I’m one of our resident Exercise Physiologists, and also an accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach, Personal Trainer and Level 1 Weightlifting Instructor. Outside of the gym, I tend to go in search of good food and great coffee. And yes, Dan’s Shoulder Stretch is mine.
I’ve had enough of talking about carbs. It’s time to move on to something else more fun to eat!
I like protein. I like the foods that contain protein. And I eat a lot of it (maybe even more than I should or need given the current state of the agricultural and farming world – but that’s a *huge* argument for another day.) Protein, quite literally, means “first one,” and that’s no accident.
There are a couple of things you need to know about protein and how it interacts with your body.
1. Protein is ESSENTIAL to life
It’s that simple. You CANNOT survive without consuming protein. We rarely see severe protein deficiency (kwashiorkor – yep, it’s a thing, and common in places where access to quality food is compromised) in the Western world, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t have deficiencies in protein.
Inadequate protein intake leads to lethargy, irritability, poor stress management and an inability to stabilize blood sugars. This is more common you think, particularly amongst vegan and vegetarian populations. Low protein intake almost always correlates to low vitamin B12 (liver, meat, eggs and dairy are almost exclusive sources of B12) and the associated fatigue, mood and motor control issues that stem from that.
2. Recommended Dietary Intakes are nearly useless
The RDI for protein is between 0.75 and 0.84g/kg/day for females and males respectively. That’s roughly 65g per day for a 75kg male. Take this with a grain of salt. That’s enough to survive and avoid a deficiency if you’re not exercising, sit at a desk, and do nothing else. Survive, not THRIVE.
If you’re training regularly and living an active lifestyle, you need more protein to thrive. If you’re not doing those things, then you still probably want to get your protein content higher to offset eating other foods that are likely to negatively impact your health.
3. My personal recommendations
I see no reason for almost anyone to be under 1.6 – 2g/kg/day (or 120 – 150g for a 75kg male). Protein supports muscle growth, keeps you feeling fuller and blunts the blood sugar response to food (often a good thing). Protein-rich foods also have a host of vitamins and minerals (iron, vitamin B12 and fat soluble vitamins) that you need for optimal function. And, best of all, protein rich foods are often relatively low in calories, meaning that you get high nutritional value for low caloric value – a priceless combination for weight loss and body composition.
For more athletically driven people, these recommendations should be viewed more as a prerequisite for optimal performance. Some strength or body composition athletes, during hard training times (we’re talking multiple times per day here, so don’t get carried away), can demand up to 3.5g/kg/day of protein to fuel what they do.
What do these protein intakes look like in a “real” diet?
Here’s a guide to what a day’s food might look like for a 60kg female training 4x/week (protein target ~ 120g/day):
2 egg omelette w/spinach and tomato (14g)
Small tuna in spring water + small handful cashews + cup of strawberries (17g)
90g eye fillet steak + green veg salad w/avocado and olive oil (30g)
1 scoop of whey protein in water (25g)
100g chicken breast + 1 cup of sweet potato + 1 cup of broccoli w/lemon (34g)
A healthy portion of protein at each meal goes a long way to hitting your daily protein targets. Once that’s in place, I’ll guarantee you’ll feel better than you did, and start to reap the benefits in terms of body composition and fat loss!
[I know that the diet above works because I’ve personally used it with the client it was designed for! It’ll keep you feeling full without feeling bloated, and has plenty of nutrients to keep the internals working well.]