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How much protein do you actually need?

RW Rachel V Wall

Protein is high on the shopping list for body builders and pull-up enthusiasts but how should we maximise this macronutrient to stay healthy? The Naked Nutritionist talks protein power.

Even if you’ve been living under a rock, it’s likely you’ll have heard of the importance of eating protein. Famous for growing muscle, it’s high on the shopping list of body builders and pull-up enthusiasts, but we all need this macronutrient to stay healthy. Daniel O’Shaughnessy is the Naked Nutritionist and says: “I’m a firm believer in personalised nutrition and want you to understand your body holistically to feel great.” Here, he shares the protein 101…

What is the power of protein?

“Proteins are found in every living thing on earth,” says Daniel. “In the human body, protein is an essential component of muscles, skin, hair, and bones, and is found in nearly every other tissue and body part. It is essential for proper muscle development and function, bone health, tissue repair and growth, blood oxygenation, and basic cell activity.” 

“All proteins are made-up of amino acids, which are considered to be the building blocks of life,” Daniel adds. “Our RNA, DNA, neurotransmitters, hormones and most of our muscles are made almost entirely from amino acids. Our bodies don’t store protein. Neither do they make all of the amino acids needed for the body to function properly. This means we must take them from our food on a daily basis.”

Can we have too much of a good thing?

“No. If your body doesn’t use it, you will just pee it out,” he says. “However, excess protein can lead to excess nitrogen, which may lead to dehydration and impact kidney health over time. This is because our kidneys have to work harder to get rid of the extra nitrogen and waste products of protein metabolism.” 

How can we maximise protein in our diet?

Daniel says: “Vegetable protein is inferior to animal protein. So, individuals following a vegan diet need to combine proteins because their food doesn’t contain the full profile of essential amino acids.” For a vegan this is as simple as combining rice and beans, or tofu and quinoa in order to form a complete protein. “Ideally, you should try to get protein from unprocessed foods, such as lean meats, eggs, nuts and seeds. Also, you can consider a healthy protein shake, like a grass-fed whey.”

He recommends a dose of protein with every meal and snack, to support blood sugar and energy. It has a role in lowering insulin which can affect the decrease of body fat. One 2015 study found that participants on a high-protein diet experienced superior weight-loss, improved heart health and an increase in lean body mass than participants who didn’t pack in the protein. “Our blood sugar balance is dependent on protein,” Daniel says. “So more of us are seeking foods that keep us fuller, and balanced, for longer – like protein.”

Help us with our sums

Post-gym, Daniel also advises a protein rich snack in order to “support muscle protein synthesis” (read: stack them gains). A UK study found that muscle protein synthesis can continue for up to 24 hours after we train, meaning we no longer need to scoff a Tupperware of nuts at 200mph in the gym changing-room – joy! 

At home, the golden plate ratio is this: “One quarter of protein, a quarter of starch and a quarter of vegetables. As a general rule, people should consume 1 gram of protein per 1kilogram of body weight,” he says. If you’re on the gains train should you pack in a little more, in order to fuel your muscles and feed their growth? Daniel recommends “between 1.6-2.2g of protein per kg of body weight’.

Bite-size stats

Aim for around 1g of protein per kg of body weight and adjust this according to your fitness goals. Stay well hydrated throughout the day and remember there’s only so much of this nifty nutrient that the body can process. So spare your bank balance – and your kidneys an intense workout –by knowing, with shiny new protein supplements, when enough is enough.

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How much protein do you actually need?

RW Rachel V Wall

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