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Protein is the macronutrient firmly in the public eye at the moment. With many purported benefits including building muscle, losing weight and maintaining our health, it is little wonder why protein is on the edge of many health and fitness fanatic’s lips.
Everywhere you go, whether it be at the gym, down the street or to your local shop, you’re bound to come across a lifestyle magazine promoting the use of protein supplements. But what does this all mean? Should we be taking them?
Read on to find out more:
What is protein?
Protein is a class of compounds made up of long chain amino acids which form the building block of normal cell structure and functionality.
Some of the most bioavailable sources of protein can be found from animal-based foods such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs. Protein can also be found in some plant-based foods such as pulses and beans, although not in the same density as animal sources.
Protein is used in a variety of key bodily processes including enzymatic, transportation, hormonal and immune function. This serves to make life itself possible, helping us to grow and repair damaged cells including muscle tissue, hair, skin, nails and even our bones.
What’s more, digesting protein is the only way to activate the process of “protein synthesis” which allows the deposit of protein molecules into the muscle fiber.
When we exercise and place stress on our muscles, we gradually cause small microtears. To repair this, our body requires a healthy stream of amino acids to carry out muscle building protein synthesis.
In other words, our body needs to be synthesising more protein than it can break down to allow muscles to grow back bigger and stronger.
How much protein do I need?
The recommended daily allowance of protein per day is roughly 0.8g – 1g per kilogram of body weight. For instance, a person who weighs 75 kg is expected to get anywhere between 60g – 75g of protein per day.
However, this is only the minimum requirement to help the body continue its healthy metabolic functions without factoring in on any physical activity being performed.
For those who lead a very active lifestyle (usually exercising between 4 – 6 times a week) and are looking to build more muscle mass, it is recommended to double your protein intake per day to 2g – 2.5g. This is to help facilitate the process of protein synthesis mentioned earlier.
As well as this, the above is also a useful amount for those looking to lose weight as dieting may lead to muscle loss if you are not tracking your protein intake properly. Protein is very satiating and helps keep you fuller for longer, making weight loss more effective.
Why use a protein supplement?
Wherever possible, you should aim to meet all of your protein requirements from high-quality, unprocessed foods.
However, with our lives becoming incredibly more fast-paced, it can be difficult to get the necessary amount of protein our body needs to reach our fitness goal. Personal circumstances, work commitments and relationships tend to take our focus away from proper nutrition.
It is important to remember that protein supplements are exactly what they are, supplements. They should only ‘supplement’ what you are already eating on a day-to-day basis without eliminating the need for food entirely.
What are the risks involved?
There are next to no harmful effects of consuming protein supplements as they are merely derived from whole foods. Take for instance, whey protein. Whey is the liquid component of milk which is separated from the curd in the cheese-making process. This is the part of the milk with the highest protein content and minerals.
Whey protein is the most popular protein supplement simply because of its cost, availability and effectiveness at building new, lean muscle.
To get the best out of this protein supplement, ensure that the protein is derived from grass-fed cows as this will reduce the likelihood of the protein containing hidden or artificial chemicals which could pose serious health risks.
Two of the best sports nutrition companies who proactively source the highest-grade protein supplements (including grass-fed whey protein) are Myprotein and Bulk Powders. If you are on a tight budget, using a Myprotein discount code or a Bulk Powders discount code can help you save a lot of money if you are looking to use protein supplements long-term.
It is perfectly possible to have too much of a good thing, so if you are interested in trying a protein supplement, or looking to go on a high-protein diet, consult with your GP in advance to determine any pre-existing health problems that may worsen through supplementation.
For instance, minor side effects of protein supplements can include bloating, passing of wind, indigestion, dehydration and potentially weight gain. This may be attributed to an intolerance to lactose (where the body does not produce the enzyme lactase to break the lactose down) causing unwanted side effects.
It is important to choose a protein supplement that does not contain ingredients which will put you at risk of suffering from the above. As well as this, keeping within the recommended protein intake per day (depending on your goal) to avoid weight gain or other serious health risks is a good measure to take.
Overall, getting your dietary protein needs from whole foods such as meat, dairy, eggs, fish, nuts and legumes is the best way to maintain your overall health as this is what we were genetically designed to handle.
Protein itself is a vital macronutrient we should all be getting from a balanced diet as the health benefits are numerous. Without protein, it is next to impossible to grow new muscles as well as for the body to carry out its basic metabolic processes to maintain our quality of life.
Nevertheless, protein supplements are a great way to get a quick fix of protein if you are met with time constraints. Supplements are not necessary for you to reach your goal, whether it you are looking to lose weight, gain weight or build muscle, but they are a good way to meet your protein intake much faster.
Protein supplements should be treated strictly as a supplement to our normal dietary routine and should never be the sole focus of any nutrition program as over reliance may cause problems further down the line.