Guest blogger, Amerley Ollennu, ponders whether we really need to include protein supplements in our diets, plus, how and when to take them. While, founder of Lomax Chelsea and Lomax Nutrition, Jonathan Lomax, shares his tips on how to identify the ideal protein supplement for you…
Protein; it’s the fitness and nutrition buzzword that doesn’t seem to be going away; but do we really need to be guzzling protein shakes, scoffing protein balls, or devouring protein bowls post workout like pro-athletes? Or, is the never ending obsession with protein mere marketing bumf to flog more powder to those of us who are looking to get healthy, fit, and reshape our bodies?
I must admit I used to be part of the not so convinced camp, I’d lost weight (a lot of it) before, and gotten pretty fit too – all without ever drinking one protein shake or measuring my macros (how much fat, carb, protein I was consuming). However, I have learnt that in order for your body to run at optimum condition, consuming the right amount of protein is essential. You, like me, might find it hard to eat enough protein – which is why I now supplement my diet with a daily Lomax Nutrition protein shake (and have noticed the difference in my energy levels and my fat percentage when doing so). Like with anything it’s important to know the facts before deciding if you really need extra protein.
What exactly is protein?
It’s made up of amino acids, the most important biological substances in our bodies, they are responsible for the synthesis of proteins, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, metabolic pathways, mental stabilisation, and just about every function that takes place within the human body. Sadly, we can only make 11 of the 20 essential amino acids our body needs and the rest we get from eating protein. Animal protein delivers all the amino acids needed, but for those who don’t consume meat, fish, eggs or dairy products eating a wide variety of protein-rich plant-based foods is essential.
FYI Quinoa and soya beans are the only plant foods to contain all essential amino acids.
How much protein do I really need to eat?
In the UK, adults are advised to eat 0.75g of protein for each kilogram they weigh, based on the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI). So if you weigh 70kg/11 stone, you should eat about 52.5g of protein a day.
If I workout do I need more protein?
You don’t necessarily need more protein than what’s recommended but what you do need is to feed your muscles with a broad range of amino acids, particularly Branch Chain Amino Acids – L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine and L-Valine. These play a huge role in the building and maintenance of muscles, but aren’t produced naturally by the body. BCAA’s are mainly found in animal based proteins and are the key active ingredients in the sport supplement powders know as ‘whey protein’ – which, if made well, are suitable for everyone except vegans.
Why should I ‘feed’ my muscles?
Having a higher ratio of muscle to fat (known as your Lean Mass) is the key to a faster metabolic rate. The more muscle you have, the quicker your metabolism will be and the better you are able to shed fat and keep it off. If you don’t feed your muscles with enough protein, they will shrink, giving fat a chance to ‘build’ as you become less efficient at burning calories. Bear in mind though, you can’t simply eat more protein and expect to become leaner. If you consume more protein but don’t exercise, whatever falls over your daily calorie allowance will be stored as fat like any other food source.
When should I have my protein powder?
It’s important to calculate your typical daily protein intake, when deciding when you should consume your protein powder. You should also consider if you’re on a ‘training day’ or ‘rest day’. The hour straight after a workout is know as the window of optimal uptake. Making this the best time to take your protein supplement in order to increase the supply of amino acids to your muscles. If you find it hard to eat enough protein in general, look to add protein to all your meals (while sticking to your macro and calorie goals). You can add protein powders to porridge, pancakes breakfast muffins, juices, yoghurt etc or simply replace a snack with a shake (as they are the ideal on the go option).
How do I pick the right protein powder for me?
My PT Jonathan Lomax, makes choosing simple with this handy checklist…
Dairy or a non-dairy supplement?
The first choice is whether you want a dairy based (whey or casein) or plant derived protein powder…
Dairy proteins are complete protein sources. They are high in all the amino acids required by your muscles. Well made whey proteins, are even suitable for vegetarians.
Non-dairy or plant based proteins tend to be incomplete protein sources, so typically you may have to supplement further with BCAA’s (the key amino acids used by muscles). However, they make the ideal choice for vegans and those who want/need to steer clear of dairy. Another advantage of plant-based proteins is that they help promote an alkaline environment in the body. All animal protein is acid-forming whereas most plant protein is alkaline forming. Naturally the body’s ideal pH is slightly alkaline, and so our diet should reflect this and also be slightly alkaline. A diet high in acidic foods such as animal protein, sugar, caffeine, and processed foods tends to deplete the body of alkaline minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, making us more susceptible to chronic and degenerative disease.
What are your goals?
It’s important to find out how many extra calories your shake is going to add to your daily diet. Protein isn’t devoid of calories, so you have to ‘count’ it and ensure it fits in with your calorie and macro goals…
Most protein powders in their basic form are low in carbohydrates. These are ideal for those who want to shed fat. There are also varieties that contain added carbs, making these the best option for those looking to gain weight. Be sure to read nutritional labels before purchasing.
FYI Most powders contain flavours and sweeteners, and many traditional sweeteners like aspartame have a negative effect on your insulin production – the hormone that regulates blood sugar. When your blood sugar is out of whack you may find it difficult to lose weight, crave sweet foods, have an increased appetite, experience energy slumps and disrupted sleep. So, look for products that use natural sweeteners such as stevia, which has very little impact on your blood sugar levels.
Amerley Ollennu is a Beauty & Lifestyle Editor, who has written for the likes of Stylist, Tatler, Psychologies and Fabulous Magazine to name a few. She can be found blogging at amerleyo.com and on social channels under @amerleyo