Protein and training

Introduction

In the past couple of years, there has been a complete shift in Irish people’s attitudes towards sports supplements along with a noticeable surge in the popularity of bodybuilding and powerlifting. According to Bord Bia Periscope 2013, Irish people think of themselves as one of the healthiest nations in Europe – pretty ironic considering our rising levels of obesity. There has also been an explosion in the Health and Wellness Trend in Ireland in recent years. According to one EuroMonitor report titled ‘Sports Nutrition in Ireland’, there has been a 7% increase in Ireland’s sports nutrition industry with expectant continued growth over the next couple of years. With this upswing in the popularity of gym-going and strength training has brought a reciprocal increase in protein supplement use in the form of protein powders, bars and Ready-To-Drink (RTD).

Based on this premise, Irish companies are constantly searching for ways to tap into this lucrative protein sector with Avonmore having recently launched a popular protein milk and Glanbia having acquired the US protein bar company ‘ThinkThin’ for a humble $217 million only last month. These changes and developments in the Irish supplemental market typify the growth and success of this protein category which in my opinion will only increase with time as the consumer becomes more aware of the importance of protein in not only sports performance but also as research backing its effects on muscle synthesis and immune function grows.

What is Protein?

Protein is generally considered one of the most important food groups for human survival. Every day our body changes as cells grow, divide and die – these processes depend entirely on protein to supply the vital building blocks to our cells. These building blocks are scientifically known as ‘amino acids’ and when joined together form a ‘protein’. There are two types of amino acids in the body; ‘essential’ amino acids, which cannot be formed by the body and must be obtained from dietary food sources; and ‘non-essential’ amino acids which can be produced by the body itself. Protein coming from animal sources provides the majority of ‘essential’ amino acids. However, plant based proteins (seeds, lentils, vegetables and grains) may not offer all of these essential amino acids. It is, therefore, highly recommended for all vegetarians and vegans to eat a wide range of plant based foods to ensure that they receive all the essential amino acids needed to generate proteins in the body.

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Turkish eggs on granary bread with spiced chick peas and spinach.

How much Protein do we need?

The recommended daily amount (RDA) of protein for healthy adults is 0.8g/kg of body weight per day but this is viewed as the minimum amount for the average sedentary adult. Many factors need to be considered when calculating the optimal amount of dietary protein for individuals that exercise daily such as the protein quality, energy intake, carbohydrate intake, type and intensity of exercise and timing of protein intake. Protein recommendations are generally calculated based on a nitrogen balance assessment and amino acid tracer studies. Nitrogen balance technique involves assessing the total amount of protein that enters the body through food consumption and the total amount of nitrogen expended.

It is recommended that if you exercise regularly or participate in more than 1 hour of moderate to high intensity exercise several times a week you should be consuming more protein than what is advised for a sedentary adult. The International Society of Sports Nutrition states that an active person should eat between 1.2 – 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight on the days that you exercise.

  • Those that participate in endurance activities (swimming, biking, running) should try to consume 1.2 -1.4g/kg of protein.
  • Whereas those involved in strength activities (weight lifting) should aim for 1.4 -2.0 g/kg of protein.

We are constantly being bombarded these days with articles in the Daily Mail and online on how a high protein diet is touted as unhealthy and can even lead to medical issues such as chronic kidney failure. Some have even cited that high protein diets can enhance the leaching of calcium and heighten an individual’s risk for osteoporosis. However, both of these theories are still unclear as there is no substantial evidence to suggest that protein intakes within the 1.2-2.0g/kg of body weight range will harm or even have an adverse effect in healthy, active individuals.

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Post-gym protein smoothie- packed with berries, banana and a scoop of whey protein.

How to Up Your Protein Intake from Food Sources?

Although there are multiple protein supplements available in the Irish market, many athletes would rather eat whole foods to meet their protein needs. For instance a sedentary woman weighing 127 pounds will need about 46 g of protein per day – this can easily be achieved by eating a 3 oz chicken breast, 1 egg, a handful of almonds and a slice of cheddar cheese.

 Here is a list of common protein foods that can easily be consumed on a daily basis;

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Protein Supplements

When it comes to protein, most of us don’t need supplemental help and can easily meet our needs from a well-balanced diet. However, those that have above average protein needs and find they are not achieving the desired effects from exercise should consider protein supplementation.

The most important issue to consider when purchasing a protein supplement is its quality. This is the main reason why scientists came up with the ‘protein digestibility corrected amino acid score’ (PDCAAS) which tells you exactly how complete the protein is and how easily digestible it will be in order to attain the necessary amino acids. This scoring system rates protein from 0 to 1. For example egg whites actually have a score of 1 meaning they are fully complete in the 9 essential amino acids and are easily digested and absorbed. It is important that your protein powder supplement should score as close to 1 as possible.

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  1. Whey protein exhibits the highest PDCAA out of all the protein powders because of its high levels of essential and branched chain amino acids to encourage muscle building during strength training. If you are looking for a protein that will help increase muscle and size then whey is the best powder. It is inexpensive and a high quality product that will reach your muscles faster leading to desirable results.
  2. Casein and soy protein isolate are also considered high quality sources and score with a value of 1.00 on the PDCAAS scale. Soy protein is an excellent alternative for vegans who can’t take whey or casein.
  3. Plant based proteins such as pea (0.69), rice (0.47) and hemp (0.46) score lower on the PDCAA scale as they don’t consist of all 9 essential amino acids. For this reason they are normally mixed together in a plant based protein supplement.

What about Protein Bars?

The main difference between protein powder and bars is that bars generally contain more calories, carbs, fat and salt for any given amount of protein. However, bars also provide a quick and easy way of getting that post workout protein snack into you. I would generally advise to always read the back of protein bars and see what exactly is in each product – you may be surprised by the hidden fibers, sugars and artificial sweeteners. I, personally, love protein bars until I realized a few years ago that I was gaining weight fast and read the back of one bar and saw that one bar was nearly the equivalent of an entire meal! However, bear in mind that these bars are manufactured for different types of exercise – choose higher carb bars (20g per serving) when you participate in higher intensity aerobic activities (running, swimming and cycling) and opt for lower carb bars (< 20 grams) for non-aerobic exercises.

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Author: Christina Higgins

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