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All Your Protein Related Questions Answered

4 MIN READ • 6th June 2017

Do you know how much protein you should be eating? Or when? Or why? We put your questions to an expert to get the answers all wrapped up

When you think of protein, what comes to mind? If it’s bodybuilders downing milkshakes in an effort to bulk up, you may need to reconsider. Protein is vital, particularly if you exercise, as it helps to repair, maintain and build muscle, meaning that you maximise your results. Eating too little of it can lead to a range of problems, including a slow metabolism, lack of energy, trouble losing weight, low immunity and poor concentration. But how much is enough? And what type should you be eating? We put the most frequently asked questions to nutritionist Rob Hobson (


Should I take a protein supplement or will my diet give me enough?


“Protein is used to help with growth and repair of muscle tissue, as well as making enzymes that help your body to function. The recommended intake of protein is 45g per day – this is about two handfuls of foods such as meats, fish, eggs, tofu, beans and Quorn. Food surveys show that most men and women eat more than this, so under normal circumstances it’s unlikely that you won’t be eating enough protein. The guidance is about 0.8g protein per kg body weight, but if you’re following a low carb diet, have a heavy training schedule, are vegetarian or are pregnant or lactating then your need for protein may be higher than the recommended amount. Endurance and strength athletes may need as much as 1.7g protein per kg, so in these cases, supplements may be useful but under normal circumstances you should be able to get what you need from your diet alone.”


What foods have the highest protein content?


“The best sources of protein are meat, fish, dairy and eggs as these contain all of the essential amino acids (EAAs) that can’t be made by your body. Most foods contain a little protein but vegetarians and vegans may face difficulty getting essential amino acids from plant-based foods. Pulses, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds also contain the nutrient but they don’t have all of the EAAs, so try to eat a range of these foods along with tofu and quinoa, which are a complete protein.”


What’s the difference between whey, soy and plant protein supplements?


“Whey has always been considered to be the gold standard of protein. It’s quickly digested and contains a high concentration of the amino acid leucine, which is thought to be especially important in maximising muscle protein synthesis [how your body builds muscle]. Soy is a vegetarian-based protein that releases amino acids quickly, like whey does – look for supplements with non-genetically modified soy. Casein (derived from cow’s milk) has similar properties to whey but is digested more slowly, providing a sustained release of amino acids. Research has suggested that a blend of whey, casein and soy is best at enhancing muscle recovery and growth. There are lots of seedbased protein supplements on the market that have the benefit of being good for vegans but while they are useful to help increase intake, they may be missing some of the essential amino acids. These normally include methionine and leucine so try looking for blends that include hemp or chia teamed with quinoa, oat or brown rice.”


What ingredients do I need to look out for in protein supplements?


“Keep an eye out for a product with just a few ingredients that are free of sugar and fillers. Casein can cause bloating as it’s high in lactose so it may take a bit of trial and error when deciding what to use. Try to watch out for gluten as this can also cause digestive issues, especially if you’re sensitive to it. Obviously, avoid sugar as best you can as we already get too much of this in our diet – check labels as it may be called glucose or dextrin. Skimmed milk powder is used to bulk out some brands which can cause flatulence, so be careful of those. Hydrogenated vegetable oils may be included to add richness to certain products, but these are not good for your health as they are linked to an increased risk of heart disease and inflammation in the body. Certain fillers may also cause your stomach to expand so be aware of products with ingredients such as physillum husk.”


I’ve heard that there’s a one hour window after exercise to take protein. Is this true?


“Muscles remain responsive to protein for many hours after exercising and although the effects are greater immediately after a session, you don’t need to stress about eating it within the hour after training. Concentrating on having a healthy balanced and nutritious diet every day along with maintaining regular training sessions is just if not more beneficial for muscle growth and repair.”

Protein by numbers

Protein is a macronutrient that is essential for building and repairing muscle. The other 2 macronutrients are fats and carbohydrates.
1883 The year that the term protein was first used
18-20% The amount that protein makes up of your total bodyweight
4 The number of calories each gram of protein contains
9 Essential amino acids – these are proteins that can’t be made by your body
30% Increasing protein to this much of your total calorie intake can result in sustained weight loss
45g The recommended daily amount of protein
28g The amount of protein found in 100g of watermelon seeds
300 How many pounds of meat Luxembourgers eat in a year – the highest level of any country in the world
100,000 An estimate of the number of different types of protein in the human body

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