Protein For The Win!

Protein For The Win!

Protein- is really having its moment! It seems to be taking the spotlight everywhere. You only need to walk round the supermarket to see the multitude of products which now proclaim to have added protein. What gives? 
There is a very good reason for protein to be receiving considerable attention. Protein is one of the 5 classes (yes you read that right- 5) of macronutrients. Macronutrients are large food groups which make up all of the foods we consume. Carbohydrate, fat, protein, fibre and water are all classed as macronutrients. 
All are essential for health, as they perform different processes within our body. 
Protein is necessary for building new tissue and maintaining lean mass.  The human body is in a constant state of flux between breaking down tissues (degradation) and building new tissues (muscle protein synthesis). This is happening all the time, and the process is required for health. Unhealthy cells die and are removed and replaced in order to prevent disease. It's not only unhealthy tissues however which are broken down, and at times muscle tissue can be used to provide energy for the body in certain circumstances. The rate at which this happens can speed up if we don't consume enough protein from our diet. When we exercise, the requirement for new tissue (muscle) ramps up to meet the demands of the activity, and this is how we get bigger, stronger and leaner. 
Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids contained within protein, but 9 of them are classed as ‘essential’ because our body cannot synthesise them. They need to be ingested from the food we eat. The 9 essential amino acids are: Leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan. 
Animal based protein sources will contain all 9 of these amino acids and are what's known as a ‘complete’ protein. Some plant based sources of protein contain only some of the essential amino acids and are therefore known as incomplete proteins. 
Whey supplements (as they come from dairy) are usually complete proteins. 
Leucine content within the protein is important, and you should look for high quality protein that contains a good ratio of leucine to other amino acids. Leucine is the star player because it stimulates muscle protein synthesis and also slows the rate of skeletal muscle degradation (breakdown). Did you also know that amino acids from protein are what's known as precursors (a substance which is formed by a metabolic reaction) for neurotransmitters which are created in our gut. For example, tryptophan is the precursor for the neurotransmitter serotonin which is our happy hormone! Without a diet rich in protein our body can't make serotonin and this can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. 
Ok, so that's great for the gym goers and fitness fanatics, but how does this apply to me? I just want to lose weight! 
Well, you are in luck as protein also plays a vital role in weight management. 
To lose weight you need to create a calorie deficit. In the process of this, the body will start to lose fat but it will also lose an amount of water and lean tissue. To ensure weight loss is healthy, you want to try and preserve as much lean tissue (muscle mass) as possible. This is because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat tissue. Muscle ‘costs’ a lot to maintain within the body, so we require more calories to sustain it. One of the best ways to get lean and stay lean is to build muscle tissue and change the composition of your body. Protein is especially important for this during a fat loss phase. 
Protein is also the macronutrient which is the most satiating (it keeps you fuller for longer). This is because in comparison to carbohydrate and fat, protein is a more complex chemical structure which takes longer to break down and digest. 
This is also the reason that protein has a high ‘thermic effect’. This means that the energy required by the body to break down and digest the protein consumed generates more heat- which increases calorie burn. A good rule of thumb is to think of every 100g of protein eaten, around 20% of that will be ‘lost’ through this increase in activity by the body to break it down which creates heat (thermogenesis). This in turn helps to burn calories and supports weight loss. In comparison to carbohydrates which uses only about 3% of energy by the body to digest, protein gives you way more bang for your buck by doing nothing other than eating it! 
Ok great, so that's gym goers and dieters… But what about me? I am in my 60/70s/80s- how does protein help me?
After our 30’s our muscle mass decreases each decade by around 8-10%. All of that lost muscle leads to problems for the ageing population such as increased risk of falls, loss of mobility and loss of independence. 
Muscle loss is unfortunately an inevitable part of life, nothing can be done to fully reverse it. However, evidence suggests that older adults who take in sufficient amounts of dietary protein can keep the wolf from the door for much longer. 
Muscle protein synthesis slows down in relation to the same stimulus as we get older. Where we could once do a few sets and reps in the gym and take in a small amount of protein, this just doesn't cut it when we get older. Dietary protein intakes which are higher have shown the risk of sarcopenia (muscle loss) to be reduced and it can also help  maintain energy balance, weight management and has positive effects on cardiovascular function. 
So how much protein do I need? 
This depends on your sex, weight, age, stature, activity level and goal. 
For sedentary populations the recommended daily intake is around 1g per kg body weight. 
For active individuals the suggested intake is between 1.2-2.2g per kg body weight.
For individuals who are trying to lose weight and eating in a calorie deficit the suggested intake is 2.3-3.1g per kg body weight. 
For older adults the recommended intake is much higher than most older adults currently consume and is around 1.2-2 g per kg of bodyweight daily. 
It is best to split your protein intake between your main meals each day, and then consume protein based snacks to supplement dietary intake where required. 
Aim for 20-30g of protein at each meal. Performance meals are ideal to fulfil this requirement as they are all formulated to be high protein. Making performance meals a part of your daily routine means you have a quick and convenient way to boost athletic performance, support health, improve weight management and energy balance and increase longevity.