Protein can help a body to thrive
Karen Coghlan explains how much you need and where to get it from
W hile it is true what they say, food is fuel, it is, of course, so much more than just that
Yes, food provides us with the daily energy we need to get out of bed in the morning, to go to work, to go to the gym, and to socialise at the weekends, but it also has a massive impact on our health.
A poor diet, in conjunction with a sedentary lifestyle, can lead to chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer.
Nutritious food enhances our health, prevents diseases, and supports a strong body. If you get your nutrition fine-tuned then you could feel and look better then you ever imagined.
Dietary protein is one of the essential nutrients that we must eat every day. The importance of eating enough protein cannot be overstated. Not just to survive, but to thrive.
Protein provides us with the basic building blocks of our bodies and it is essential if we want to achieve our best health. Not only does protein play an important structural role but it also plays a major regulatory role too.
It is vital that we get adequate amounts daily in our diet, for building and repairing muscles in the gym and improving sports performance, to grow strong hair and nails, to produce hormones, brain chemicals and antibodies to help fight infection and disease.
Without enough protein in our diet, our bodies would cease to function and we would start to experience some unpleasant side effects. Symptoms of protein deficiency include thin and brittle hair, scaly dry skin, sore muscles and cramps, slow healing wounds and skin ulcers.
A diet rich in protein is perfectly safe in healthy, active individuals and, in fact, can offer a protective mechanism against impaired immune function and sarcopenia (loss of muscle) in the elderly.
how much and why?
How much protein we need in our daily diet depends on a few factors. Mainly body size and activity level.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein in Ireland for a moderately active man weighing 70kg is 70g daily, and for a moderately active woman weighing 55kg is 55g daily.
However, these RDAs are quite conservative, especially if you are more active person, and even more so, if you have a body composition goal, either to build muscle or lose body fat. In either case, aim to eat up to, or more than, 50pc more protein than the current RDA.
Active people need more protein than sedentary people, due to muscle micro-damage that occurs during exercise. So sufficient protein intake is essential to repair and rebuild muscle post-exercise.
A strategically planned protein regime timed around exercise is critical to preserve and build muscle, to ensure proper recovery, to reduce post-exercise soreness, and to sustain a healthy immune system during periods of high-volume training.
A common misconception is that a high-protein diet is only for gym-goers who are looking to put on muscle mass. However, this is quite untrue. A high-protein diet is also extremely beneficial for those who want to lose body fat.
First of all, protein in your diet helps to create a feeling of fullness and can stave off hunger for longer, therefore, you will eat less by default and lower your calorie intake.
Secondly, when in a calorie deficit, which is required for fat loss, then typically 20pc of the weight you lose on the scales will be lean body mass. In other words, your muscles start to breakdown.
If you want to maintain a "toned" look, then you must put some effort into maintaining your muscle tissue. This requires two things.
One, you must use your muscles - as the old saying goes, 'use it or lose it'. And two, you must eat sufficient protein to give your muscles the best shot of survival. It is what they are made of after all.
When and where?
Protein should be eaten with each meal and not with just our main meal of the day. Eating a source of protein with our breakfast and snacks is important for balancing blood sugars, helping with appetite control and optimising metabolism.
A good serving size of protein at each meal is one palm for smaller women and two palms for bigger men.
Some good sources include; lean meats such as ground beef, chicken and turkey, fish, eggs, low-fat natural dairy such as cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, cheese, and beans, peas and legumes.
Karen is a nutrition coach and personal trainer and runs monthly online group nutrition coaching programmes and hosts nutrition seminars around the country. See www.thenutcoach.com