What is protein?
Everybody knows about protein, and has a rough idea about why it’s important. I still get questions like “won’t protein make me bulky?” or “isn’t that for bodybuilders” or even “isn’t that un-natural?”. The truth is, protein is still an essential macronutrient that we need in our diets. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to reap the rewards of a stronger and more toned body, and, more importantly, our body wouldn’t be able to repair itself or function properly.
When it comes to our diet, there are two important factors we need to consider when we are eating for results and good health. The first is micronutrients; these are vitamins and minerals that are found in our food and are essential for metabolism, cellular function and the growth and development of the body.
Without these important micronutrients, we would be at higher risk of disease and illness.
The second factor is macronutrients, these are dietary essentials that we require to provide our bodies with energy and fall in to three main categories: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat.
Protein is a macronutrient that is an extremely important component in your diet. It is essential for building and repairing body tissue, including bone, skin, hair, hormones and most importantly, muscle.
Why do I need it?
Protein helps your body to build and repair your muscle tissue, which is essential for everybody including people who do not exercise at all, and everyday gym-goers who want to build a leaner or more muscular physique.
You also have less chance of re-gaining lost body weight when on a higher protein diet. Protein has been shown in numerous studies to be effective in encouraging weight loss and improving metabolic rates in individuals. Protein has a higher thermic effect than carbohydrates and fat, meaning that your body uses more energy digesting it than with carbs or fat.
In short, your body will burn more calories when you consume more protein!
This however, will only work effectively when you are in a caloric deficit. Protein has also been shown to be effective in improving satiety, leaving you feeling fuller after protein-dense meals. This will to prevent you from grabbing sugary snacks frequently throughout the day!
How much do I need?
The daily RDA of protein is around 0.8g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. However, this varies among individuals. If you would like to lose body fat, you first of all need to be in a caloric deficit.
If you are in a caloric deficit, you will need a higher amount of protein in order to retain your lean muscle tissue. If you don’t eat an adequate amount of protein, you risk losing your hard earned muscle!
If however, you are trying to gain muscle and are in a bulking phase, you can reduce your protein intake slightly. You should be in a caloric surplus so you won’t need to eat extra protein to prevent losing muscle tissue. The following table should give you a rough guide of how much protein you would need in either situation.
High body fat / High Calorie / low training load / bulking:
1.6 to 2.2g per kg bodyweight
Moderate body fat / training load:
2.2 to 2.8g per kg bodyweight
Low body fat / low calorie / high training load / cutting:
2.4 to 3g per kg bodyweight
From looking at recent research, we can make the conclusion that the optimal protein intake is anywhere from 1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight, up to 2.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight. Individual needs will depend on variables such as age, height, body-weight and body-fat, therefore it is best to individualise protein intake based on these factors. For most clients I have created nutrition programs for, the optimal protein intake to yield good results has been 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day.
E.G. if you weigh 80kg: 80 (body-weight in kg) x 2g (protein in grams) = 160g protein per day. So if you are 80kg, you should be consuming 160g of protein per day.
Please bear in mind that macronutrient amounts should be individualised, and based on factors such as height, weight, age and activity levels.