Adele Wolstenhulme
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Why packing in more protein isn’t just for athletes

How much protein we need on our daily plate really does vary between different people and driven by lifestyle choice. Age, activity levels, weight and health status all impact how much we need. So how do you know if you’re getting enough?

Do you want to shift fat?

We do feel more satisfied for longer when we eat more protein and gorge less on fat and carbs. A whole host of health benefits have been shown by packing in more protein, not only in preventing the ‘blood-sugar rollercoaster’, but for beneficial changes in cardio-metabolic and inflammatory markers associate with chronic diseases.  One big, fat bonus for weight-loss is that upping your protein has been shown to partially offset the problem associated with so many low-calorie diets – you don’t lose as much muscle.  In low-cal regimes the body doesn’t target muscle and body fat separately.  One study with obese and pre-obese women on a 750-calorie daily diet shows this clearly.  Those women with 30% of calories coming from protein held onto more lean muscle during weight loss than those eating only 18%.  Another study in women showed that a 1.6 g protein per kg bodyweight diet led to more weight loss, more fat loss, and less lean muscle loss than a 0.8 g protein per kg bodyweight diet.  The same is shown in athletes keen to melt fat and build on muscle reserves.  More protein delivered more lean mass!

Do you train hard?

You have to break them down before you can build them up. Making fresh muscle needs quality protein, especially if you want to avoid painful injuries and long recovery periods. Lifting heavy weights, undergoing tough challenges such as marathons, triathlons and CrossFit, all require higher protein levels than for the average weekend warrior who trains once or twice a week for general fitness. There’s a lot of research been done in this area re how much is enough, or even too much?  Some studies say 3g per kg of bodyweight of pure protein. But that would be very hard to get in daily and absorb. A safer bet is to go with between 1.5-2g protein per kg bodyweight, but advise to play with the amounts as one size doesn’t fit all here! One study suggested 1.8kg of protein is an optimal intake for those of you who train hard.

Consuming additional protein shortly after finishing a training session is advisable, and if you’re embarking on an endurance challenge it’s a good idea to seek professional advice as nutrient timing rules are really important. A really good idea is to carry a protein shake with you when you train to get your muscle-building nutrients back in. If you don’t have time to prepare a meal within a few hours of training, turn it into a delicious and nutritious smoothie by throwing in some fruit and greens, as well as other powerful protective nutrients like nucleotides (these help repair our DNA, which gets damaged by free radicals from oxidative stress on a daily basis). Exercise, stress, injury and poor diet are just some of the contributing factors in DNA damage. We don’t consume mineral-rich bone broths or eat organ meats to the level we used to, so we’re not getting enough nucleotides in our diet either. 

Injured, ill or elderly

These groups have one thing in common. They have damaged, lost, or are constantly losing muscle tissue. Healing wounds increases protein requirements. These may alter depending on bodyweight – and youth is a bonus when recovering from injuries – but the need to get in more protein from sustainably-sourced food and ‘clean’ supplements is paramount for these three groups to prevent chronic illness and accelerated ageing. The more active you are, especially if 60 plus, you’re likely to feel healthier with more protein. Research suggests increasing protein can improve physical performance without necessarily increasing muscle mass and increase muscle mass when paired with strength training in the elderly.

One review suggests 1.5 g protein per kg bodyweight for injured people. More recent studies suggest a baseline intake of 1.0-1.3 g protein per kg bodyweight for the healthy and frail elderly.

The protein RDA may not suffice for older people, who lose thigh muscle mass and exhibit lower urinary nitrogen excretion when given the standard 0.8 g protein per kg bodyweight.

Is stress a problem?

Stress is your enemy if you want to hold onto or build muscle and lose fat.  Weight management can be a nightmare, with yo-yo dieting becoming regular practice.  Body fat around the middle may increase if chronically stressed.  You also get more jittery, lose focus, suffer mood swings, struggle to sleep and regularly feel like your ‘crashing’ at odd times during the day.  The more stressed you are, the more difficult it is to control blood sugar (and energy) levels.  Under such pressure your body is literally breaking down tissue (collagen) to fuel this situation and eventually a chronic disease may take hold.  Protein-rich meals can really help to stabilise blood sugar levels.  When you’re stressed, you don’t easily digest, so quality protein supplementation in a highly digestible form is recommended.

 By Adele Wolstenhulme.




Adele Wolstenhulme