As you elbow past wall-to-wall protein balls, bars and powders for the umpteenth time, you may well wonder whether you need these products. Megan Cameron-Lee puts the building blocks together.
Why is protein so important?
Practically every part of your body, including the skin and muscles, among other organs, is made up of protein, so you need to eat protein to help repair and rebuild these body parts’ cells.
The market seems to be flooded with protein products. Do I really need them?
Although high-protein products can be a handy grab-and-go snack when you’re on the run, they can also be loaded with fat, sugar and kilojoules; in fact, some bars and balls have twice the kilojoules of a small meal! The truth is that you can easily get enough protein from a healthy, varied diet. Find it in animal sources, such as lean meat, fish and poultry, and eggs and dairy. You’re vegetarian? Protein also comes in plant form, such as tofu, nuts, legumes (such as beans, chickpeas and lentils) and wholegrains.
Will eating more protein improve my muscle tone?
It’s impossible to eat your way to well-toned muscles! If you eat extra protein without ramping up your exercise routine, your body will simply convert some of it into energy and store the rest as fat.
If you want that extra protein to increase your muscles rather than your waistline, you need to focus on resistance training that involves free weights or moves that work against your body (as push-ups do).
The timing of your snacks is also important. Eat a protein- and carbohydrate-rich snack (such as a small tub of reduced-fat yoghurt or glass of reduced-fat milk) before and after exercise. Why? Muscle consists of protein, so the protein in your snack will help muscles recover after all their hard work.
After a bout of exercise, damaged muscles undergo protein synthesis, a rebuilding process that boosts muscle size and strength. (That’s why bodybuilders believe that the more protein they eat, the more muscle they’ll have.) In addition, your snack’s carbohydrate will give you energy, enabling your body to put the snack’s protein towards muscle growth.
Do I need more protein than I’m getting from food?
Our diets already provide most of us with the protein we need: The average Australian man eats roughly 100g of protein a day, and the average Australian woman eats around 70g a day.
Despite these figures, we seem to be bombarded with messages encouraging us to consume even more protein, so it’s important to consider these in the context of scientific research — particularly in light of studies that show that consuming excessive amounts of protein will not give your muscles any more strength or size.
Can high-protein foods help me lose weight?
Solid evidence suggests that increasing the protein in our diets can promote short-term weight loss, because eating protein helps us feel satisfied. The DiOGenes project is the world’s biggest study into the links among diet, obesity and genes to date. This important investigation strongly supports an eating plan that combines low-GI carbohydrates with a high proportion of protein (25 per cent of total daily energy intake) as the most successful approach to weight-loss maintenance.
The bottom line
People who regularly exercise at a high level of intensity (such as athletes) need a bit more protein, but it’s still possible to meet this demand by eating everyday foods. In short, most of us don’t need to supplement with protein powders, bars and balls.
Where does my protein come from?
Here’s the protein content of some staple foods:
100g cooked beef or chicken = 30g protein
150g firm tofu = 25g protein
2 eggs = 12g protein
200g tub reduced-fat yoghurt = 13g protein
2 slices wholegrain bread = 6g protein
Women need 0.75g of protein per kilo of body weight per day Men need 0.84g of protein per kilo of body weight per day
For example, a 70kg woman needs 53g of protein a day, whereas an 85kg man needs 71g of protein a day.