays a part in endocrine (hormone) function, so even if you don’t lift weights in the gym, getting optimal protein in your diet is very important for overall health.
How much protein do you need??
EVERYONE needs protein! Not just people who lift weights or body builders.
In fact, you probably should be getting more than you are already in your diet.
The exact amount does change depending on your aesthetic goals, your gender, age, training volume etc. However, As a general rule of thumb somewhere between 1.7-2.4 grams of protein per KG of totally body weight is a good place to start (your RBT coach will make your macro alterations as necessary)
If you are not in strength based training program you could start on the lower end of the spectrum, however if you’re lean and training 3-5 days per week, having a higher protein intake would more than likely be beneficial to support your training and recovery.
If you are training seriously and looking for a body composition change (increased lean muscle mass and decrease body fat) getting enough protein is even more imperative!
Even if you are not concerned about building lean muscle, or worried about getting stronger, protein is still hugely important! If you are not getting enough protein your health will be negatively affected as well as your energy levels and ability to train well.
Protein also takes a longer time to digest than fat or carb molecules, which can also help make you feel fuller for longer, meaning you might have fewer cravings.
What foods do I find protein in??
Protein is found in both animal and plant sources, however some foods are much higher in protein content than others. There are also what is known as ‘Complete’ proteins (containing all 9 essential amino acids) and ‘Incomplete’ proteins (sources that do not contain all these essential amino acids)
If you are a meat eater then you’re in luck, as all meat sources are complete proteins and contain all 9 essential amino acids (white meat, red meat, seafood and fish). It is also a good idea to rotate protein sources and have variety, so it’s not always the exact same cut or type of meat (also means you can keep it interesting in the kitchen!).
Other sources include Protein powder (Whey or plant based). Or Eggs & Dairy, and to a much lesser extent vegetable and some fruit & nuts (however these are incomplete protein sources)
What if I’m vegan/vegetarian??
You will need to be smart about your nutrition if you don’t eat animal products, especially meat and eggs. You need to make sure you are getting a complete amino acid profile from your diet, and supplementing correctly to include the 9 essential amino acids your body cannot create on its own.
Consider including a plant based protein powder & BCAA’s (Branch Chain Amino Acids) in your nutrition plan.
Most vegetables, legumes and fruits do not contain these 9 essential amino acids and are therefore ‘incomplete’ protein sources as mentioned earlier. In addition to supplementing your diet smartly, having variety in a plant-based diet is also important.
Increasing your protein intake will not suddenly cause you to put on ridiculous amounts of muscle and turn into the hulk. In fact it will most likely result in having better recovery & seeing your strength increase!
If you are not counting calories or tracking macros, then aim for a palm size of protein per meal for a female, and 2 palms per meal if your male (that is roughly 100g or 200g which equates to 20-30 or 40-60g of protein per serving size). Aside from the role it plays in muscle repair and synthesis, you simply can’t chronically deprive yourself of protein or your health will suffer terribly!! So go put some pork on your fork! 😉