Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Importance of Protein for muscle health

Earlier in the year I wrote a short article on “the benefits of strength training” and having been on my own 8 month journey of incorporating strength exercises into my training I have definitely reaped some benefits with my triathlon efforts! So, I have been doing functional resistance exercises to build my leg muscle strength and address muscular imbalance PLUS the other thing I have ensured I am doing is eating PROTEIN rich foods post doing my strength exercises and also pre and post longer training efforts.

Why you may ask? Because Protein is important for muscle health.

Protein promotes muscle tissue repair and growth, reduces muscle soreness and for sports performance it can boost glycogen storage (glycogen is our stored form of glucose - our energy).

It is now generally accepted that both strength/power and endurance sports people need to consume more protein than the general population and this is also true as we age, post 40, whether we are active or not (see below the “Importance of protein the older we get”)!

So if we are participating in regular sports and exercise like training for a running or cycling event, multiple football or hockey etc. sessions per week, weight lifting or recovering from an injury, muscle weakness or imbalance and hence building muscle strength then our protein requirements may be slightly higher. Therefore, we need to ensure our diet includes sufficient protein to fuel our muscle repair, growth and optimal neural adaption of the muscle fibres to contract and hence perform.

Promoting Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS)

When we participate in moderate to heavy exercise PLUS we eat protein then together this stimulates greater muscle protein synthesis, than either of these on their own (1). Muscle protein synthesis is the way the body repairs and grows muscle tissue after exercise and protein is digested and converted into essential amino acids that are used to create proteins that are absorbed by our muscles. Hence the important of resistance strength exercises, no matter what point we are starting from!

When to consume protein and how much is also important?

The current UK guidance for protein intake for the general population is 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day for adults and most people in the UK are consuming more than this (2), so if you are doing the recommended approx. 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise activity per week it’s unlikely that you need to eat extra protein.

However, as I mentioned above for those of you are more active, particularly in strength and endurance activities, then the guidance is for a protein intake of 1.2-2.0g per kilogram of bodyweight per day. For a 60kg person this is approx. 90g (1.5g x 60kg) of protein per day.

Timing of protein, does it matter?

Consuming 15- 20g of protein within 30 minutes to 2 hours after training is ideal for maximum muscle protein synthesis and hence muscle recovery. Plus, it is recommended that our daily protein intake is consumed over multiple meals and snacks, not just in one sitting. 

What does approx. 90g of protein look like?

So what does this mean practically, consuming approx. 90g of protein per day….for this part please bear in mind that I am not a qualified Nutritionist so I have included a few links to websites which detail high protein content food and the approx. protein content per portion:

Some examples:

2tbsp of peanut butter = 8g of protein
1 egg = 6g of protein
1 small can of mackerel = 10g
1 whey protein shake = 20g

Maximise your protein per serving
Best sources of protein - BBCGoodFood
British Nutrition Foundation portion sizes

I have learnt that eggs, particularly the egg white (albumin) is one of the most complete proteins and it is easily digestible and has a wide variety of amino acids.

Importance of protein the older we get:

Muscle mass rapidly declines after the age of 50, in fact it starts to decline from 30 and our muscle mass correlates with our muscle strength. A number of studies have recommended that consuming more protein than the recommended daily allowance is beneficial as we age.  Studies have concluded 1-1.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day. Plus for maximum muscle protein synthesis in the over 40’s 25-30g of protein across at least 2 meals is ideal as older adults are less sensitive to smaller doses of protein after exercise. Protein at dinner is recommended as this allows muscle protein synthesis to occur when the body is at rest through the night (3).

For older sports people who are very active the recommended daily protein consumption is the same as their younger contemporaries because they are considered to have similar muscle characteristics and responses to exercise and hence protein muscle synthesis as younger people (4).

PLEASE NOTE though protein is not the only important nutrient for general muscle and body health. A mixed nutrient balanced diet is best.

I hope you found these key tips on the importance of protein intake useful for your sporting pursuits and also our busy lives in general!

If you have any questions please let me know. And if you have any Nutritional questions I am happy to recommend a couple of qualified Nutritionists.

Enjoy your peanut butter on toast!

September 2021


(1) Protein Intake, Claire Minshull 2021
(2) British Nutrition Foundation
(3) Protein for Life: Review of Optimal Protein Intake, Sustainable Dietary Sources and the Effect on Appetite in Ageing Adults, 2018
(4) Protein Requirements for Master Athletes: Just Older Versions of Their Younger Selves, 2021