Protein 101:
Facts vs Myths

Nutrition can be a complicated beast. Looking for answers for the best way to reach your health and wellness goals is an incredibly daunting task. We can all relate to falling into a research rabbit hole and feeling more perplexed than when we started. Highly trusted sources will provide different answers and expert opinion can vary widely. For women, protein is one area that often causes total confusion. Although protein is one of the most important nutrients, most resources are geared towards men and focused on men who are looking to build serious muscle. However, protein is also a vital component in women’s health and is essential to living a robust and active lifestyle.

So, what is protein? Protein is a macronutrient along with fat and carbohydrates that make up the main sources of food energy. Each gram of protein provides 4 calories, one gram of carbohydrate is also 4 calories, and one gram of fat is nine calories. In our bodies, protein is the structural basis of cells and tissue.  In other words, every part of our body from organs, muscles, skin, hair and even nails are supported by and rely on protein. Our bodies constantly recycle protein every day for optimal performance. The term amino acids may sound familiar to you, as it is commonly used interchangeably with protein.  In short, amino acids are the building blocks for the proteins. Our bodies require both essential and non-essential amino acids, however, our bodies alone cannot produce all the essential amino acids required to grow and repair cells, so we have to support these needs through the nutrition we consume.

Knowing the above, it’s simple to understand why protein is one of the most integral nutrients in a woman’s diet. However, there is still a lack of understanding of why we need it, how to incorporate it into our diets, and what amounts we should be consuming.  With all that in mind, we’ve aimed to provide you with an overview of everything you need to know.

 

 

MYTH: Protein is for Bulking up.

The most common fear and almost instant thought when protein is mentioned is the idea of the bodybuilder, men like Arnold Schwarzenegger, consuming hefty amounts of protein powder whilst lifting weights. Many women fear that protein will bulk them up like Arnold. This is a total myth because all humans metabolize protein in the same way, irrelevant of gender.  The differences lie in a woman’s unique set of hormones that directly impact body composition and “womanly” shape. Women simply don’t bulk up in a way men do and would require some form of male hormone to achieve that. Protein does NOT contain those. Protein is a macronutrient that enables the body to maintain healthy lean muscle – the type of muscle that provides a toned, feminine body.  It is important to understand that maintaining muscle tone is not the same thing as increasing muscle tone. For healthy well-nourished individuals, there is no food source that can increase muscle mass without the influence of muscle-building exercise. 

The Many Benefits of Protein:

The slimming effects of protein: Everything we consume causes a reaction in which we refer to as the ‘thermic effect’. In short, this is a measurement of the amount of energy it takes to metabolize and digest food and in turn, convert it into energy. Our dear friend protein has a higher thermic effect than most foods, which means that it takes far more energy to break it down within our digestive system.  More energy spent means more calories burned. This is because the protein we eat needs to be broken down into amino acids for absorption. For the same reason, protein also keeps us feeling fuller for longer due to the slower digestion time, strengthening your resolve against unhealthy snacking. A recent study by the NYU School of Medicine found that dieters who doubled their protein intake actually lost more fat and maintained more muscle mass than those who consumed the recommended daily amount. Beyond this, protein is vital in keeping blood sugar levels stable. We all know that mid-afternoon need for something sweet and in reaction, we often fix this craving by grabbing the nearest chocolate bar or piece of candy. However, by consuming enough protein on a daily basis we can limit fluctuations in our blood sugar levels and in turn cut that craving out.

The active body requires fast recovery.  Whether you’re working out or just living a particularly active lifestyle, you’re body constantly breaks down tissues as you burn energy and strengthen muscle.  Providing adequate support by replacing your protein is vital to stay active without injury, damage, illness, or burnout. This is relevant to you whether you are going to the gym every day, taking a twice-weekly yoga class or even if you are simply a busy working professional or/and a mother looking after a growing family!

Strengthening the Immune System: Do you remember earlier how we mentioned that protein builds and repairs everything?  That also includes your immune system! Now, no one food will fend off the common cold but a certain number of nutrients available to us take the lead in strengthening the body’s ability to fight viruses, bacteria, and other germs. The antibodies that fight these diseases are made up of, you guessed it, protein.

How Much Do You Need?

Daily recommended amounts vary loosely depending on how active you are and your age, however, broadly speaking and a safe rule of thumb to follow is to calculate your needs based on your body weight.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that you should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram per day for general health. So, a person that weighs 75 kg (165 pounds) should consume an average of 60 grams of protein per day or 240 calories worth of protein.

You’ll likely be consuming most of your protein requirements through a healthy and balanced diet, whether that be meat, fish or vegetables. This is the perfect time to clear up myth number two; protein can only come from meat.  This is absolutely not true. With a trend towards ‘green’ eating, whether that be veganism, vegetarianism or just a general attempt to eat more plant-based, protein intake can be derived through numerous non-animal sources, such as nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes. If you’re struggling to consume the daily recommended amounts, consider a small boost of protein in supplement form on a daily basis as an alternative option, especially if you’re leading an active lifestyle. There are a good few protein supplements on the market but do take care in researching the ingredients label to make sure that there are no harmful fillers or artificial additives that certain brands use to cut costs.

Last but not least, when is the best time to consume protein in either food or supplement form? Simply, anytime. Obviously, the best advice is to adhere to the recommended daily amounts set by scientific bodies as stated previously. However, there are no strict limits on guidelines for optimal timing of protein intake. Eating a balanced diet during regular meal times will help introduce protein adequately throughout the day.  With a specific focus on fitness, we’d recommend consuming a protein shake just prior or directly after working out to maximize results in improving body composition, lean muscle development as well as reducing fat mass.