I've been meaning to write this post for some time as it's one of the things I get asked the most, especially by women: "Do I need to use or eat protein, and why is it good for me?"
There's been a tidal wave of change lately, with more and more women eating healthily, working out and starting to lift weights. Yet I still find that eating protein - particularly protein supplements, or powders - terrifes the beejezus out of a lot of girls. All the time, I get asked, "will it make me bulky?" "Will I start looking like the Incredible Hulk?"
For many, it seems to go hand-in-hand with Arnold, bulking, men, shredding, shakes, and lots of testosterone. However hard companies try, the world of protein still isn't all that girl-friendly.
Instead, protein can actually help you to achieve that lean and toned look you always dreamed of. As you know, strong is the new sexy!
Anyway, here's my Girl's Guide to Protein - I hope it answers a lot of the questions you have,
WHAT IS PROTEIN?
Protein is one of the key nutrients we eat and makes up around 16% of our body weight. Since we use protein constantly, we need to keep replacing it, and it's then used for a whole host of functions - our body uses it to make enzymes and to help ward off infections, as well as to create healthy skin, hair and nails. Of course, it's also crucial in building muscle tissue, which we need to keep our bodies strong and healthy.
As well as supplements and protein powders, you can find proteins in a huge array of foods, from meats to eggs, fish and yoghurts - whether you know it or not, it probably already forms an essential part of your diet.
You want a bum like J-Lo, toned arms like Jennifer Aniston, or washboard abs to make the boys swoon? Then you need protein! You see, protein is key in creating tone and definition in active women. Not only will it help to build lean muscle, but it will also help your body to get over exercise and enhance recovery too.
Not enough? Well, protein can also give you the glowing skin and luscious locks you always dreamed of. Since protein breaks down into amino acids, which are then carried through the body in the bloodstream, it can then be used to create new body tissue, hormones, enzymes and blood cells.
If you're looking to lose weight, then protein can even fire up your body's metabolic rate. Not only will it slow down the digestion of carbs (meaning eating protein with carbs is key at slowly releasing these carbs into the bloodstream, keeping your blood sugar levels nice and stable) but studies also show that high protein meals can boost your metabolic rate by up to 20-30%, helping you to burn both more calories AND fat.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO I NEED?
|Weight||Protein per day (g)||Protein per day if you're extremely active (g)|
|100 lbs (45 kg)||36||50|
|105 lbs (47.7 kg)||37.8||52.5|
|110 lbs (49.5 kg)||39.6||55|
|115 lbs (52.3 kg)||41.4||57.5|
|120 lbs (54.5 kg)||43.2||60|
|125 lbs (56.8 kg)||45||62.5|
|130 lbs (59.1 kg)||46.8||65|
|135 lbs (61.4 kg)||48.6||67.5|
|140 lbs (63.6 kg)||50.4||70|
|145 lbs (55.9 kg)||52.2||72.5|
|150 lbs (68.2 kg)||54||75|
|155 lbs (70.5 kg)||55.8||77.5|
|160 lbs (72.7 kg)||57.8||80|
However, the RDA suggests 0.83 grams of protein per kg of body weight for the average woman (about 50g for a 140-pound woman). Of course, if you're active or lifting weights, then it goes without saying that you need a bit more - between 1 and 2g per kg of body weight. For an active woman who weighs 140 pounds, that’s about 64–127g each day. Pregnant women also need to be eating more protein, so it's about finding the right balance for you and your needs.
CAN I EAT TOO MUCH PROTEIN?
Yup! Your body is only capable of absorbing about 30g of protein at a time, so if you eat more than that in one sitting, then you’ll tend to store the excess as fat. Diets too high in protein (where protein makes up more than 40% or more of your daily calories) can also damage the kidneys.
On the flipside, there's such a thing as too little protein. You see, our body uses its own muscle stores for fuel when there’s a lack of protein, which will prevent you from building that lean muscle you want. As a good starting point, try eating a portion of protein with every meal, whether that's in lean meats, pulses or some eggs.
PROTEIN POWDERS...WHERE DO I START?
Protein powders are a fantastic, low-calorie way of making sure we're getting enough protein. However, there are so many types that it can be a little overwhelming. Feeling confused? Here are the ones I use on a daily - or at least weekly - basis.
Whey Protein: A dairy protein source, whey is easily digested as it breaks down quickly, going straight to muscle tissue. It's particularly good consumed first thing in the morning or before / after workouts, when other lean muscle foods (such as eggs or chicken) take too long to digest to be used effectively.
