Most of us who ever tried dieting and/or went to the gym at least once in their life must have heard about protein. We all know that protein is essential for those who want to build muscle mass. But what protein really is and what role does it have in our body? How much of it do we really need and why is it so important to make sure you get enough of this nutrient in your daily diet? If you would like to find out the answers to these questions, then I encourage you to check out this article.
Let us have a look at some facts that Claire, our resident sports nutritionist has prepared for us in the form of an information leaflet that is ready for you to take from the clinic, whenever you are around.
What is protein? What does it do?
Many will agree that protein is primarily the building blocks of a muscle. It is indeed what makes you stronger and more ‘shapely’. However, it is much more than that. Protein is essential not only to muscle but also to every tissue in your body. It can form enzymes, which are crucial to many metabolic reactions as well as several hormones which send signals throughout the body.
Moreover, it is also necessary for the production of neurotransmitters and antibodies. It helps replace worn-out cells, transports various substances throughout the body and helps in growth and repair. In other others, our bodies cannot function properly without it! We need it for optimal functioning, including good immune function, metabolism, satiety, weight management and performance.
Dietary proteins are organic molecules made up of amino acids – the building blocks of life. There are three types of amino acids:
- Essential, which the body cannot make and therefore must be consumed in food
- Non-essential, which the body makes for itself from other amino acids
- Conditional, which only needs to be consumed during an illness or when under stress
Each gram of protein provides 4 kcal of energy.
How much do we really need?
Because our bodies can only store so much protein at one time, it is highly important that we continually replenish our protein stores throughout the day. But how much of it is enough and what are the best sources? General guidelines recommend 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day in untrained, healthy adults. However, this amount is only to prevent protein deficiency and most people will benefit from slightly higher intakes, about 1.2 g of protein per kilo of body weight. For example, a 58 kilo person would consume 69.6 grams a day. For people doing high intensity training protein needs might even go up to 1.4 – 2.0 g/kg.
Men vs Women
It is also worth mentioning that women protein needs may vary from men’s and females should not be looked at as merely males adjusted for weight. Their nutritional needs and challenges apart from activity levels are also affected by hormonal factors and vary throughout their menstrual cycle. That is why coaches, personal trainers and parents should be aware of symptoms of low energy intakes which can not only result in injuries and decrease in performance but also affect immunological, reproductive and psychological health.
Best Sources of Protein
What happens if I don’t get enough?
Because protein is present in every single cell in our body, we need to make sure we consume enough in order to stay happy and healthy. It is especially important if you live an active lifestyle, do sports and train regularly. Low protein intake may lead to muscle loss and slower metabolism, low focus and concentration, higher risk of injury and bone fracture, fluid retention and last but not least, affect the health of nails, skin and hair.
Can increased protein intake slow down the ageing process?
As we get older we lose our muscle mass. We tend to become less physically able, frail and everyday tasks can become a challenge. However, science says that there are ways of delaying or slowing down this process and effectively avoiding frailty late in our lives.
Researchers from St Vincent’s University Hospital and Trinity College Dublin discovered that increased protein intake plus strength training can effectively counterbalance the natural body ageing process and significantly reduce your risk or frailty and disability later in life. It is, therefore, advised by the government that older adults, aged 65 and over, just as younger adults are, do weekly aerobic exercise combined with strength workouts that exercise all major muscle groups at least twice a week. What is more, we cannot forget that protein is a necessary dietary element that should be part of a balanced diet.