Being as active as I am I often get asked what protein powder I use. I also have many clients that ask me if they should be having protein powder now that they are starting a new healthy and active lifestyle.
I like to be honest, and this makes me want to bang my head against a wall.
The fact that the nutrition and fitness industry has managed to make individuals believe that they need a highly processed source of protein to have a complete diet just blows my mind.
I am talking about your average Joe, not a bodybuilder or an athlete as the dietary needs of these groups are different.
But let's put my feelings on the side and go through some facts.
The body needs protein to function, build cells, repair muscles, have an immune response, produce hormones and much more. So I understand where the obssesion with protein comes from. Pure panic about whether we will be able to function, lose weight or gain muscle without consuming the right amounts.
Protein is THE ONLY macronutrient that doesn't get shit in the media. It's a holy macronutrient - untouchable. Everyone is so obessessed with having a high protein diet and disses high carbs or high fat diets not really understanding that all macronutrients are essential and no macronutrient makes you fat. None.
I've just finished watching The Game Changers - the new diet documentary on Netflix. The documentary gives incredible scientific evidence as to why a plant-diet is more beneficial, but that's not the point here. In the documentary they mention that protein is thought to be needed for a good workout and lean muscles but we never stopped long enough to realise that it isn't true. Carbs. The marconutrient that gets a bad name. That's the essential macronutrient, for functioning of your organs and for you muscles. Our brain, and muscles run on glycogen (stored carbs). So no, protein is not the most essential macronutrient for a good workout and nice looking muscles. Carbs are, and the best carbs are those coming from plants.
How much protein do you need?
If you are downing protein shakes, it's probably because you think (or someone told you) that you need more protein in your diet. But how much do you actually need?
Your age, sex, health and activity level play a role in how much protein you need per day. In the UK, adults are recommended to eat 0.75g / 1 kg of weight. So if you weigh 55kg you will need to have 41.25g / day. If you don't know how much protein is in some foods it is advised that you read labels, and do some research to be able to have the best sources of protein.
For example, a chicken breast contains 31g of protein. A salmon fillet contains 20g of protein. A cup of chickpeas contains 39g of protein. A cup of lentils contains 18g of protein.
Can you get enough protein from your diet?
Our obssession with protein is causing us to consume more meat, sugars and highly unprocessed foods with more meat, sugars and highly unprocessed foods in hope to get fitter and healthier (whatever that word even means these days). Having “enough” protein in your diet to meet your basic needs is not necessarily the same as having the right amount for optimum health.
In just a few decades, whey protein has gone from being a waste product to an aspirational lifestyle enhancer. FYI whey is the watery stuff left over during cheese-making after the curds are separated off.
Vegetables contain protein, but vegetable protein such as lentils and peas are considered low-quality compared to meat, eggs and dairy. But did you know that pulses like lentils are 25% protein and 25% carbs? So where do they fit, are they good for us because they are protein, or bad because you know carbs are evil?
So many people stay far far away from any meal that is not considered high in protein, forgetting that protein is just another macronutrient that needs to be part of a balanced diet to give optimal results.
So can you get enough protein from a balanced diet? Yes you can, if you generally follow nutritional guidelines then yes you definitely can.
When we say we aren't having enough protein we are hiding another bigger problem. It feels like we aren't having enough protein, because we are having too much of everything else. If many of us overeat, it could be partly because our bodies are desperately seeking out protein in a food environment flooded with refined wheat and oils and many kinds of sugar.
The conclusion? You don't need a protein shake, your diet is enough to give you the protein you need, or so it should be. If you are an athelet or bodybuilder this is when you should look at adding protein to your diet through supplementation as your needs for training and recovery would be different.
Happy Healthy Living,