Freya Drohan: What are the pros of taking protein (for women)
Does the answer to a leaner and fitter body lie in the bottom of a protein shaker?
In recent years, there has been a noticeable change in the “dream body” that women strive for. Gone is the emphasis on size 0 and in its place we are bombarded with images of honed and toned supermodels.
While these women do endorse a healthy lifestyle - instead of Diet Coke and cigarettes expect green juices and gruelling workouts - sadly their streamlined physiques seem to be out of reach for the mere mortal.
Those looking to get fit and healthy have a myriad of advice from personal trainers, pro athletes, nutritionists, and health practitioners available online at their fingertips - and you have probably noticed that one word seems to keep reoccurring: protein.
This prompted me to wonder, does the answer to a leaner and fitter body lie at the bottom of a protein shaker.
Because there are so many varied opinions and advice being offered depending on where you turn, Fitstudios Dublin personal trainer Jenni Murphy, with the help of their in-house nutritionist Kate, helped answer some questions I had.
“Everyone needs protein in their diets,” Jenni says. “However, the amount of protein required is totally dependent on things like your age, gender, weight, activity level and goals.”
According to Jenni, ideally you should be getting your protein from a real food source.
“Most average diets provide you with adequate levels of protein, supplements in general are what they say on the tin they are there to "supplement" something you cannot get yourself because of an inadequate diet usually due to lack of knowledge or time,” she states.
As protein is the main building block that makes everything from muscles and tendons to hormones, it is essential to make sure you have an adequate intake. But how does one figure out just how much they be taking?
This is where the ‘RDA’ or ‘recommended daily amount’ comes in. This is calculated based on body weight and how active a person is - for example, a person with quite a sedentary lifestyle such as an office worker who does little exercise, would have a RDA of 0.80g of protein for every kilogram of their body weight. (The RDA will then change for those doing endurance training or strength training.)
“An average person who goes on the odd run or goes to a fitness class two to three times a week wouldn't need more than the above RDA for a sedentary individual and they should be able to get this amount from food,” Jenni advises.
When it comes to supplements, such as protein powders, Jenni says they are not “necessary” as such, but are a convenient, simple and fast way of ensuring that protein is consumed post workout.
She says that before you choose a protein supplement you need to ask yourself ‘do I really need it’ or am I just doing it to fit in at the gym. If there are no side effects of the product, and you believe it will benefit your performance in training, then there should be no harm in taking it.
It is important to bare in mind that not all protein is created equally. High Quality Protein is chock full of all essential amino acids and is usually derived from an animal source.
“When you consume protein it is broken down by the body into its amino acid components before being used by the body for many vital functions including the growth and repair of muscle tissue,” Jenni says.
“Essential amino acids are those that the body cannot make itself and therefore must taken into the body ideally from food. Whilst most people will consume enough EAAs through their food, people who regularly participate in intense exercise will require higher levels to meet the bodies requirements and prevent muscle breakdown.”
On the other hand, Low Quality Protein usually comes from plants, and is therefore missing some of the Amino acids needed. Therefore those who follow a vegan diet should probably add another complementary protein source in order to have all eight complete Essential Amino Acids.
Some women might think 'protein shakes' and associate them with bodybuilders and bulking, but if a female wants to get fit and lean, it is important for them to reassess how much protein they are consuming.
“Girls will need to up protein intake to meet the demands of their training type in order to get lean,” Jenni says. “The more muscle mass we have the less fat mass we will have. Muscles also burn more calories."
As for the myth that women will get bulky or big, it is just that - a myth.
“Protein will definitely not make them bulky unless they get the wrong protein powder and it contains gaining or additional carbs,” Jenni says.
For those who feel adding a protein supplement to their diet will benefit their training, there are a few things to consider:
“There are two different types of protein powders. Whey is a good fast acting choice for post workout and is derived from milk. You should take this approximately 15 to 30 minutes after training.”
"On the other hand, casein is slower so can help muscle recovery long term so it is taken overnight as that is when your body heals and protein start to work their magic.”
There are also vegan-friendly options, such as pea, hemp, brown rice proteins, etc. I found that an organic option, such as one from That Protein, that has no added sugars or artificial flavourings is a good place to start.
“At Fitstudios we promote clean eating and trying to get as much protein from a natural source as you can. Instead of relying on shop-bought protein bars or snacks, you should try making your own protein balls at home or try one of these recipes which are nutritious and delicious” Jenni concludes.
Jenni’s Protein Pancakes
1 cup porridge oats
6 egg whites
Mix together until a gruel like consistency forms.
Add to a hot pan of coconut oil.
Fruit, peanut butter, lime Greek yogurt (lime juice and honey in Greek yogurt), maple syrup, goji berries, flax seeds, melted dark chocolate.
Jenni’s Homemade Peanut Butter Sauce:
1 tbsp of peanut butter
1tsp cacao powder
Unsweetened almond milk
Melt peanut butter then add in other ingredients, mash banana completely and add enough almond milk until you have reached your desired consistency.
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