Protein, unfortunately, can be somewhat of a cliché in the world of health and fitness. Especially for those looking inwards from the outside, it’s often the butt of jokes — stemming from what is likely to be confusion — about gym-goers needlessly fussing over their daily intake.
Going overboard in the hope of bigger muscle just adds extra calories for no added benefit
For those more passionate about training, however, daily protein intake is a much more serious matter.
It doesn’t have to mean guzzling three shakes a day, but you do need to know how much to consume in order for your body to work at its optimum.
Here, we break it down for you — how much should you be eating, and what happens to your body if you eat too much?
How much is too much?
Sure, a high-protein, low-carb diet can help you ditch the pounds in the short-term, but if you’re super-setting your steak with a side of three eggs for breakfast every day, you’re likely to pack on the weight — thanks to an exceedingly high (and unnecessary) protein intake.
Instead, use the equation below to work out what you need and stick to it. Going overboard in the hope of bigger muscle just adds extra calories for no added benefit.
Speaking to the New York Times, dietician and exercise physiologist Jim White said “the body only digests and absorbs a certain amount of protein every meal”, with that figure coming in at around 20-40g per meal. Continuing, White said, “[by eating more than the recommended amount] you’re robbing yourself of other macronutrients that the body needs, like whole grains, fats and fruits and vegetables.”
Similarly, by subjecting your digestive system to an influx of protein, you’ll put it under enormous strain. You’re likely to start feeling nauseous and lethargic, especially if carbs have been cut in the name of added protein.
On top of this, experts found that any additional protein ingested — outside of your individual allowance — may well be stored as fat, while those excess amino acids will be excreted through bodily fluids. Put simply, you’re risking p*ssing away your gains.
If that wasn’t enough, health services regularly warn that a long-term high-protein diet can lead to putting extra strain on the kidneys, leading to issues further down the line.
So it pays to know your numbers, gents.
OK, so how much do I need?
If you’re new to weight training, 1.5g per kg of bodyweight is suitable for your body to start supplying additional muscle-building amino acids. More experienced? Then, the rule of thumb is that you need to eat – at a very maximum – 2.2g of protein per kg of your bodyweight in order to build significant muscle.
Anything more and your body will begin to not process it as optimally. So, for example, if you’re 82kg, then that’s 180g of protein to fit in daily.
A study published in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutritionsplit a group of participants into two groups — one with a high-protein intake at 4.4g per kg of bodyweight, and another maintaining the standard 2.2g of protein per bodyweight.
The results found that there was no increase in body fat, fat mass or body fat percentage alongside no changes in training volume for the group with the higher protein intake.
Great, now when do I need it?
You’re likely to have heard of the ‘golden hour’ after a workout, where your muscles — aching, torn and broken after your session — are most receptive to a nice, juicy protein hit. This, to go against the grain, isn’t as iron-cast as some would think.
The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition examined 23 studies on this subject, and found no direct link between muscle strength and protein timing. Conversely, Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals to Food states that slurping a shake too close to mealtime will see your body turning the protein into glucose.
To keep things simple (and, crucially, stress-free) simply focus on hitting your numbers and don’t down a shake any less than 90 minutes ahead of your next meal.
Your body will look after the rest.