A Beginner's Guide To Protein
Post at 17:07 - 11/04/2018

It’s the basic buzzword of bulking up, but what is it – and what does it do?


According to the British Dietetic Association, the marketing for protein supplements has become "wrong and immoral", and has led to varying levels of confusion for customers. Thousands of people, for example, are using protein supps as a meal substitute, rather than a training supplement, and are therefore missing out on other vital nutrients. Not to mention going hungry.

To help you navigate the world of this muscle-building must-have, MH provides the knowledge that every lifter needs — beginner or not. 

You know protein helps build muscle, but you’re not quite sure of the specifics. Why do bodybuilders mainline powdered shakes in their sippy-cups? Why is it so important? Which foods are best to get the macronutrient from? These are just a few emails that we’re bombarded with on a daily basis.

Far be it from us to moan – after all, we’re here to help.

Here’s your complete guide. Reply all.

What is protein anyway?

In scientific terms, a protein is a molecule made from chemicals called amino acids. Our bodies need these amino acids to function properly; they carry oxygen through our blood, boost our immune system and build muscle. There are 20 different amino acids in all, nine of which the human body can’t actually produce. These are known as ‘essential’ amino acids and we need to get them from food.



How much do I need?

It depends on your training goals. The US Food and Nutrition Board’s current guideline for the average adult is 0.8g of protein per kg of bodyweight. However, if you’re looking to bulk up, you’ll want to increase the amount of you take in. Not eating enough is probably the reason behind why you aren't beefing us as quickly as you'd like. 

But be wary. The body can only process so much at once (eating 10 steaks a day will only make you sick). According to research, 2.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight is your limit.

And that's a lot. You wouldn't want to eat much more than this. 

For example, if you weigh 100kg, like our transformation guinea pig Tom Ward did before his training, you would be eating the equivalent of seven chicken breasts every day. Seven. It's worth noting, though, that this sort of extreme is reserved for competitive bodybuilders and those doing a strict transformation. An achievable alternative for a first-timer is 1.5g per kg of bodyweight.

Now, we accept that the amount you need to eat is a complex topic. That's why it’s far easy to tailor your intake to your workouts. The simplest way is by using online services such as What are My Macros. Type in your weight, height, training goals and other vital information to get an instant guideline on how much you should be scoffing.

What food should I be eating? 

You’re probably aware that all meat products contain protein to some degree. Lean meats such as chicken breast and steak are bodybuilding staples, because they are high in protein with comparatively little fat. Because of this, bodybuilders are able to manipulate the protein, carbs and fat ratios in their diets much more efficiently. Cuts like pork belly and duck are also good, but considered less ‘clean’ due to the high fat content.

Despite what the cynics say, it’s perfectly possible to be vegetarian and still get your fix – dairy products like milk and eggs, and veggie meat alternatives like tofu contain protein. Mushrooms, nuts and pulses are also great sources, making it possible to stay vegan and pack on mass. Just ask veteran vegan bodybuilder Leon Gabbidon.


How and when should I eat?

Eating 1.5g of protein per kg of bodyweight each day is no mean feat and requires preparation. Bulk cooking will become your friend. It's also important to split your intake evenly across your meals. Not only will this make it easier to physically eat your food, but you’ll be constantly feeding your muscles with what it needs. 

There's a lot of talk around the ‘anabolic window’, a particular time period after a workout when your body is primed to accept more protein. But don’t stress if you’re shakeless on your way out of a gym. The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition examined 23 studies on protein timing, and found no correlation between time windows and muscle strength. As long as your diet is generally high enough in the macronutrient, you’ll be fine.

And a final word on supplements. If you’re struggling to fit that much into your meals, shakes can help. While they should not be used as meal replacements, as they lack essential vitamins and minerals, they are an easy way to increase your protein intake between meals.

The two most popular types of supplements are whey powder and casein. Both made from dairy products, whey powder provides a big hit to help your muscles recover after a workout, while casein drip-feeds it into your system over a period of hours. Many athletes take casein shakes before bed, to ensure their muscles continue to develop while they sleep.

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