Why there's no need for you to sweat about the value of protein
Confused by all this post-workout talk? It's time to 'whey' up the facts
Protein's no stranger to the nutritional spotlight, first hailed as a miracle weight-loss solution (thanks Atkins), and now championed as the vital ingredient for reaping maximum muscle-tone rewards with our workouts.
Here we share some key protein pointers.
Will I start looking bulky?
High-protein diets are often associated with body builders, and some people - especially women - might be put off by the idea of getting bulky. Experts say this needn't be a concern, plus you'd have to really 'try' to achieve a body builder physique. Protein contributes to growth and maintenance of muscle mass, but women should associate protein with maintaining a lean physique, not 'bulking'. Women naturally have much less testosterone, which is a major factor in building up lean muscle tissue.
How important are the post-workout time frames for consuming protein?
You may have heard about the "training window" after intense exercise or conditioning.
This is a good time to take on protein, as your metabolism stays lifted for around 30 minutes after exercise. Micro-tears occur in muscles during intense exercise and taking in protein within this time-period can help accelerate muscle rebuild. It also supports the strengthening of other tissues, such as bones and tendons.
What if I'm trying to lose weight - won't I be 'undoing' the hard work I've just done?
This is a common misconception, but it's risky to skip eating post-exercise. Recovery is very important and it's the one time where the good advice is not to cut calories, because that's when your body really needs nutrients.
If you're trying to lose weight, rather than skipping your recovery intake, look at how you can create a calorie deficit across the whole day: for instance, you could look at cutting 100 calories at breakfast, lunch and dinner, then you've created a 300-calorie deficit.
How do I know how much protein I need for recovery?
It depends how much and what sort of exercise you're doing, and what your goals are.
These are all going to impact your nutritional needs, protein included.
For post-exercise, experts say about 20g.
In terms of actual foods, 20g is generally the same as a palm-sized portion, and while consuming more than this (within reason) usually won't harm you, it generally isn't necessary.
Getting fitter and leaner is my priority right now; does that mean protein should be my main dietary concern?
No again. It's never wise to over-obsess about one food group, as it could mean your overall diet and health suffer. Fat, for example, is important for the absorption of vitamins A, D and E. If you fully restricted fat, you'd eventually become deficient in these, which can have a drastic effect on health."
Carbohydrates are also often portrayed as a food "enemy" and associated with weight gain, but carbs are especially important for active people.
So if I want to be fit and lean, I only need to think about eating protein after workouts?
No - while protein plays a specific role post-workout, it's important as part of your diet and vital for far more than ensuring those muscles look good.
Official guidelines suggest 50g a day for adults, and if you are training, you may be taking on more.