Do I need protein?

Proteins are kind of like the power meters of food.  People like to talk about protein supplements, but most people don’t really know how to use them correctly.  If you want to be a professional athlete, you’ll probably need them, but if you’re just doing weekend club runs, then maybe you can save your money.  Proteins have become a bit of a throw away treatment – want to get bigger or stronger?  Take more protein.  Want to ride longer and faster?  Take more protein.  However, as with many things in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t use protein supplements to get the most out of your body.

As with many things in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t use protein supplements to get the most out of your body.

Proteins are arguably the most important compounds in your body.  They are found in your immune and digestive systems, in your brain and in your toe nails. They are everywhere, and they do almost everything.  You need proteins to see, and you need proteins to make other proteins, so its definitely important to get your protein intake right.

Proteins are chains of amino acid residues, ranging from 100 to 33000 residues long. These residues then fold to form complex structures which interact with their surroundings to perform a function.  If required, two or more folded structures can join together to form what’s known as a quaternary structure, the most complex form of protein.

Despite the abundance of proteins in the body, when athletes and body builders talk about proteins, they are generally talking about three specific proteins: myosin, actin and titin. These are the most common proteins in the body and are used to allow for muscular contraction, and by extension (see what I did there?), movement. How this movement occurs is a complex process, like everything else in the body, but essentially, the proteins act like rails which, when activated, slide past each other and shorten the length of the muscle cell, known as a sarcomere.  Once the contraction is finished, they slide back.  This process, when multiplied across thousands of sarcomeres, is what we perceive as movement.

sarcomere

(I1)

We know sarcomeres use proteins to contract, which allows us to move.  So the idea of taking protein supplements is that when your body has more protein available, it will build more muscle cells or repair damaged ones faster, however, this isn’t necessarily true. 

The idea of taking protein supplements is that when your body has more protein available, it will build more muscle cells or repair damaged ones faster, however, this isn’t necessarily true. 

Now days it seems every sports supplement has added protein, but how much protein do you really need?  For an active person, the recommended protein intake is approximately  1.6-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  A non-vegan should easily get this amount of protein from their diet without needing to supplement, and according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), “in view of the lack of compelling evidence to the contrary, no additional dietary protein is suggested for healthy adults undertaking resistance or endurance exercise.” (1)  

The problem with this statement is that it doesn’t account for the timing of protein intake, and it doesn’t account for most of us who don’t have time to prepare three healthy meals a day.  Unfortunately, two-minute noodles doesn’t have enough protein to get you through the day. 582px-Protein_shake.jpg

So no, if you’re healthy and eating well, you probably don’t need to supplement your protein intake, however if you’re looking to get the very best out of your body, you may need to look at supplementing.

Whether training, cycling, or working out at the gym, it’s important to know that any benefits gained from proteins are marginal, so unless you’re using your protein supplements right, you’re probably wasting your money. (I2)

Unless you’re using your protein supplements right, you’re probably wasting your money.

The first thing is to be very wary of the claims made on many of these supplements.  Protein intake during a ride has been found to be useless (2), but this doesn’t stop sports nutrition companies from cashing in on a trend and selling you expensive, protein-laced drinks. One study found that up to 90% of the claims made by sports supplements were misleading or completely false.  What is known though, is that with the right timing, you can use protein to push your body to the next level.

health-guru-square

References

Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients), 2005, 661

Hansen, M., Bangsbo, J., Jensen, J., Krause-Jensen, M., Bibby, B. M., Sollie, O., … & Madsen, K. (2016). Protein intake during training sessions has no effect on performance and recovery during a strenuous training camp for elite cyclists. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 13(1), 9.

Ravintolisissä paljon humpuukia, Yle.fi 17.10.2012. (You’ll need to translate this one)

Attributions

(I1) Richfield, David. “Medical gallery of David Richfield 2014“. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.009ISSN 2001-8762.

(I2) Photo by Sandstien / CC  SA 03

About Tim_Davis@Pushys

I'm a Science Graduate and Medical student at the University of Queensland, specialising in anatomy and physiology. More importantly, I'm all for any type of riding; road, mountain, dirt jumping, I love it all! Let me know if there is anything you want to know about nutrition and health, and I'll do my best to help you out!

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