Protein feels like the latest craze to hit the health and wellness industry. More and more product are hitting the market (including protein water amongst other things?!) and the health claims seem to get broader and broader.
But if you’re a mum looking to lose weight, have more energy and feel fitter then how much protein should you be eating… and perhaps more importantly, if you are not eating enough (which is very common), how do you easily increase your intake levels? Steak for breakfast anyone?
The answer to exactly how much protein you need requires a little maths. There are a variety of methods to calculate the amount of protein you should be eating but they should all end up with a similar answer.
My preferred way is to calculate your protein as a % of your daily calorie intake.
E.g. if you know that you should be eating 1,600 calories per day and that you are aiming for a macro balance of Carbs = 45%, Fat = 30% and Protein = 25% then your protein should account for 400 calories (25% of 1,600). 1g of protein has 4 calories, therefore, you will need 100g of protein (400 cal / 4).
This should be double checked against the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) position stand: protein and exercise. This report is commonly used as the UK bench mark for protein intakes and basically says the, depending on your level of activity, protein intake should be between 0.8 – 2.0g per kg of bodyweight.
0.8g/kg would be for someone with a sedentary lifestyle. 2.0 would be for strength / power athletes.
The J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007; 4: 8. States that it is the position of the (ISSN) that exercising individuals ingest protein ranging from 1.4 to 2.0 g/kg/day. Individuals engaging in endurance exercise should ingest levels at the lower end of this range, individuals engaging in intermittent activities should ingest levels in the middle of this range, and those engaging in strength/power exercise should ingest levels at the upper end of this range.
Soooo…. Mums may not specifically be endurance athletes…. but it sure as hell feels like an endurance event some days! An active mum will probably want eat protein levels to the lower end of this range 1.4 – 2.0 range. In our example, if our 1,600 calorie case study is a mum weighing 70kgs then the ratio is 1.4 which is pretty good.
But there is a problem. When I help clients analyse their existing nutritional intakes, a vast majority of them have protein levels between 15-20%. On a 1,600 calorie diet this would be 60-80g, i.e. most mums are under consuming their protein. Many women find it difficult to increase these protein levels.
So, if you need to, how do you increase your protein levels?
- Don’t panic about getting bulky. Many women think that if they eat too much protein they will end up looking like a female version of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s not going to happen. Ask any body builder (male or female) how easy it is to “bulk up” and they will let you know that it’s not easy… and definitely not easy to do accidentally!
- Know what proteins to eat. If you follow my work, then you will know that I love the Eatwell Guide. The guide says: Pulses such as beans, peas and lentils are good alternatives to meat because they’re lower in fat and higher in fibre and protein. Choose lean cuts of meat and mince and eat less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages. Aim for at least 2 portions of fish every week – 1 of which should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel.
- Know what it looks like. What does 100g of protein look like?
Here are some common protein sources:
- 100g of chicken breast without skin has 30g of protein, with 195 calories.
- 100 g of beef has 26g of protein, with 288 calories.
- 100g of tuna has 25g of protein, with 105 calories.
- 1 large egg has 6g of protein, with 78 calories.
- 100g of raw oats has 1g of protein, with 303 calories.
- 100g of cottage cheese contains 12g of protein, with 103 calories.
- 100g of fat free yoghurt has 8g of protein, with 55 calories.
- 1 cup of whole milk has 8g of protein, with 149 calories.
- 100g of mixed nuts 17g of protein, with 617 calories.
- 100g of lentils has 26g of protein, with 353 calories.
- 100g of chickpeas has 5g of protein, with 119 calories.
- Eat protein at every meal. 100g of protein may seem like a lot but with a little extra thought it is simple to achieve with only slight alteration to your current eating habits. Eating protein at every meal is a big help. A couple of eggs at breakfast will help you feel fuller during the day. Snacking on proteins and larger than usual portions of protein will get you to your target in no time.
- If you are not used to eating protein it can take a bit of time to get used to. If you usually have cornflakes for breakfast then the thought of a couple of boiled eggs may turn your stomach. First thing in the morning, you have essentially been on a mini fast overnight, your body needs nutrients. Your mind may try to tell you that you don’t want it but your body will thank you. Start with small quantities of protein and build up over time.
- Make it easy. Have easy to grab stuff at hand. Boil eggs and keep them in the fridge (get a marker pen and write on them so you know how old they are!), buy good quality beef jerky, find a healthy tuna mayo recipe that you like you can make with a tin of tuna, keep mixed nuts at hand (watch out for the high fat and calorie levels).
- Use protein powders. They have come a long way recently both in taste and popularity. Research company Mintel’s 2017 Report found that 27% of Brits use sport nutrition products such as protein bars and shakes. This figure rises to 39% for those who exercise more than once a week. They are a great quick, easy and cheap way to get protein on board with loads of great recipes out there (besides shakes).
Protein is vital for bodily function. Without it we can be left hungry, fatigued or even depressed. A deficiency in it can also cause muscle loss, fluid retention and even hair damage. First things first, work out how much you are eating now and then where you should be. Eating the right amount of protein will prevent you feeling hungry, support bodily functions…. and won’t turn you into a female Arnie. I promise!