Supplements v.s. food – exploring our protein needs

Supplement880x495There’s been an explosion of protein supplements in recent years – powders, shakes, drinks, bars and cookies – all promising to make you healthier, stronger, to build muscle faster and lose weight quicker. 

But how much do we really need?

Protein is found throughout the human body in brain cells, muscle, skin, hair and nails. Our body uses amino acids, the building blocks of protein, to build and repair these tissues as well as many hormones and other substances in the body.

Common foods that provide good levels of protein include:

  • lean meat, poultry and fish
  • eggs
  • dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese
  • seeds and nuts
  • beans and legumes (such as lentils and chickpeas and soy product like tofu).

How much protein do I need?

This depends on your age, gender, weight and health. As a rough guide, the Australian recommended dietary intake (RDI) is between:

  • 0.75g per kilogram of body mass for adult women
  • 0.84g per kilogram of body mass for adult men
  • 1g per kilogram of body mass approximately for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and for women and men over 70 years.

This means a woman weighing 60kg will require around 45g protein a day, and a man weighing 75kg will require around 63g protein a day.

Do I need a protein supplement?

Meeting your daily protein requirements can easily be achieved through a balanced diet and in fact, most of us consume far more protein than we actually need.  Even the  amount of protein elite athletes need is less than what you may think, about 1.0-1.7g of protein per kilogram of body mass, therefore the actual dietary increase required for this type of elite training may be minimal, if at all. 

The quality of protein you eat matters more than the quantity of protein. Supplements are usually based on milk or soy proteins that are extracted from natural food and then synthesised with various additives and flavours. They are not backed up by strong scientific studies, and according to the Australian Institute of Sport, athletes can usually obtain the protein they require from a good mixed diet.

These products can also be incredibly expensive due to how they’re marketed.

Our tips

    1. Spread your protein intake over the day to optimise amino acid levels in the blood and promote muscle repair and growth.
    2. Eat a snack containing protein AND carbs in the hour following exercise to help to prolong muscle repair and growth. Carbs help your body use the protein which will optimal muscle repair.  Some great post-workout snacks include:
      • A lean meat sandwich, like a chicken salad roll
      • Smoothie of low-fat milk, yoghurt and banana
      • Tuna with pasta and veg.

At the Y, we want to make the healthy choice the easy choice. That’s why in 2015 and 2016 we’re rolling out our Healthy Food and Beverage Policy. Many healthy choices are fresh foods, and we always welcome new ways to incorporate these into our menus. Feel free to speak with our friendly café staff next time you’re in your centre.

This article was developed by nutritionist and YMCA Victoria Health Promotion Officer Alethea Jerebine.