Protein: how much is enough?

Step into any health food store and
you are bound to come across rows of colourful tubs of protein powders that
promise to help you achieve peak performance and a well sculpted body. 

As an athlete or avid exerciser,
some folks may wonder if a protein supplement is a necessary part of the daily
diet.  While some people – low calorie
dieters, vegetarians, haphazard eaters, and those who train very heavily – may
need the help of protein shakes to meet their daily requirements, it is not
essential for the average individual. 

A carefully balanced diet can
certainly supply the amino acids or building blocks needed for muscle growth
and repair.

The best food sources of protein
include lean meat, poultry, eggs, milk, low-fat yogurt, cheese, dairy, legumes
(beans and lentils), tofu, and soy products.

Without adequate protein, the body
cannot produce the hormones, enzymes, and immune compounds necessary to sustain
health. 

In fact, a diet that is
consistently low in protein can weaken the immune system and increase the
likelihood of catching colds and the flu.

If you train heavily and use
protein supplements, timing is very important. 
You will build muscle more effectively if you consume protein within one
hour of strength training. 

The protein powder supplements
available will likely fall into one of the following categories: whey protein,
soy protein, or whole plant protein powders.

Whey protein is the most widely
recognised and marketed protein supplement. 
Whey is essentially a by-product of cheese making. 

Compared to other protein sources,
whey protein contains a higher amount of essential amino acids (amino acids the
body can’t make on its own). 

When choosing a whey protein
product, avoid those that contain sugars in the form of fructose, dextrose and
maltodextrin, as well as artificial sweeteners. 
Pure whey protein should supply no more than 2 grams of sugar per 30
grams of protein.

Like whey, soy protein powder
contains all essential amino acids.  It
is a great alternative for vegetarians and it may offer benefits beyond muscle
repair such as helping to manage Type 2 Diabetes and lowering bad LDL cholesterol. 

If you are a woman with a high risk
for breast cancer, avoid soy protein powders.

Whole plant protein powders are
derived from the seeds of the hemp plant which also supplies all essential
amino acids.  In addition to it being an
unrefined source of protein, hemp protein also provides essential fatty acids
and fibre. 

Hemp protein can be mixed into juices,
smoothies, and protein shakes; it can even be added to baked goods.

The bottom line here is that while
some may find use of a protein supplement helpful for dietary balance, it is
not necessary for all individuals. 

Also, it is important to note that
getting more protein than the body actually uses or requires will not
necessarily result in bigger muscles. 
There is a limit to the rate at which protein can be made into muscle.

Unlike carbohydrate and fat, the
body cannot store protein.  Excess protein
will either be burned for energy in exercise or if you are getting sufficient
calories, it will be stored as fat.

How much protein you need depends
on your body weight. 

Sedentary individuals require 0.8
grams of protein per kilogram body weight per day. Strength and endurance
athletes require 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per
day.

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