The protein craze

How much do you really need?


Sunday, September 08, 2019

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PROTEIN supplements have complemented bodybuilding for decades.

In fact, it could once be found on dedicated shelves in the back of a few pharmacies or in very specialised vitamin and health food stores.

However, in the last 12 years, protein supplement sales have rocketed from 200 or so million per annum to in excess of eight billion today.

In a clear attempt to widen its market, the industry has jumped on studies showing that after the age of 30, people automatically lose as much as three to five per cent of muscle mass each decade — a condition known as age-related sarcopenia.

Sarcopenia is a debilitating condition with many dangerous and possibly agonising outcomes.

The protein craze

The protein supplementation industry's efforts have worked. Now there are shelves of protein powders, bars, drinks, and more to be found in pharmacies, supermarkets, shops, wholesales, online, and as always, the vitamin and health food stores.

Increasingly, nutritionists, coaches, trainers, bloggers, vloggers, and sales people are telling the public how important protein is; how much they are lacking protein; and how much they need protein. Consequently, people are hunting protein like pigs hunting truffles.

Is it a stand-alone solution?

Is increasing your dietary protein the stand-alone solution to age-related sarcopenia and other low muscle issues?

A balanced diet of three servings of protein per day is sufficient for the average sedentary person.

Increasing protein intake or including protein powders alone in your daily diet is not the answer to increased muscle mass. Suggesting that ingesting additional protein will increase your nitrogen balance and that the protein will go to your muscles and other tissues where they are needed to make them fuller, stronger and healthier, is ludicrous.

Skeletal muscle increases in size and strength by a process called muscular hypertrophy. The way to achieve this is through physical activity, which challenges the muscle fibres enough to stimulate them for maintenance or growth.

Even if you appear slight and feeble, lacking sufficient muscularity and without the proper increase in physical activity, you will not be improving your muscular function, look and feel unless you do the work.

Important characteristics of protein

• Proteins have calories — the same per gram of sugars and carbohydrates.

• Excess protein is not expelled like excess water or excess water-soluble vitamins.

• Excess, underutilised protein will be converted and saved in your energy stores.

• The excess nitrates left over from this conversion process will be expelled through your kidneys and may eventually cause kidney damage.

• These energy stores mentioned above, if unused, will present an increase in your body fat.

• Protein is not a magic macronutrient that will bond where you would like it to, it will and can only go where it is needed to manage wear, tear, recovery, and maintenance. If you want increased muscularity and the accompanying strength, look and health, make the necessary healthy physical activity a part of your regular routine.

How much protein do you really need?

There are precise ways of determining this, but as an easily calculable rule of thumb, your protein requirements are in direct relation to your weight and activity.

To maintain the needed positive nitrogen balance, the recommended daily adult allowance of protein ingestion needed to maintain and promote functional skeletal muscle retention and strength is, with:

• Sedentary or minimal activity: 0.8 grams (g) per kilogram (kg) body weight (BW) (roughly .5 grams per pound);

• Moderate physical activity: 1.0 to 1.6g per kg BW (roughly .5 to .7g per pound);

• Intense physical activity: 2.0 g per kg BW (roughly 1g per pound);

• Highly intense physical activity: 3.5g per kg BW is considered the tolerable upper limit (roughly 1.6 g per pound).

So for a minimally active person weighing 160 pounds, your protein requirement is roughly 80 grams per day. One chicken thigh is roughly 25 grams of protein, and one egg is roughly 15 grams of protein. Eighty grams of protein is the equivalent of two eggs and two chicken thighs.

This person clearly does not need additional protein in their diet, and assuming the diet has enough calories in total, the additional protein will simply become a part of their fat stores.

However, if the same individual were to become intensely active — exercising one to two hours per day — their requirement may double, and only then would it be recommended to increase their protein intake.

Working to maintain and increase your skeletal muscle strength, size and ability is beyond important for your health, ambulatory state, pain management, balance, joint preservation, and safety.

However, just blindly packing in protein products may do more harm than good. There is no easy fix; get intelligently active, make it a routine, and understand your true requirements. This will go a far way towards achieving the healthier, happier life you imagine for yourself.

Fitz-George Rattray is the director of Intekai Academy, which is focused on helping people live a healthy lifestyle through nutrition and weight management. If you are interested in losing weight or living a healthier lifestyle, give them a call at 876-863-5923, or visit their website at

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