Protein is one of the 3 main food groups, along with carbohydrates and fats, and whilst all are essential, protein is often overlooked.
Firstly we need to understand the role protein plays in the body. Protein is vital for keeping your body healthy and is essentially used for repair and growth, including repairing/producing cells as well as, more noticeably, repairing muscles after exercise. This is important as not only will it reduce the effect of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) but it will also allow for the desired adaptations such as an increase in strength, size or endurance. Before I go into too much detail it’s important to know which foods are a good source of protein so that you can include them in your diet. The best protein sources are milk, meat, fish and eggs as they’re extremely rich in protein and the protein they contain has the essential and easily accessible amino acids needed for use in our muscles.
Protein requirements differ depending on your activity levels but the government recommends it make up around 15% of your daily calorie intake. More recently, scientific recommendations have been found through research and presented in the form of grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Recommendations begin at 0.8g/kg for a sedentary person, 1.2-1.6g/kg for an endurance athlete and 1.2-1.7g/kg for a strength athlete. However, this recommendation increases to 2-2.2g/kg if you’re calorie restricting i.e. on a diet.
In regards to the amount of protein per feed, much research has shown that no extra benefits are gained from consuming over 20g of protein per meal. However, some recent research has shown some extra benefits from consuming 40g of protein per feed and it’s now suggested that this recommendation is also given in relation to bodyweight as 0.2-0.3g/kg. The time between doses of protein for optimal protein synthesis is less disputed, with research finding that consuming protein every 3-4 hours had the best results. Whilst many people believe it is essential to consume protein immediately post-workout, many studies have found this ‘anabolic window’ to be a lie. In fact, research has found that we have a 3-hour window to consume protein post-exercise in order to produce the maximal muscle protein synthesis response. However, consuming protein immediately after exercise may allow for more protein to be consumed later in the day whilst still abiding by the appropriate timings of protein feeding every 3-4 hours.
In an ideal world, all of your protein would come from good animal-based food products, however, sometimes this is unachievable. Whether it’s due to money, time or convenience, sometimes consuming a protein shake may be a viable option. Simple whey protein shakes are just protein, and despite many myths saying they’ll make you fat etc they will only play the same role as the protein you consume through food, which I have already discussed. Additionally, consuming protein after exercise has also been shown to aid with post-exercise rehydration, a vital process for your body.
The use of whey protein shakes within your diet may be an option if you’re low on your daily protein consumption, if you struggle with consuming protein/food after exercise or if you are unable to consume protein at regular intervals throughout the day and it certainly isn’t something you should be afraid of!