Of all the nutrients our body needs, protein is probably the most important one.
Protein helps to build, maintain and repair muscles, carries oxygen around the body (via the haemoglobin) and enhances sports performance.
It also boosts metabolism, which helps curb hunger and leads to eating fewer calories during the day.
Healthy sources of protein include fish, yoghurt, nuts, eggs, soy, tofu, beans, lentils, poultry without skin, etc. Protein powders are also available as dietary supplements.
In fact, consuming a protein-rich snack between meals is ideal for fat and weight loss.
One study found that people who ate a high-protein yoghurt snack during the afternoon ate 100 fewer calories at dinner, compared to those who ate crackers or chocolate as an afternoon snack.
The yoghurt, crackers and chocolate all provided the same number of calories.
If you have a personal fitness trainer, he or she would have likely raved about the benefits of downing a protein shake after the workout.
Your body naturally breaks down protein during strength or resistant training activities so it needs to be replenished. Liquids are probably the easiest way to do this if you’re not taking adequate amounts of whole foods.
However, when you should consume protein and whether it is really necessary is a highly debated topic.
Fitness enthusiasts often recommend taking a protein supplement 15-60 minutes after exercise. This time frame is known as the “anabolic window”.
It is believed that muscles are more sensitive to protein, and therefore, more likely to absorb and use protein immediately after exercise than they are at other times.
Tough workouts create microscopic damage within muscle cells, which are composed of protein.
The protein we eat supplies building blocks or amino acids that make up the muscles, and help repair damaged muscle proteins and form new ones to create stronger, bigger and fitter muscles.
Even for non-exercises, amino acids are constantly lost as they’re broken down which means there’s an ongoing need to consume protein-rich foods.
Additionally, protein blocks the production of cortisol, a hormone that breaks down muscle tissue and exacerbates post-exercise soreness.
However, recent research has shown that this window is much larger than previously thought.
According to a 2017 article in the International Society of Sports Nutrition, consuming protein any time up to two hours after your workout is ideal for building muscle mass.
The authors say, “The optimal time period during which to ingest protein is likely a matter of individual tolerance, since benefits are derived from pre- or post-workout ingestion; however, the anabolic effect of exercise is long-lasting (at least 24-hours), but likely diminishes with increasing time post-exercise.
“While it is possible for physically active individuals to obtain their daily protein requirements through the consumption of whole foods, supplementation is a practical way of ensuring intake of adequate protein quality and quantity, while minimising caloric intake, particularly for athletes who typically complete high volumes of training.”
The amount you consume should be relative to your workout.
If you are just coming from a brisk walk or aerobics class, a small glass of yoghurt or chocolate milk should be enough to refuel your body. You don’t need to gulp 16oz of protein shake!
We’ve all heard of the “go on a protein diet to lose weight” theory (think The Zone, Atkins or Paleo diets).
Replacing meals with protein shakes may help you shed some weight over time by reducing your daily calories. However, at some point you will need to start eating solid food.
This can lead to weight gain again, especially if you consume too many calories while trying to increase your protein intake.
Yes, taking protein in excess can backfire because the extras are usually stored as fat while the surplus of amino acids is excreted.
Plus, if you rely too heavily on protein shakes to replace regular meals, you’ll miss out on the nutritional benefits of whole foods.
In reality though, if you spread out your protein intake throughout the day (recommended between 0.4 and 0.55 grams of protein per kilogramme of body weight, four times per day), you don’t need any additional protein shakes post-workout.
For an active adult, about 10% of calories should come from protein. Stick to the healthier protein options instead of wolfing down red meats.
A word of caution: A high protein diet may worsen kidney function in people with kidney disease because your body may have trouble eliminating all the waste products of protein metabolism.
However, higher protein diets don’t adversely affect kidney function in healthy people.
As most things in life, there is a price to pay when having too much of a good thing.