Dietary protein provides you with the nutritional components for the body to repair and grow body cells that have been damaged through normal daily functions, interactions with the environment and overloading/stress through exercise. The more active or ‘damaged’ cells are through exercise, the more protein is needed to be ingested to repair and grow these cells and continue to function properly. When cells are repaired efficiently after progressive overloading, they will become fully operational once more and will be even more resilient to future stresses. This allows us to run faster, cycle longer, lift heavier or create greater definition.
Myth: Working out and eating protein will automatically give me bigger muscles
Truth: Muscles are provided the platform to get bigger, stronger or able to perform with greater endurance by overloading them through exercise to a level they are not used to performing at a specific intensity. The protein ingested through your diet then allows the body to repair bigger and stronger. However, it is the type of exercise and it’s duration that denotes HOW the muscles will repair based on the adequate protein and calorie levels in the diet. Running a 10km race or lifting weights for an hour, and then consuming the same amount of protein afterwards for recovery, are both situations where the body will repair and recover. But it is the exercise type that denotes how the body improves itself. The protein consumption merely provides the environment for the body to be able to adapt in the way it needs – to create light, and durable muscles for the run, or larger, heavier muscles with more strength and energy storage for weight lifting.
A point of note: both of these exercise types will lead to the body actually regressing in size and ability if the right amount of rest and protein isn’t regulated post exercise. Thus, protein is necessary for us to improve our muscles’ ability; but it is the exercise type in the first place that will denote how it will change if it recovers in an efficiently manner.
Myth: Eating a high protein diet makes you lose weight and body fat
Truth: Eating a diet high in protein and lower in carbohydrates and fats could see you lose weight and body fat. However, this is not the protein itself doing this. Eating protein – which is low in calories and low in producing insulin secretion (and thus fat storage) – puts the body in a position to be able to burn fat as an energy source, rather than carbohydrates and fats that are ingested at each meal which provide an easier source of energy for the body. Because protein is digested more slowly, the release of energy that it provides the body is slower and the amount of energy that it provides is also lower meaning that body needs to tap into the other energy sources to fuel the body for normal daily functions as well as exercise. With this comes the use of fat stores and a reduction of body fat and, potentially, weight. But this is a by-product of consuming protein, not something that protein fashions itself.
Myth: If I eat all the protein I can, I will get proportionally bigger muscles to if I ate just the recommended daily intake of protein for muscle growth.
Truth: It is true that the nutritional make up of natural protein sources does not support fat storage as they are low in sugar. However, consuming over your daily calorie level for your energy input vs output, will ensure that these excess calories, however they are composed nutritionally, are susceptible to fat storage. Your body can only digest a certain amount of protein to use for repairing the body at one time. Eating all the protein in sight will mean that you never run the risk of not reaching the optimum level, but it will also mean that you will consume more than your body needs. When this happens, it can get stored as body fat.
A point to note: it takes an accumulative energy input of 3,600 calories over your energy output level (over a period of time) to store a pound of fat. Furthermore, unless you are consuming your protein solely through incredibly refined artificial protein powders (not advised for all meals), protein sources also contain levels of dietary fat and carbohydrates. Thus, each protein source will be made up of an amalgamation of proteins, fats and carbohydrates that will work towards your calorie balance. So don’t just think of a protein source as solely protein.
Recommended daily protein levels
- 0.8g of protein per kg of bodyweight – for health and moderate activity levels
- up to 1.4g of protein per kg of bodyweight – for those undertaking intense physical activity who want to achieve or exceed optimum protein levels for muscle growth and repair.
- Athletes who expend over 4,000 calories per day will have anomalous protein level needs at up to 2.4g of protein per kg of bodyweight and are not considered for the majority of the population).
- Interestingly, in a study by Kent University, 2.4g of protein per kg of bodyweight did not see any more increased protein synthesis than another group performing the same exercise and intensity who consumed 1.4g of protein per bodyweight.
Protein provides ~4 calories per gram
The Shopping List
Major protein sources
Chicken and Turkey – white meat is leaner (less fat) than brown meat
Beef, Veal, Venison – rump and fillet are leaner than rib-eye or sirloin
Pork – steak, loin, chop (bacon, sausages, belly are high in protein but also in saturated fats White fish
Eggs – whites are high protein with a trace of fat
Dairy – skimmed milk, cottage cheese, natural greek yoghurt (less than 7g per 100g of sugar) Protein shakes, powders, yoghurts and bars
Secondary protein sources
Soy beans and their derivatives
Milk alternatives – soy, almond, rice, oat.
by Chris James, Director of Fitness and Nutrition at Fitness Body Pro
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