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What Is Protein & How Much Do We Need?

One of the hardest things for most people to judge is how much protein to consume. Closely followed by what kinds of protein are deemed to be ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect,’ and do you need protein within 30 seconds of finishing your last rep in the gym to build muscle?

The list goes on…

So let’s try and break this down:

  • What is protein?
  • How is protein used within the body and the timing of such protein?
  • What sources of protein are optimal and less so?
  • How much protein do you need to build muscle or lose body fat?

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What is Protein?

Protein is one of four major Macronutrients, otherwise known as Macros. The other three are Carbohydrates, Fats and Fibre.  Macros play an important role within the body as all are broken down into different energy systems and tasks.

Protein is arguably the 'daddy macro' when we look at its role within the body.  In a nutshell, it is vitally important. From a biological stand point, every single cell in your body is made of up a protein. From bones to skin, hair to organs, blood to toe nails and nerves. Everything requires protein in some form or another.  I'm sure you can therefore appreciate just how life threatening a lack of protein could, and can, be.

If you don't eat enough protein, over time, you will suffer significant health issues.  Contrary to popular believe, however, consuming too much protein is not life threatening but it can cause some uncomfortable health issues in relation to digestion to name just one.  By the end of this article, I hope to show you how to find out how much protein is right for YOU!

Protein, in its raw form, is made up of Amino Acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of all protein we consume and it is the quantity of such amino acids that really define the quality of the protein. When we refer to protein as being essential, what we are really referring to is the amino acids being essential. These are what our bodies need to breakdown and use.

There are many amino acids some of which are considered essential, some semi-essential and others non-essential.

Essential to non-essential protein table

Essential amino acids are the amino acids that are essential for life. These are amino acids that we cannot create by ourselves and need to consume through our diet. These are also known as EAAs - Essential Amino Acids.

Now, if building muscle is your goal, then you want to take particular notice of the amino acid LEUCINE. This is the master amino acid when it comes to muscle growth, repair and recovery. Current research suggests that we need between 3-4g of leucine, every 3-4 hours, to encourage optimal protein synthesis.

Good Sources of Protein & Less Optimal Sources

Beef Salmon and Chicken

When we talk about protein sources and which is best, we are really looking at which protein is going to give us the best amino acid profile per gram/calorie. For example, if we want to try and hit 3-4g of Leucine per meal, for optimal recovery and growth, then we can either eat:

  • 200g of Beef (3.52g leucine)
  • 200g Salmon (3.24g leucine)
  • 220g Chicken (3.2g leucine)

On the other end of the scale, we would need to consume 800g of Pork to get just 3.2g of leucine.  In terms of caloric intake and the best ratio of Leucine, pork is less optimal.

This is not to suggest that it's not a good meat, or doesn't taste nice, but if you want to be really specific and optimal about building muscle, then Pork isn't going to do you any favours calorie for calorie compared to beef, salmon of chicken.

Below is a table of protein sources and their Leucine content per 100g to help you make the best choices:

Leucine protein food sources table

How Much Protein Do You Need To Build Muscle or Drop Body Fat?

Well, we need to understand that when we are looking to lose body fat, our caloric intake needs to be less than we burn off. This is called a calorie deficit. The goal to losing body fat is to remain in a calorie deficit but try and hold on to as much muscle as we can. We need to consume, therefore, enough protein and carbohydrates to prevent muscle breakdown, but keep the calories low enough to also burn fat – it's a tricky task.

Essentially, your goal when losing body fat is not to get bigger, it's to lose body fat.
Your goal when building muscle is to build muscle, and not worry too much about adding a little body fat.

Why?

Well, when we build muscle, we have to be in a calorie surplus - eating more calories than we burn off!

Gender also dictates how much protein you should eat in order to build muscle or lose body fat with men and women needing different quantities:

Male female protein intake

For example:

Jane” is 50kgs.  If she wanted to focus on fat loss, her protein intake should be around 75g a day.  If she wished to gain muscle, she would need to consume around 100g a day.

Jack” is 100kg.  If he would like to lose body fat, his protein intake should be about 200g a day.  In order for him to build muscle, then he would need to consume at least 250g of protein a day.

The above rules are simple and general guidelines to use, but I would highly suggest hiring a coach to work out your specific protein intake as there are many varying factors, including your job, lifestyle and medical background. This is something my company, Life Changing Fitness, offers.

Do You Need To Consume Protein 30 Seconds After Your Last Rep?

Gym Workouts

The blunt answer is NO!

Unless you are a professional bodybuilder then you really shouldn't get too obsessed with protein timing to the granular second.  A professional is someone who competes regularly and gets paid to do so (there are currently less than 100 of such individuals in the UK) - amateur competitors are excluded from this, as they are seasonal dieters and don't focus on long term optimal strategies.

After we train, there is a period of time when our bodies are more sensitive to nutrients than other times of the day. This is typically known as the “anabolic window,” but in reality it's just a period of heightened sensitivity to food.  This window of time typically lasts about 90mins.

As long as you are consuming a good protein source within this time from finishing the gym, then you are going to be very optimal.  Consuming a whey protein shake 30 seconds after your session or 45mins has almost ZERO relevance or impact on recovery or building muscle.

Remember, the body is repairing muscle tissue every minute of every day, so it's your meals and nutrition for the other 23 hours of the day that will define your recovery and growth - not the shake you have after your 1 hour workout!

If you have any questions about what I have discussed here, leave a comment below! – Daniel.

About Daniel

Daniel Wheeler In April 2010, Daniel Wheeler stood in the shower and realised he couldn't see his feet.  Weighing in at over 22 stone he knew it was time for a total transformation.  After trying every crash diet imaginable to no avail, he decided the best way to achieve his goal was the educate himself.

Once he had the knowledge there was no stopping him.  He slashed his weight by 50kg and featured on the cover of Men's Fitness in November 2012.

Since then he has made it his mission to inspire and help others reach their health and fitness goals by founding Life Changing Fitness, a top all inclusive health and fitness company that consults and tailors fitness and nutritional plans to the needs of the individual.

He is also the author of The Macro Recipe Book.  A unique recipe book that breaks down food based on macros, calories and allergy information to give you the best variety of good foods to meet your macro needs.  Available to buy from his website, danielwheeler.co.uk, NOW.


If you'd like to find out more about Daniel, his services or The Macro Recipe Book - (see his EXCLUSIVE body transformation here) - be sure to have a gander at his Facebook and Twitter pages.