Are you eating too much or too little?
The body is made up of more than 600 muscles, each with a specific job. There are the involuntary muscles that perform essential functions such as swallowing and passing urine, then there are the skeletal muscles that help us move, the ones we can make bigger and stronger. We do this with exercise and diet, and that’s where protein comes in – it feeds muscle, repairs and maintains it. However, while the amount you eat is important, it’s not the whole story.
Does eating more protein create more muscle?
No. A common misconception is that a higher protein intake will give you bigger muscles, however, muscle gain is influenced by the type of exercise you do and the frequency, as well as your age, gender and hormones. Instead, if you eat more than your body needs, that excess will be excreted through the kidneys as a waste product or stored as fat.
Do you need to eat protein with every meal?
Yes. Including protein with each meal can assist with keeping you satisfied afterwards, but more importantly, you’re fuelling your muscle growth most effectively. It’s ideal to spread your protein intake evenly throughout the day, so for the average female adult who needs 46g in total, eating at least 15g of protein with each main meal is a good idea.
Do you need to eat protein after doing exercise?
Yes. Enjoying some protein after weight-based exercise is essential for protein synthesis, the process in which muscle is built. When the body lifts weight, tiny tears are created in the muscles. In recovery mode, the body is able to repair these tears, resulting in a stronger and bigger muscle. If your protein intake is low at this point, the body can’t effectively repair or maintain muscle mass. In order to maintain healthy muscles, the recommendation is to have a protein serve of about 20-30g in the first hour of finishing exercise.
Do I need the same amount of protein as everyone else?
No. The amount you need depends on your age, gender and body weight. Protein should make up 15-25 per cent of your daily energy intake, with a recommended intake for adults aged 19-70 of about 46g for women and 64g for men. There’s a simple formula to working out your requirement: Multiply your age by the recommended daily protein/kg intake (see ‘protein guide’, below). For example, a 38-year-old woman weighing 70kg would use the formula as follows: 0.75 x 70 = 52.5g of protein.
Muscle building across the ages
- Australia’s physical activity guidelines for ages 13-17 are to do at least 60 minutes daily at a moderate to vigorous intensity, with muscle-strengthening at least three times a week.
- Before puberty, weight-specific exercises have little impact on muscle building for boys or girls. Teenagers, particularly boys, can develop a higher muscle mass after the onset of puberty due to an increase in testosterone, which is required for protein synthesis. At this point, appropriate exercise and dietary protein (ideally whole foods) can boost muscle growth.
- Take note: Excessive intake of protein or protein powders isn’t safe, particularly for teens, and may cause kidney or liver damage.
- The physical activity guidelines recommends everyone between the ages of 18-64 engages in 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous intensity physical activity each week.
- Muscle strengthening activity such as resistance training is recommended at least twice a week, with rest days between to allow the muscles to repair and recover.
- Vary your training every four to eight weeks to keep improving; tweak the number of sets and reps, exercises and weights used.
- Use the weight and number of reps that challenges your body but allows you to maintain good technique.
- Many women have a lower muscle mass than men due to hormonal differences, but the decline in oestrogen at menopause means skeletal muscle is often lost, and there can be an increase in fat around the belly and thighs in its place. This is also impacted by lifestyle factors such as poor diet and not enough regular exercise.
- Weight-based activity can slow or even delay this loss of muscle mass and is vital for maintaining bone density and preventing osteoporosis. Post-menopause, women should prioritise weight-bearing activities as much as possible.
- An inadequate protein intake can result in muscle being used as a source of fuel, slowing the metabolic rate.
70 and over
- Increasing your protein intake to a baseline of 57g for women and 81g for men is very important for over 70s as skeletal muscle mass starts to decline at the age of 50. This can be influenced by a lack of physical activity, illness or changes to diet. A low muscle mass and protein intake can result in unsteadiness, poor wound healing and recurrent falls.
- Get enough protein-rich foods by prioritising a serve of it with each meal. Dairy and lean meats are good sources.
- Aim to be physically active for 30 minutes every day (any activity is beneficial). If you don’t have much experience with weight based activities, consider making an appointment with an exercise physiologist who can give you appropriate moves.
How much protein is in a serve of…?
- 65g cooked lean red meat = 20g
- 80g grilled skinless chicken = 25g
- 2 large eggs = 11g
- 100g grilled salmon = 24g
- 30g mixed nuts = 5g
- 100g tofu = 12g
- 1 cup legumes = 13g
- 1 cup whole milk = 8g
Easy recipe video shows you how to make these protein balls that are perfect for a lunch box snack