Protein is an essential nutrient in your diet, vital for maintaining and building all body tissue, including muscle. For us runners, it plays a key part in post-run recovery, helping to speed the healing of micro-tears in your muscles, so you return fitter and stronger on your next training session.
Shake it up!
So you’d think the availability of so many protein shakes, powders, bars and capsules on the market would be a good thing – indeed, a necessity! Er… not quite.
The fact is, most people’s daily diets contain an adequate amount of protein naturally. Just take a look at the following foods and their protein content:
- 1 egg: 6g
- 1 chicken breast: 20g
- 30g cheddar cheese: 7.5g
- 1 serving cooked beef mince: 18g
- 1/2 pot cottage cheese: 18g
- 1 tin of tuna: 25g
- 1 serving Greek yogurt: 18g
When you consider the fact that the average recommended daily intake of protein is 55.5g (45g for women), you can see it’s pretty easy for most people to eat the required amount, with no shakes or powders required.
And even though it’s recommended that endurance athletes (that’s us runners) eat a bit more protein (1.2 to 1.7g/kg body weight), this is still perfectly feasible if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Timing is everything
Of course, the issue comes when you factor in timing: it’s important to take on protein within 30 minutes of exercise. With many of us not fancying a sit-down meal straight after exercise (or this simply not being feasible), it could seem this is a good reason to spend your cash on protein supplements.
Again, there’s a cheaper alternative. A good old-fashioned glass of milk offers roughly 8g protein (if you need a non-dairy option, soya milk contains around 7g). And if you’re after more of a taste sensation, a glass of chocolate milk is often hailed as the ultimate post-exercise recovery drink, with the perfect carbs-to-protein ratio.
With market researcher Mintel calculating that UK consumers spent a whopping £66 million on sports nutrition products in 2015, you could be doing your bank account a favour by switching to a cheaper alternative.
And it’s not just your wallet that might thank you: according to the NHS, if you’re overdoing it on the protein front, you could be at increased risk of developing a range of health problems, including osteoporosis.
Then there’s the growing trend of people misguidedly using protein supplements as a means to radically change their body shape, with the British Dietetic Association claiming the advertising of such products is deliberately misleading young people
If you do feel the need to use protein shakes or bars, the key is to remember they are a dietary supplement – they are not designed to replace your usual meals, as they don’t contain the correct balance of vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy.
And if you’re eating a balanced diet anyway, they are probably not necessary. With medical experts in agreement that, as we’re eating enough protein in our diets anyway, the benefits of protein supplements are small to non-existent, the additional protein you take on from supplements (along with the money you spend on them) could be going straight down the toilet.