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Protein the building blocks: a whey to go!

Today, it's nearly impossible to glance at food and beverage items without the glaring presence of protein. Over the past few years, there has been an exponential surge in the availability of protein-rich products, with the proliferation of protein-fortified foods like Weetabix protein and Mars protein bars. However, as a nutritionist, the questions that currently dominate my consultations revolve around the fundamental aspects of protein: its definition, the necessary intake, and the validity of adding extra protein to indulgent treats such as chocolate bars.

Proteins, intricate compounds comprised of amino acids, each possessing their distinct roles within the body, are most commonly associated with the growth of skeletal muscle. Precise consideration of both the amount and timing of protein intake in your diet is crucial for optimal muscle development. Nevertheless, the spectrum of protein's responsibilities extends far beyond muscles. Smooth muscle, cells, and numerous bodily functions heavily rely on a consistent protein supply. The focus shifts to selecting suitable sources for protein intake within one's diet.

This brings us to the heart of the matter: amino acids. Twenty amino acids, nine of which are essential, constitute the building blocks of proteins. A diverse range of amino acids is pivotal for maintaining a constant "amino acid pool" within the body. Unlike fat and carbohydrate, protein cannot be stockpiled; any surplus protein that isn't utilized gets eliminated as waste. Research underscores the importance of regular protein consumption throughout the day, with the body capable of tolerating roughly 30g to 40g per serving. To supplement this, factoring in up to 2g of protein daily per kilogram of body weight is essential – for instance, a 90kg sprinter would aim for 180g daily. Additionally, beginning and concluding the day with protein-rich meals is advisable. For instance, starting with fat-free Greek yogurt, summer berries, and honey for breakfast, and ending with rice cakes, peanut butter, and a glass of milk for dinner.

Addressing the initial queries sets the stage for a bonus insight. Introducing leucine, a potent amino acid, and casein, a slow-release protein. Leucine wields a unique power, acting as a catalyst for muscle growth and quicker recovery. Casein, known for its gradual release, is particularly beneficial before bedtime, supplying amino acids over the sleep duration.

While protein is undeniably crucial, its cost can be a factor, and supplements further escalate expenses. Revisiting an earlier point, a protein-fortified Mars bar remains fundamentally a Mars bar; whole-food sources are the optimal protein providers. These sources, whether plant-based or animal-derived, offer a comprehensive nutritional profile of both macro and micronutrients, rendering them immensely advantageous. To summarize, incorporating protein into our diets is essential; however, there's no need to rush protein consumption right after exercise, as the concept of an "anabolic window" is a misconception. Protein consumption within four hours after exercise yields comparable effects to intake immediately post-workout. Prioritize a protein-rich diet spanning various whole-food sources and consider including slow-release casein before sleep to enhance recovery.

Reuben Stables

Performance Nutritionist

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