Alex Cook - EXALT Sports and Endurance Dietitian
Why You Might Need More Protein Than You Think
Tthere are many reasons as to why we need protein. When it comes down to health, all essential nutrients have their place in a balanced lifestyle. Our expert guide to why we need protein and how much we need, can help you make the most of your nutritional intake.
Table of Contents
- What is Protein?
- Why Do We Need Protein?
- How Much Protein Per Day?
- When to Take Protein Powder?
- How to Increase Protein Intake
- How Does Protein Affect Recovery After Exercise?
What is Protein?
Protein is known as a macronutrient. It is an essential part of the body, and can be found all across the body, including your muscles, bone, skin, and hair. Protein makes up essential processes, including enzymes which are responsible for the chemical reactions in the body.
Each protein molecule is made up of amino acids. The process of making proteins is called protein synthesis. Our bodies can create most of these amino acids automatically, except for the nine ‘essential amino acids’. In order to get these nine amino acids, we need protein through our diets.
Why Do We Need Protein?
We need protein for cell growth and muscle repair. We need protein to create hormones, enzymes and antibodies which help our bodies defend against disease. Due to the fact we need protein for muscles, it is even more important for endurance and strength-focused athletes to get the amount of protein we need. Many may choose to supplement their diets with protein powder in order to intake the required amount.
However, not all protein-rich foods contain all nine essential amino acids. Animal proteins are ‘complete’ as they contain all of the required essential amino acids. Plant proteins are not complete. This means those following a plant-based diet, such as vegans and vegetarians will need to eat a wide variety of plant-based proteins, such as those found in vegan protein powder. This is to ensure they take in all of the required essential amino acids that may be missing from their diets.
Another reason we need protein is because exercise creates micro-tears (no pain, no gain!) in our muscles. Protein helps these muscles rebuild and repair, adapt to training and become stronger. To build muscle mass, your body needs a positive net protein balance, meaning muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown. For this reason, we need protein to aid post-workout recovery.
How Much Protein Per Day?
It is one step knowing why we need protein, the next step is knowing how much protein you need per day. Research (1) has shown that muscle protein turnover is highest after exercise. Therefore, an active person has higher protein requirements than someone who is less active. You can estimate how much protein you need per day with this handy calculator. Taking into account your goals, bodyweight and exercise regime helps you determine how much protein you need.
According to the British Heart Foundation, most adults need around 0.75g of protein per kilo of body weight per day. Athletes and active people who train more than once a day will need around double that of the average adult intake. More protein doesn't necessarily mean more muscle. If you consume more protein than you need, your body will simply break down the excess protein and waste it.
When to Take Protein Powder?
Not only do we need protein to rebuild muscle and help exercise recovery, it also matters when you take this protein. Getting your protein after you exercise is important because exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis for up to three hours. This is known as the “anabolic window”, and following your workout with a protein shake can help to aid recovery.
This process can remain elevated for up to 48 hours post-training! That means, if you're working out every 2 days, your body might be in a state of constant protein synthesis. Therefore, you should also stagger your protein throughout the day to ensure a sufficient supply of protein to repair and build muscle.
Our organic whey protein is made up of three protein sources: whey, egg white and casein; each with a different absorption rate. This allows protein to be available to the body over a longer period (up to 7 hours).
How to Increase Protein Intake
Few of us have time to measure out portions and count numbers, but starting your day with a high protein breakfast is a great first step. If you generally have a minimum of one portion of protein per meal, you should be close to meeting your daily requirements. You can always support your protein intake with protein blends designed to provide the protein you need to support your body.
An example of a protein-rich day of meals could be:
- Breakfast: Yoghurt with 60g of nuts/seeds
- Lunch: Two eggs
- Dinner: Salmon steak
- Snack: Cereal with 250ml milk
If you eat well, then you may not need to add protein supplements. However, protein-filled drinks such as meal replacement shakes can be useful if you are in a rush and you can’t have a proper meal.
Vegetarians or vegans may struggle to meet their requirements through their diet. Vegan smoothies which contain protein, or using a vegan protein powder can help to encourage us to get all the protein we need.
EXALT fresh protein smoothies use real food in every bottle and have a minimum 20g of protein per bottle. This makes them the perfect go-to if you are in a rush or have no access to food after training.
How Does Protein Affect Recovery After Exercise?
We need protein to support in rebuilding muscles after exercise, therefore, protein has a central role to play in recovery. Eating protein, with carbohydrates too, after we exercise is important. This can be simply achieved with a bagel and nut butter for example. Or, opt for a breakfast smoothie or shake, which is rich in protein and carbohydrates, to increase the rate at which your body recovers.
The protein content of your post-training snack will not only kick start the recovery process but also aid the absorption of carbohydrate back into your muscles.For optimal recovery and training adaptation, think more broadly than just protein.As with anything related to nutrition, try and keep it simple. Don’t get confused by the conflicting advice out there. If you are eating well, your diet can provide you with the majority of the required protein. You should aim to have protein at each meal (and snack) and aim for a variety of protein sources throughout the day.
Why Choose EXALT?
At EXALT, we specialise in great tasting drinks and nutritional blends to support your healthy lifestyle alongside your workout. From pre-workout, to cold-pressed juices for a juice cleanse, to vegan smoothies, try our recipes designed by experts.
(1) Witard OC, Jackman SR, Kies AK, Jeukendrup AE, Tipton KD. Effect of increased dietary protein on tolerance to intensified training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43:598–607.