Updated: Mar 2, 2020
Protein is an important nutrient that provides the body with the essential amino acids, essential because the body is unable to make them. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle and are crucial for the muscle repair and recovery.
Protein on its own will not increase muscle mass. It is the exercise that will increase the muscle mass. The protein (as well as carbohydrate) will allow adequate muscle repair and recovery. The timing of protein is more crucial than the amount of protein you have – spread it over the day and include it after training to achieve a positive protein balance.
While it is a commonly thought that in order to increase muscle mass the diet must be full of protein, this is not the only factor. The body is unable to store or utilise more than ~2.2g of protein per kg of body weight. So, if your weight is 70kg, your body will not effectively utilise more than 154g of protein per day, and even that is a lot. Instead of being of benefit to your body, it can be detrimental, increasing the load on the kidneys, which have to work to excrete this excess protein.
In order for increased muscle protein synthesis, the body requires branched chain amino acids leucine, valine and isoleucine. These are readily available in many foods and a supplement is not essential to be able to consume adequate amounts. Foods that contain the BCAA’s include whey, milk and soy protein, beef, chicken, fish and eggs, chickpeas, baked beans and lentils.
The key window of opportunity for re-fuelling your body following exercise is within 60 minutes post workout. This post-workout meal or snack needs to include protein for muscle repair and recovery, BCAAs for muscle protein synthesis, carbohydrates to replenish depleted glycogen stores and fluid for hydration – this can be water or milk based as both provide rehydration. Some practical ways to incorporate these dietary components into a meal or snack are:
- 2 eggs, 1 slice of wholegrain toast with ¼ avocado and grilled tomato and mushrooms.
- Smoothie, made from your milk of choice, yoghurt, banana, berries, ¼ cup of rolled oats, protein powder (optional), ½ tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp honey.
- ½-2/3 cup of natural muesli that contains nuts and seeds + 2-3 dsp yoghurt + ½ cup berries or banana with milk (optional)
*Cereals such as rice bubbles, cornflakes, nutrigrain are not suitable as a post work out meal as the protein levels are too low. An oat-based cereal that contains a mix of nuts and seeds (muesli/porridge/granola) is a better option as oats are a low GI carbohydrate source, increasing satiety and helping to keep you fuller for longer.
- Wholegrain crackers with tinned tuna
- Chicken, hummus, avocado and salad wholegrain wrap
- Tinned, or homemade baked beans on wholegrain toast with an egg (optional)
- Salmon, roast potatoes and vegetables
Prior to a workout, it is equally important to ensure adequate nutrition. Your body relies on stored muscle glycogen as fuel for up to 1-2 hours. Once this is depleted, the body has to work harder to provide fuel for the working muscles. So, rather than exercising first thing in the morning, fasted, why not give your body and muscles a little bit of a head start and eat something. Even ½ a banana is better than nothing, it will start your metabolism for the day and you’ll most likely find that you have more energy to perform the workout than if you were fasted.
Article Written By Prue Mynard Dietician & Nutritionist
For more information about Prue.
Alternatively Prue is available for Private Consult at Peninsula Physical Health & Nutrition (PPN) on the Mornington Peninsula.
Image by Natalie Davies Photography