It's been a while since I've written a blog so I thought it was about time I pulled my finger out and got some quality (well let's hope) info out to you guys again. So in light of this, I’m going to do a blog series on all the 'macros': protein, carbs and fats, as well as a bonus two more blogs on alcohol and fibre.
In this series we'll look at:
What is it?
Why we need it?
When to use it?
How much do we need?
I'll explain how I go about things with my own clients and myself.
So let's start with the most commonly known macro for gainz....... PROTEIN!
What is it?
Protein comes from the Greek word 'protos' which means 'first', and is an essential nutrient (we really can't live without this bad boy). We can find protein in foods such as animal products, nuts and beans and it also contains 4 calories per gram.
Protein is made out of Amino acids, and these can be called the “building blocks” of protein and are an important part of every human body. There are 21 different amino acids – nine of which are called “essential” and 12 of which are labelled as “non-essential.” The human body needs all 21 of these amino acids, in varying degrees, to be healthy and fully functional. All 21 have distinct chemical structures and are used for different roles – such as forming neurotransmitters, forming hormones and producing energy. But their primary role is to build proteins. There are 2 groups of amino acids:
Essential: those that the body can't create itself and we need to get from food
Non-essential: those that the body can create itself and which are not needed so much from food
- Aspartic Acid
- Glutamic Acid
Unlike fats and carbohydrates, your body does not tend to store protein for later use other than in muscle tissue and organs, so you should get a regular supply of them every day. Foods with amino acids (protein) include animal and vegetable sources. Most of the animal sources such as meat, eggs and milk are considered to be "complete protein sources" meaning that these contain all the essential amino acids that your body needs, in contrast to ‘incomplete’ protein sources like broccoli which do contain protein but are short in one or more of these essential aminos.
Widely agreed on for muscle building is the importance of branched chain amino acids, namely 'leucine', 'isoleucine’ and ‘valine’. So make sure you get these fellas in by consuming foods rich in them, such as whey protein, chicken, beef, pork, eggs and soy.
Why do we need protein?
Well to get massive, obviously…….. jokes (well maybe). Seriously though, we really DO need protein.
Do you want to build lean muscle tissue? If you lift weights or perform any type of resistance training, your goal is to ultimately build and tone your muscles and without a good protein intake you’ll struggle (2).
Do you want to have healthy hair and nails? Along with your muscles, your hair, nails, skin and eyes are made of protein. So are the cells that make up the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, nerves, brain and your sex glands. The body's most active protein users are the hormones secreted from the various glands -- thyroxin from the thyroid, insulin from the pancreas, and a variety of hormones from the pituitary -- as well as the soft tissues, hard-working major organs and muscles. They all require the richest stores of protein. (1)
So whether you’re looking to build bulging biceps or just be healthy – protein is important.
When do we need protein?
In my opinion, and I'd be safe to say in the opinion of pretty much most coaches out there, protein should be consumed in all of your main meals throughout the day. Remember when we said that protein can’t really be stored? That means we need to eat it regularly.
In fact, some research shows that eating protein every 3-5 hours may improve muscle gains long-term.(2)
As we are on the subject of when we need it, let’s talk about the so-called 20-minute window of opportunity, which is the reported timeframe which a protein shake MUST be chugged after training, in order to actually make any progress. NOT! Thanks to the supplement companies out there wanting to take your hard earned cash we are bombarded with shit like – ‘if you don't consume 'our' protein shake within 20 minutes of finishing your workout, ALL of your gainzzz will be lost and never returned unless you take 'super bollocks protein shake' now!!’.
Please don't get caught up in this marketing hype, the ‘window of opportunity’ is likely to be around 2 hours pre and post workout – meaning there’s a 5 hour gap which you should probably eat in…so much for extreme accuracy.
These powders are there to 'supplement' real food. Use them to help you increase your protein intake if you need to, use them to cook with (I personally love making wicked protein pancakes; shout me if you'd like the recipe) or use them as a post-session shake. If you know that it's going to be a while before you can get some food in post-session, say 3 hours or so, then hell yeah it's worth it.
Remember: As Ben always says, a shake is basically a blended up chicken breast. (Twitter Quote please John)
Now this is a heavily debated issue. Look, we are all so different, doing different things day-to-day, with different lifestyles and hectic worlds, and with different preferences, so this really is an individual question. However, I'll happily give you some guidelines:
So the average non-training/active regular Joe recommendation is as low as 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day up to 1.2 grams per day.
For a training individual, I feel this should be much higher, so more along the lines of 2-3.1 grams per kilogram of lean body weight (4) (personally I love protein so I aim for the higher end, 230 grams a day for me baby).
I‘ve found that unless you're a big old keen bean in the weights room, most struggle to hit a decent amount of protein a day. To combat this, these are the things I suggest to my clients:
1. Build your meal around your protein every time - instead of asking my clients ‘what's for brekkie/lunch/dinner?’ I'll say, ‘what are you have with your protein later or after the session?’
This then reminds them that before they even think about all the other foods, I've made the protein the most important piece of information here. Then they'll more than likely second guess their first answer, or just go right ahead and tell me about the epic protein based meal they are planning on having.
2. As I've mentioned above, it’s important to get the protein in every 3-5 hours. So depending on how many meals you like to have in a day, you're looking at 3-5 evenly spread servings a day and around 25-50 grams per meal, dependent on the individual.
3. When it comes to where to get your protein from, eat them all! It's really good practice to rotate your proteins - go wild. Don't smash chicken all the time just because you’ve heard that it's the leanest and this will mean you'll get lean. No, that’s not necessarily true. You'll start to hate chicken and then think food sucks and we are into a whole new world of blogs………
I hope this information is helpful to you, and if you would like more guidance on this then please hit me up and I'd be more than happy to help.
- (1) Geissler and Powers. “Fundamentals of Human Nutrition: for Students and Practitioners in the Health Sciences”
- (2) Alan Albert Aragon and Brad Jon Schoenfeld. “Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 201310:5DOI: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-5
- (3) P J Atherton and K Smith. “Muscle Protein Synthesis in response to Nutrition and Exercise” J Physiol. 2012 Mar 1; 590(Pt 5): 1049–1057. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.225003
- (4) Eric R Helms, Alan A Aragon, and Peter J Fitschen. “Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation” J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014; 11: 20. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-20