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6 Tips on Protein Intake for Athletes: Clearing Up the Confusion

Protein intake is important to build and repair muscle – and ultimately aids an improvement in sporting performance. However, as I am sure many of you athletes have found, the information out there on how protein can be consumed effectively is pretty confusing. So, here are 6 tips to consider with regards to your protein consumption:

  1. Consumption before sessions: if protein is eaten before a short session (less than 1 hour), this will help muscle synthesis after the session.

The protein consumed before a session may contribute to increasing the amino acid pool for muscle synthesis after the session, as the digestion time for the proteins will release the amino acids in the body post-session[1].

If the training session is longer than an hour, protein ingested is more likely to be used as a fuel rather than for muscle synthesis. 

  1. Consumption during sessions: in endurance sessions, muscle breakdown without synthesis will be limited if protein is consumed during continuous exercise (above 1.5hrs). With regards to resistance sessions, protein synthesis may be aided by protein eaten during the session (if longer than 2 hours).

Endurance athletes training for longer periods of time – 1.5+ hours – may benefit from protein consumption to limit amino acids from being used as a fuel[2]. It is debated as to whether this protein enhances synthesis4, or just maintains protein balance[3], but it is clear that this consumption doesn’t cause a negative protein balance and may prime the amino acid pool for post-exercise muscle synthesis.

In reference to resistance exercise (comprising of reps and sets) the rest periods may be used for muscle synthesis in sessions lasting longer than 2 hours[4]. If the sessions are shorter, there is limited opportunity for skeletal muscle remodelling as it usually occurs in the hours after the session, not in the minutes between reps.

  1. Consumption after sessions: if athletes are training every day, they should focus more on regular protein consumption rather than an increase in intake ONLY after a session.

Recent research suggests that protein ingestion directly after exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis for up to 4 hours after the session[5]. However, most sources suggest that consumption up to 24 hours after a session can contribute to synthesis[6].

  1. Amount and timing of consumption: for optimal consumption, 0.25g/kg body weight every 3 hours is most effective in allowing muscle synthesis[7]. Athletes training in the evening may consider increasing this to 0.5g/kg of body weight in pre-bedtime snacks due to the protein deficiency occurring in the night[8].

THERE IS NO POINT IN EATING LARGE AMOUNTS OF PROTEIN ALL AT ONCE… in fact new research says that eating more than 20g of protein at once (for an 80kg person) results in the amino acids being used as a fuel rather than contributing to muscle synthesis[9]

So, optimal doses should be at around 0.25g/kg of body weight to stimulate muscle synthesis and induce a positive protein balance. Intakes of 10-16g (lower) can also stimulate synthesis even though body protein balance is negative[10].

General daily requirements for athletes differ from regular individuals who want to offset deficiency. General requirements are around 0.8kg/kg body weight/day[11]– it is important to ignore this figure as athletes consume protein to better performance rather than to stop deficiency.

  1. Type of protein to consume: both wholefood and isolated protein options aid muscle synthesis, however isolated sources may be best to consume post-session for athletes wanting to make muscle gains. Good wholefood options include eggs, milk, beef, fish, soy and beans; and the best isolated protein options are leucine-rich, including whey for initial muscle synthesis and casein for prolonged synthesis.

The best protein sources are impacted by two things:

  • Good amino acid composition – this can be worked out by looking at the biological valueof proteins (the higher the BV, the better the amino acid composition).
    • Egg has the highest BV of any wholefood, with most animal proteins like beef, milk and fish following suit[12].
    • Vegetarian options like soy protein and beans are also high12.
  • High rate of digestion – as this means the amino acids appear in the blood faster.
    • Casein has the slowest digestibility and is found in soy proteins. Animal products however have high digestibility [12].

Sources with both a high biological value and high rate of digestion increase muscle synthesis post-exercise[13].

Mixed protein sources vs isolated protein sources:

Mixed protein sources consist of wholefoods (not supplements) and they have a different amino acid composition compared to isolated sources[14]. THIS IS NOT A BAD THING… wholefoods still cause a positive protein balance. Actually, it has been found that milk, or sources containing large amounts of dairy (high in whey and casein protein), enhance protein synthesis and improve lean body mass10.

However, it is recommended that athletes wanting to initiate rapid post-exercise muscle synthesis should consume leucine-rich rapidly digested isolated protein[15].

  1. MOST IMPORTANTLY… how does this help you?

As an athlete wanting to maintain muscle mass – eating protein regularly whilst making sure that the calories you eat equal the calories that you burn will ensure that protein synthesis and breakdown is equal… it will reduce chance of injury and helps to make your body leaner and stronger.

As an athlete wanting to increase muscle mass – eating protein regularly whilst making sure that the calories you eat exceed the calories that you burn will ensure that protein synthesis is larger than breakdown… it means that the weight that you put on will most likely be muscle, making you fitter, stronger and faster.

Read more on why athletes need protein in one of my previous posts:

I hope that this post has been useful… please comment your thoughts and questions underneath and I will try to get back to you!

Continue reading 6 Tips on Protein Intake for Athletes: Clearing Up the Confusion

The science – why do athletes need protein?

Dietary protein provides amino acids, which are components of muscle. The specific muscles that ingested protein progresses are:

  • Contractile – cause muscle contractionsby converting chemical energy to mechanical work.
  • Structural proteins – provide support for muscles to move bone levers and therefore limbs.
  • Regulatory enzymes – to speed up reactions, specifically metabolism of dietary macronutrients to convert them to energy accessible for the body.

