Tempted to go high protein low carb in the new year to lose weight? Before you do, Vicky Hadley has asked the experts for exactly how much protein we need
High protein, low carb diets are everywhere and often touted as a quick fix for losing weight, but the National Diet and Nutrition Survey has found we’re exceeding our protein intake. The British Association of UK Dieticians (BDA), recommends the average healthy adult requires 0.85- 1.2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. That means someone weighing 50 kilograms would require 42.5 – 60 grams of protein each day. The larger the person, the greater their protein requirements. Protein has become the staple of many fitness enthusiasts and dieter’s meals and we know that a lack of protein can cause problems including growth failure, loss of muscle mass, amenorrhea, weakening of the heart and respiratory system, and even death; but having too much can had adverse affects too and thwart weight loss. Healthista asked the experts for the lowdown.
Rick Hay – The Superfoodist
‘0.8-1.5 grams of protein per kilo of body weight.’
‘Aim to have protein at every meal,’ advises nutritionist Rick Hay aka ‘The Superfoodist’ who lectures at the College of Naturopathic Medicine. Your protein intake should be the size of the palm of your hand at each meal.
So why do we really need protein? ‘Protein keeps you fuller for longer and helps to regulate your hunger hormones,’ says Hay. But it is possible to consume too much. ‘If you’re having 75 grams of protein in one protein shake you are having way too much – around 30 grams of protein in your shake is enough’ Hay states. That’s about one scoop. ‘If you have too much protein your body will break it down and it will be stored as fat as your body recognises it as a carbohydrate’ Hay says. ‘If you are taking excess protein you need to be active.’ The ideal amount of protein to consume per day is, ‘one to 1.5 grams of protein per body weight in kilos, Hay advises. For example a 60 kilo woman would need between 60-90 grams of protein.
‘If you are trying to build muscle or are exercising a lot, then your protein needs to increase up to 2 grams. If you’re overdosing on protein, ‘you can cause your system to become sluggish and it will also put a lot of pressure on your kidneys’ says Hay.
‘You can also be deficient in protein’, Hay continued, ‘deficiency in protein will cause symptoms such as irregular periods, amenorrhea, hormone imbalances, hair loss, dry and brittle skin and nails. Your immune system will suffer and it will inevitably make you look unwell.’
A Swiss study was carried out by the Department of Internal Medicine in 2000, on rats to see the effects of protein deficiency; it was found that the protein deficiency in aged male rats caused their bones to become more fragile and thinner, whilst decreasing their bone strength.
Try to aim to get 80-90% of your calories from wholefoods, and only 10% from processed foods
Rick Hay’s new book, The Anti Ageing Food & Fitness Plan £11.99 is out on January 18th
Jack Crehan, personal trainer at SIX3NINE
‘1.5 – 2.2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight’
The correct amount of protein depends on the person’s build and needs. ‘If you are heavier to begin with you will need more protein’ Jack Crehan, a personal trainer at SIX3NINE, says. ‘Between 1.5 grams or protein all the way up to 2.2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight is ideal,’ Crehan advises. Jack disagrees with Rick, ‘you can not take too much protein. Too much of anything is not the best, however your body will simply excrete you the excess protein and keep the protein that your body needs,’ Crehan says.
‘If your goals are for fat loss then you want to up your protein intake and slightly lower your carbohydrate intake. However, if your goals are to build muscle again you want to up your protein intake, but you don’t need to reduce your carbohydrates,’ Crehan advises. ‘Try to aim to get 80-90 per cent of your calories from wholefoods, and only 10 per cent from processed foods to make up your calorie intake’.
So how long will it be before we expect to see results? ‘Within four weeks, if you have been eating right and training well you can expect to see results,’ Crehan asserts. Crehan’s exercises of choice for fat loss and muscle gain are the same, ‘the compound exercises, (exercises that involve moving more than one muscle at once) burn more fat and help your muscles grow faster,’ Crehan explains. Examples of compound exercises are squats and dead lifts.
‘1.5 grams of protein – 2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight’
Lloyd Bridger, Co-founder and personal trainer at LDN muscle, agrees with Jack that the ideal amounts of protein are between 1.5 grams of protein – 2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. ‘If someone is exercising more than three times a week, then we may recommend that they go up to 2.5 grams of protein per kilo of body weight,’ Bridger says.
Is it possible to overdose on protein though? ‘It is not possible to take too much protein but it’s not beneficial, your body will break it down and use what it needs as energy and the excess will turn into glucose and be stored as fat,’ Bridger states. He also recommends compound exercises for both fat loss and muscle gain; ‘squats, dead lifts and bench press as the best exercises to gain muscle and simultaneously burn fat. These are compound exercises, meaning that they recruit more muscles to do the exercise, which stimulate more muscle growth. If you are looking to lose fat, then these exercises work for fat loss, as they use a lot of calories to perform.’ Bridges advises.
Justin Maguire – FE Gym
‘0.8-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight’
‘Eating 2-3 grams of protein per pound of body weight is typical in the fitness world, however may actually be more detrimental to their goal,’ Justin Maguire, founder of FE Gyms says. ‘If you’re looking to lose body fat I would recommend that 30-35 per cent of your caloric intake comes from protein; whilst if your looking to gain muscle 40 per cent of your caloric intake should be protein.’ Maguire informs. There are 2.2 pounds in a kilo, so that would be 1.8 – 2.6 grams of protein per kilo of body weight.
‘It’s definitely possible to consume too much protein’, Maguire says. ‘Firstly protein contains calories, which your body will store as fat if you over consume.’ Are there any other problems overdosing on protein can cause to the body? ‘It also provides added stress to the kidneys and liver as protein contains nitrogen which is far more complex to break down than fats or carbohydrates.’ Maguire says. ‘This is not entirely a bad thing as you’re metabolism will improve however overuse of any bodily system will lead to an eventual impaired function.’ Maguire assesses.
If you’re looking to lose body fat I would recommend that 30-35 per cent of your caloric intake comes from protein
‘A diet balanced with the correct amount of protein, vegetables, carbohydrates and fats will lead to an improvement in your metabolic turnover within as little as five days’, Maguire says. ‘By speeding up your metabolism you will increase your muscle gain which is normally noticeable within 3-5 weeks.’
So why do we need to ensure that we have the correct amount of protein in our diets? ‘In order to fully benefit from the consumption of protein our bodies need to have a demand for it.’ Maguire says. This includes exercising and lifting weights. ‘When we train we have a muscle break down that will create a deficit that needs to be replenished by our diet’ advises Maguire. This explains why eating well is always recommended alongside a good training regime.
It seems that having too much protein can indeed lead to weight gain and kidney problems so think before you get on that high protein plan. It’s heartening to see that most experts agree we need around 1.5 grams of protein per kilo of body weight, going up to around 2 grams, if you are training and exercising.
If you are vegan Rick Hay recommends a low glycemic meal, (a meal that minimises the increase of glucose levels) such as a tofu and chickpea burger without the bun or salmon and steamed vegetables for meat eaters. ‘Vegans can definitely get enough protein, but they should try to eat mixed pulses rather than singular pulses to up the amino acids’. Hay advises. What are the best protein powders to use? ‘For vegans organic blends of hemp that include amino acids are great but if you are not vegan whey, which is a derivative of milk is best’. Hay says. ‘Try to choose a protein powder that is 80% whey isolate and 20% concentrate as when they are mixed together it protects you against immunity’. Here’s a guide to help you gauge the amounts of protein in meals.