Protein is definitely a hot topic right now, the world over supermarket shelves are absolutely packed with ‘high protein’ products and just about every health and fitness magazine is pushing for people to try a high protein diet.
But exactly how much protein do we need in our diets? And why is it so important?
To begin with you first have to understand what protein is and why it’s such a vital macronutrient in our daily diets.
Protein in its simplest form is a macronutrient found within organic material and is most abundant in animal sources such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products however protein can also be found in some plant sources such as foods in the legume family.
Protein is comprised of long chain amino acids which are absolutely vital building blocks of all organisms on the planet not just humans. When we digest protein it is then broken down into these amino acids which are then used in muscle cells, hormones, hair and bones to name a few.
As you can see protein is a vital part of our diets for the fundamental role it plays in making just about every part of the human body. However most important for us is to understand that protein is the primary way in which we can activate muscle protein synthesis, which is a process within the body where protein is deposited into the muscle tissue and then processed into new muscle tissue.
When done consistently over time with the help of a calorie surplus and an effective training program results in muscle growth and development which is the goal of anybody who trains however protein also has its benefits for people on a calorie deficit looking to lose weight too. You see protein synthesis is not only the process of building muscle tissue but it is also responsible for protecting and preserving muscle tissue. This is a vital component in any successful diet as people who diet correctly and preserve muscle tissue are more likely to keep the weight off in the long term, coupled with the fact protein is the most satiating macronutrient providing a fuller feeling for longer it’s clear that the benefits are numerous.
With all this in mind surely we should get as much protein as possible right?
We’ll it’s not quite as simple as that and the right amount of protein for you as an individual tends to differ depending on where you look. For example, if we take government guidelines into consideration we are told that for men and women 65g and 55g per day respectively will be sufficient to cover the bodies day to day requirements. Which is relatively easy to obtain for anybody eating a balanced diet, this figure is pretty much correct for sedentary individuals just looking to remain healthy.
However, its once we start looking at more active people looking to achieve specific goals that the numbers get harder to gauge and it’s this cross section of the population that high protein diets and products are tailored towards. Most literature on the subject states that a healthy, active young individual partaking in regular resistance training will require between 2-3 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. The exact amount will vary depending on your goals and body type for example, people looking to lose weight or maintain a leaner body composition would opt for a higher protein intake for the satiating effects and to help retain muscle while on a calorie deficit.
There really is no magic number when it comes to protein and for a lot of people budget is a big factor, high protein food sources are often the most expensive part of your weekly food shop especially when you take into consideration the abundance of cheap carbohydrates available. This is often the reason so many people supplement their diets with a high quality protein powder as it’s a far more cost effective and convenient way to hit high protein numbers than preparing and consuming copious amounts of meat of meat each day.
So to summarize, protein is a hugely vital macronutrient that is used to build and maintain almost every aspect of the human body from nails to muscles. And although there is no evidence to show that a higher protein intake has negative effects on the body an average, healthy, active individual depending on goals should aim to consume approximately 2-3 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight in order to gain the most from their protein intake and ensure the bodies needs are met.
1. FSA nutrient and food based guidelines for UK institutions
2. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation