Protein: How much and when?

With all of the information about nutrition widely available online nowadays, it can all get way too confusing, way too fast. My aim here is to provide short and concise answers to frequently asked questions about protein! Q: What is protein? A: Protein is one of the three macronutrients (the other two being carbohydrates and fats). It has 4 calories per gram and it is broken down into amino acids in the body. Q: Why do we need it? A: We need to consume protein for two main reasons. First, function. Protein helps produce enzymes in the body, such as the ones that assist with digestion in the stomach - these enzymes are constructed from amino acids. Proteins are also a part of just about every cell in the body! Let's just say if you were to take protein out of your diet, you wouldn't get much done. Second, structure. Proteins are a large part of bone and, as I'm sure we all know, muscle! Muscle has a very high percentage of protein - if you want to build muscle and aren't eating enough protein, how can you expect to grow!? Q: How much do I need? A: If you eat too much protein, you're leaving less room in your calorie allowance for fats and carbs (which have important functions of their own). If you don't eat enough, you're not going to progress as fast as you could. What we need is to cap the amount of protein we eat to allow us to make room for other important macros, but also make sure we're eating enough to prevent muscle loss and make some gains. For optimal muscle growth, it's recommended that you eat anywhere from 1.6g/kg of bodyweight, up to 2.2g/kg of bodyweight. If your main goal is to lose bodyfat and maintain muscle, you'll probably want to keep your protein levels on the higher end of that range. Alternatively, if you're trying to gain weight, you may want to stick to the lower end of the range as this allows you to consume more carbohydrates and fats in your calorie allowance. You might have heard that 1g per lb of bodyweight is the best for muscle growth and this isn't necessarily wrong. However, you certainly don't need any more than that as it's relatively close to the 2.2g/kg/bw mark and it's not very specific to the individual or their goals! Q: When should I consume protein? A: Ideally, every meal should contain protein. Ideally, meals would be 3-5 hours apart. This ensures that your body is getting a steady supply of protein to support both the functional and structural roles of the macronutrient. If you don't consume enough protein, or not regularly enough, this can lead to the body extracting amino acids from your muscle. Sounds scary, right?! Don't worry though, this won't change your body composition over the course of a few weeks, but you certainly won't be optimising protein intake. Take the amount of meals you have per day and divide this by the amount of protein you have to consume. Try to eat this amount of protein per meal! TL;DR Protein is essential for making progress in the gym and ... staying alive. Try to eat anywhere from 1.6-2.2/g per kg of bodyweight. Ideally, try to consume it evenly throughout the day. That's it!


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