Protein – are you getting enough?

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before but I’m a biochemist by training. I’ve got a BSc in Biochemistry and an MSc in Clinical Biochemistry with Molecular Biology. It’s a long time since I went to University and since I now work in a role which has absolutely nothing to do with biochemistry I’ve forgotten about 80% of what I was taught.

untitledThat doesn’t stop me from getting a bit science geeky every now and again. So when MaxiNutrition invited me to an evening at the GSK Human Performance Lab to find out about how the research they do is translated into MaxiNutrition products I jumped at the chance. That and the fact that I got to meet Dame Kelly Holmes – but I’ve already told you about that.

After a tour of the impressive facility that is used by Olympic athletes and top flight rugby players, we settled down to find our more about protein. Why is it so important for recovery and building strength and how much do we really need to eat. Rather than try and explain all the science myself I’m going to quote directly from the MaxiNutrition website as I think they sum it up quite nicely

Protein is one of the three macronutrients your body needs, along with fat and carbohydrate. It’s used by your body for a variety of essential functions, one the most important being the building of structural tissues like skin, bone and muscle. Protein is digested and broken down into chemicals that will help muscles recover, protect the growth and maintenance of muscle mass.

Protein is made up of 20 amino acids, which combine in unique ways to perform specific tasks. Some of these aminos can be synthesised by your body, but others – the ‘essential’ amino acids – can only be provided through your diet.

Although you can find high levels of protein in all kinds of food – such as dairy, meat and pulses – it can be difficult trying to achieve a complete balance of every amino acid in the correct combination.

Some essential amino acids, the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), have been seen in studies to encourage the formation of muscle tissue. By taking in more of these, along with your balanced intake of protein, you can make sure your body has what it needs.

When your body is being pushed harder by training, sports or performance, it’s only natural that you will need more protein coming in. Studies have proven that active people can require up to 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight a day. Both the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the English Institute of Sport (EIS) use this figure. Consuming over this amount has not displayed a greater benefit, so it can be treated as a sensible maximum.

We need a higher amount of protein when we are active because protein is hard to store in the body. We are constantly using the protein that we eat, turning it over as we perform. To stop our body from using up the protein that we store in our muscles – and stop our muscle mass from reducing – we have to put in as much as we are taking out of our bodies. This is called achieving protein balance.

So you get the picture – protein is important and we need to make sure we get enough of it – especially when we’re training hard. I’ve got to admit to being a bit sceptical about a company that make protein products telling me how much protein I need to eat. But the information that was shared on the evening was all backed up with research – the papers were actually quoted through the presentations – so it felt less sales pitch and more science.

We were also told about some research that suggested that the most effective way to build muscle was to spread protein intake out over the course of the day. 4 evenly spaced ‘doses’ being better than two larger ones.

untitledOver the course of the evening it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea of how much protein I eat on a daily basis. For someone that exercises as much as me – intensely for 5-6 days out of 7 the recommended intake is somewhere between 1-1.2g of protein per kg of body mass. I make sure to base my meals around protein and add vegetables and I quite often take a protein supplement but I have never stopped to work out how much I’m consuming.

My interest heightened I decided to embark on a fact finding mission. For a week I tracked my food using My Fitness Pal to see how much protein I was getting. I haven’t tracked my food intake like that for a very long time and I was slightly concerned about getting fixated on calories, but it was actually quite an enlightening experience.

It turns out I’m eating enough protein on most days, which is good to know. In fact on Capturesome days I’m having more than the recommended intake and could drop it down a bit – I’ve realised that my typical breakfast has plenty of protein and I don’t need to supplement it with a whey shake.

For someone who is trying to shed fat, overall calorie intake is also important. I don’t count calories – that’s far too depressing, but knowing that I can cut a few things out of my diet easily and reduce my overall intake by a bit is also helpful.

But I also quite like protein shakes and the odd protein bar here and there – they add a bit of variety into my diet and feel like a sweet treat without being sugary. So based on what I’ve found from the tracking I’m just tweaking a few things here and there.

I had a fascinating evening with MaxiNutrition, it really made me think about my diet and I learned a lot. I must also say thanks to them for the protein bars and powder that they sent after the event. Chocolate flavour – yum!


6 thoughts

  1. Pretty interesting post! I’ve tracked on MyFitnessPal and my protein intake needs to improve! I turned vegetarian a few months ago – so finding new things can be hard work! So if I look at protein shake mixes to look for BCAA labelled on them?

  2. I love my fitness pal, its such a great way to track your nutrients.. I tend to ignore the calorie bit as I generally ‘hit target’ in that sense, but its great to realise where your over eating and what your missing from your diet.. for me calcium is a biggy and my sugar is faar to high!!

    great post!
    kirsty x

  3. Interesting post Becca. I have never measured my protein intake. When I am training I try and eat the things I think contain protein (?!) and I have a whey protein shake with milk once a week(ish). As you can see I could do with being a bit more scientific!!!

    1. It’s been quite a surprise for me to realise what’s a good source of protein (chicken, meat, eggs) but to also find all the other places that it’s hidden too – I didn’t expect to be eating as much of it as I am. It’s a good thing though! Tracking for a week was a real insight into what I’m putting into my body – interesting experiment and glad I did it.

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