Casein: Another of the dairy protein powders, casein is unlike whey as it's extremely slow to digest. This means that it makes the perfect bedtime snack when your body is going without food for long periods. If you take a mix of casein and whey, chances are you're likely to build lean muscle more than those who don't.
Vegan powders (such as pea): If you're on a vegan diet, then chances are you'll have come across these. Pea protein is also high in arginine, which stimulates blood flow by dilating blood vessels, allowing nutrients to be delivered to the muscles more quickly.
Beef protein: For those who are lactose-intolerant, beef is an excellent option, since it contains all of the required amino acids along with creatine and B vitamins. Think of it as a lean steak, without the calories and fat.
WHEN SHOULD I EAT PROTEIN?
As I'm sure you know, your body is constantly repairing and building tissue, meaning you constantly have to replace your protein stores. A good idea is to eat around 25–30 g of protein five to six times a day from a variety of sources, whether that's with supplements, or eggs, milk, meat, fish, Greek yoghurt or pulses.
However, pre-workout is one of the most crucial times to eat your protein. Whey protein powder is a particularly good choice at this time because it digests so quickly, meaning the stores can then be used during the workout to prevent muscle breakdown and enhance recovery and growth. Whey also enhances blood vessel dilation, which allows for greater blood flow to exercising muscles - essential for energy both before, during and after a workout.
WHICH PROTEIN DO I GO FOR?
Believe me when I say that I've tried a LOT of protein powders - some are much better than others. To save you having to waste much money, these are my picks of the best:
On a budget: I love The Protein Works for a huge array of flavours at really fantastic prices - you can pick up a pack of protein for less than a tenner, which is great if you want to have an experiment, or aren't sure if it's for you. I love the Whey Protein Isolate 90 in Vanilla Creme - seriously tasty stuff!
The best quality: If you're looking for a protein that's as natural as possible, with grass-fed whey and sweetened with stevia, then the very best on the market is First Protein, sold at Protein Pick and Mix. Better still, you buy this whey unflavoured and then "mix and match" it with flavour capsules, meaning you can have a play with flavours and tastes!
Variety of flavours and types: I love Sci Tec Direct for its array of different proteins and flavours. Take your pick from egg, beef and milk proteins, in a range of tastes. I really love the Pistachio White Chocolate Milk Complex - the best tasting whey I've ever tried!
Vegan: There's more and more variety on the market for vegans, or those with dairy intolerances. My pick of the vegan powders are pea proteins (soy have too many questionable side effects for me), and I adore both Pulsin' and Be Skinny Drink Me.
Casein: Again, I'm a huge fan of First Protein here. The Choco and Strawberry Creme flavours make the most incredibly smooth protein cheesecakes!
So, do you need to have protein powders in shakes? Hell no! Think outside the shake and mix it up - or take a look at our blog for recipes (click here) which use protein powder as ingredients.
For other ideas, try adding protein to homemade nut butters (such as my healthy Nutella here), to your morning porridge oats, in smoothies, or make a fast and easy protein mugcake, like this one here.
WHAT IF I DON'T WANT TO USE PROTEIN POWDERS?
Well, there are plenty of options to ram up your protein intake if you don't want to have a play with powders! Here are some of my favourite sources of protein:
Total Greek Yoghurt
Higher in protein and lower in carbs than regular yogurt, Total Greek is also packed with important probiotics for intestinal health. Yoghurt also tends to be a mix of whey and casein proteins, so you can benefit from eating it most times of the day.
Lean Grass-fed Beef
Grass-fed beef is higher in iron (great for that time of the month), omegas, vitamin E, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than grain-fed cattle. Plus, you can expect around 25g of protein in each serving.
Eggs whites in particular are an easily digestible source of protein (around 7g per egg) and also happen to be rich in vitamin D. If you want to cut down on fat too, try mixing one whole egg with a few egg whites.
Beans and Pulses
Pulses are loaded with protein (chickpeas have 20 g per half cup) and are also high in fibre, meaning they're crucial to keep your body functioning well. Other high-protein beans include black beans (7g per half cup).
Dairy is packed with protein and calcium, which we know is crucial for building healthy bones. A healthy c contains energy-boosting carbs and a blend of slow and fast release .
Chicken and Turkey
Lean and low in fat, chicken and turkey are a great source of protein for those who are diet-conscious. Try grilling your meat to make it as healthy as possible - you can even try snacking on diced, cooked chicken breast if you want to!