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It’s no secret that protein is important — especially if you’re working out a lot. But beyond that, this essential macronutrient can have an air of mystery around it. Chances are, even the most seasoned gym-goers aren’t sure how much protein they should be getting and why… or if it’s possible to get too much protein! (Spoiler alert: yes, it is!)
So if you’re asking yourself, “How much protein should I have?” then you’re not alone. In this post, we’ll break down everything you need to know about what protein is good for, and how much protein you really need.
How much protein should I actually have?
As you probably know by now, protein powder is an increasingly popular supplement, usually made from whey, cassein, or plant-based alternatives. For those with a super active lifestyle, like you, protein powders can assist in making sure the body gets all the protein it needs for muscle recovery and development, and to maintain a healthy weight.
And whilst it is possible to get all your necessary protein from food sources, protein powders offer an efficient top-up, especially if you are experiencing any symptoms of protein deficiency, like brittle nails or an insatiable appetite.
To work out how much protein you should have, you need to do a quick bit of maths.
The recommended protein intake for active women is 1.2 - 2.0 grams per kilo of body weight, depending on the level of activity and goals of the training. Convert this into percentage of total caloric intake, and protein should account for anywhere between 10 and 35%.
Sounds like quite a lot, when you put it that way doesn’t it? This means that potentially over a third of your calories need to come from protein — that’s a lot of meat and beans!
So this is where protein shakes can step in to help...
How can protein powders help me reach my protein target?
Protein powders are designed to deliver a quick, concentrated hit of protein and often come enhanced with additional nutrients to support an active lifestyle. That’s why powders and shakes can be particularly useful if you haven’t got time to prepare a nutrient-packed post-workout meal — quickly mix up a shake, and you’ve got a lot of the protein goodness you need, but on the go.
But how much protein powder do you need, to hit your protein target and reap the muscle-repairing benefits?
Generally speaking, most powders deliver around 20-25 grams of protein in a single scoop. For a 60 kilogram active woman, this could amount to roughly a third of her recommended daily protein intake.
This means that protein powders can certainly help you consume as much protein as you need, but you shouldn’t rely on them. Powders and shakes should not replace meals, but they can be taken throughout the week as a helpful add-on to a healthy, balanced diet.
How often should I have a protein shake?
If your diet already includes a variety of lean protein sources — white fish, tofu, lentils, peanut butter — it’s not necessary to supplement your intake with a protein powder every single day.
Instead, you may want to use a powder or shake on days where you strength train or engage in a more demanding workout. In these occasions, an extra dose of protein will be useful to aid in repairing muscle fibres and overall recovery.
Basically, if you are training 3-4 times per week, you should aim to supplement with protein powder on those days. And, if you should encounter an injury, a little extra protein can be beneficial to heal as well.
How do I know if I’m getting enough protein?
Protein deficiency can sneak up on you.
As we’ve already mentioned, you may start to notice your nails breaking more often, or a spiked increase in appetite — although you may just be hungrier because you’re burning more calories than you’re used to!
Keep an eye out for feelings of fatigue or weakness, decreased performance in training, frequent hunger, slow recovery time, and even moodiness. All of these could be a signal to up your protein intake a little.
Noticing some protein deficiency symptoms is certainly not the end of the world, and is easily remedied. But if you have any concerns at all, just speak to a doctor.
Is it possible to consume too much protein?
They say it’s possible to have too much of a good thing — and that certainly rings true when it comes to protein.
Protein aids in lean muscle development and weight maintenance up to a point, but if you consume too much it could backfire. The liver and kidneys can only process so much protein (3.5 - 4.5 grams per kilo of body weight). Exceeding this can actually cause organ damage plus other unwelcome side effects like weight gain, bad breath, and digestive problems.
Now, that’s not going to happen overnight because you accidentally take one too many protein shakes — so there’s no need to panic! It’s just something to keep an eye on.
Signs you’re getting too much protein include dehydration, headaches and nausea.
Can I believe everything I hear about protein?
Because of the mystery that surrounds protein, the rumour mill is often working overtime.
Some of the things you hear — like you can have too much protein — will be true. Whereas other hearsay needs debunking. Here are three common protein myths, and the truth behind them...
Protein will make you bulky. Protein alone will not make you bulky, unless you are also consuming a surplus of calories. If you’re concerned, try tracking your macros and be sure to consume primarily lean sources of protein.
Vegans don’t get enough protein. If you are plant-based, fear not! Many vegan foods pack a major protein punch. Tofu, legumes, seeds, quinoa, nuts, and peas, as well as many others, are a great source of protein. Just remember to choose a variety of protein sources in a day, to get your complete array of essential amino acids. And have a look at the variety of high quality and delicious vegan protein powders on the market!
Protein needs to be consumed immediately after a workout to be most effective. Actually, the quantity of protein is more important than the timing of consumption. As long as you are getting adequate levels of protein throughout the day, you will still get all the benefits. However, enjoying a post-workout protein shake can help stabilise blood sugar and prevent hanger later.