What’s the deal with protein?

Do you train and have you ever wondered why you can’t shift weight despite how much you workout? Or been curious if you really need that protein supplement they’re flogging at the gym door?

As a sports focused GP, I’m constantly frustrated at how badly people eat when they are trying to exercise hard to lose weight. Here’s the drill – Eating is healthy. It’s important and gets you to your overall goals – even if those goals are to drop fat.

If you exercise a lot, especially with resistance training, you’ll find yourself building muscle and definition – which is what ultimately makes you look good.

While it’s healthy, muscle is also three times heavier than fat per volume. This doesn’t mean you aren’t doing great work for your body. But you should be motivated by the results of what you’re seeing in the mirror more than what you are seeing on the scales.

So what’s the deal with protein?

Protein is an essential nutrient in the body, made of many different amino-acids. They form the basic building blocks for our muscles. When we exercise the muscle is breaking down. When you stop working out and start recovering, your muscles begins to rebuild. And those hungry muscles are gagging for the right components: amino acids (ie protein) and carbohydrates, not to mention rehydrating effectively.

So when you hit the gym or go for a run or do anything that breaks a sweat, especially strength/resistance training, you’ve got to feed the muscles enough protein and energy to regenerate and strengthen – it’s the only way they’re going to get any bigger and you’re going to get that definition you really want. Getting stuck into protein immediately after exercise enhances muscle uptake and retention of amino acids.

But, it doesn’t stop there.

It’s not just after exercise that this protein hit is important.

Your muscles will be hungry for protein for up to 24 hours after a hard session.

So what should we be eating?

If you’re getting out there and getting active every day or every second day – aim for 1.2 grams of protein for every kg you weigh, every day.

And as a guide – 100 grams of steak has 30 grams of protein.

If you’re a dedicated, high intensity exercisers pushing out lots of weight training: 1.5-1.8g/kg/day

And when should you be eating that protein?

The body can only process about 30g of protein at any one time, so you should look at breaking your protein up into small “hits” and spreading them through the day. Remembering, the most important hit is within 30 minutes of finishing your session. Combining this protein hit with 60-80g of carbs will enhance the rebuilding effects for the muscle.

You need protein. Too little, and exercising a lot – and your body will eat more of your muscle than fat- bottom line you’ll feel less toned and just as flabby. (Not the main goal!!)

But remember, you can have too much: more than about 2g/kg/day can increase long term risks of kidney stones and kidney failure, not to mention being a complete waste of calories in your eating plan. There are other foods/social occasions to be enjoying.

So bottom line, if you want to change shape, grow some muscle, lose some fat, you need to feed your muscles what they need and not starve them.

Happy eating! Dr Sam.