As you can see from their functions, strengthening and building these muscles will improve performance.

To maintain muscle mass, its breakdown and synthesis must be balanced.

To gain muscle, its synthesis must be larger than its breakdown – resulting in a positive protein balance[1].

Different muscle masses are gained in different proportions depending on the type of training that is done:

  • Endurance training –
    • Gains mitochondrial mass– increases mitochondria which converts unusable energy to useable energy when oxygen is present.
  • Resistance training –
    • Gains myofibrillar mass– enhances strength and lean body mass.

Both of these types of training increase protein synthesis AND breakdown after exercise; however, to make muscle, amino acids must be present. Without a large pool of amino acids, muscle breakdown occurs without synthesis[2]. Amino acids are ingested from dietary proteins.

Continue reading The science – why do athletes need protein?


What is it?

Iron is a micromineral, or trace mineral, needed by the body for loads of different physiological functions. It’s deficiency is the most common, in both the UK and global population and can have some nasty side effects.

There are two types of iron: haem and non-haem. Haem iron is more useful to the body as it is more readily absorbed compared with non-haem iron, so is more effective in completing the physiological functions below.

What do we need it for?

Iron is used for oxygen transfer in the body by being a major component of haemoglobin, the protein which carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and working muscles.

Iron also helps make a protein called myoglobin which binds to oxygen in the muscles for storage.

The oxygen is then used to release energy, with help of cytochrome proteins which aid energy transfer and contains iron groups.

So, the mineral is pretty important in preventing fatigue.

It also has roles in the immune system as it helps produce white blood cells, which engulf and kill any invading bacteria.

Where can we get it?

Haem iron is present in animal sources:

  • Liver
  • Red meat
  • White meat
  • Fish

Non-haem iron is present in plant sources:

  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • White bread (note that although this is higher in iron, it lacks fibre which is also important in the diet)
  • Green vegetables
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit

How much do we need?

Men need 8.7mg/day

Women need 14.8mg/day

Women need more due to larger losses.

  • Chicken liver (100g) – 9.2mg
  • Lean beef (125g) – 3.38mg
  • Roasted chicken (100g) – 0.7mg
  • Roasted lamb (90g) – 1.71mg
  • One slice white bread – 0.54mg
  • 30g fortified cornflakes – 3.54mg
  • 85g broccoli – 0.51mg
  • 30g almonds – 0.9mg
  • 30g cashew nuts – 1.86mg
  • 1/2 can baked beans – 1.92mg
  • 1/2 can kidney beans – 2.20mg


  • Try increasing your vitamin C intake if you are lower on iron; vitamin C makes iron more absorbable in the body.
  • Iron has many inhibitors which keep it insoluble so less is absorbed; it is important to avoid these in iron-rich meals. Foods containing these inhibitors include:
    • Wholegrains – PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t cut these out of your diet as wholegrain foods are really important for increasing fibre, just think about WHAT they are consumed with (don’t eat them with iron rich foods).
    • Tea – Again, can be consumed but avoid with iron-rich meals.
    • Coffee – Same as tea.
    • Chocolate – Avoid with iron-rich meals.
    • Spinach – It is a common misconception that spinach is high in iron, it is often used as a source of iron by vegetarians and vegans, but it contains oxalic acid which stops absorption.
    • Egg yolks – Again, eggs are seen as a source high in iron, but they contain phosphates which inhibit absorption.

Why Christmas dinner isn’t THAT bad for you…


I hope everyone has had a splendid day full of festive cheer… but lets get onto the eating. At the moment I am sitting watching Alan Carr’s Chatty Man and feeling like a stuffed turkey, and I am sure that I am not the only one eh? Christmas Day is perceived as a nationwide ‘cheat day’, however should we even be considering that the feast of a meal we have all consumed is a ‘cheat meal’? The basics of a Christmas dinner (for the most of us) would be meat, veg and potatoes, and this does conform to, depending on how everything is cooked, the guidelines set out by the NHS in the Eatwell Guide.


Okay so you may pass this by if you are veggie/ vegan but, for the majority of us, this is the main staple of a Christmas meal. I have narrowed it down to three main meats consumed in a regular persons dinner:


So turkey is a very very very lean meat, with 100g containing 31.2g of protein and only 4.6g of fat. But what does this mean? There are slightly less calories per 100g than a more fatty meat so could be considered a ‘healthier’ option. It is also high in multiple minerals: zinc, which is used in carbohydrate metabolism, protein and fat synthesis and immune function; potassium, needed for nervous and heart function; and phosphorous needed for bone and teeth formation.


Turkey’s small but mighty counterpart, many of the same nutritional values are similar to its larger cousin. It is marginally higher in calories per 100g (177 as opposed to 166 in turkey) which can be explained by a slight increase in fat (7.5g) and a decrease in protein (27.3g). SCIENCE FACT: Fat contains 9kcal per gram whereas protein only contains 4kcal per gram. These small differences should really be overlooked, as chicken is still a lean and healthy meat. As well as being high in potassium and phosphorous like turkey, it is also high in niacin (a B vitamin) which help the body use carbohydrates for energy.


Okay okay okay, so this is a more fatty meat BUT there are some nutritional benefits. Firstly, fat is NOT bad for you, if eaten in moderation, as it is needed for energy, fat-soluble vitamin absorption and organ protection. It also has a high iron content, which is needed for oxygen transport and, out of all the vitamins and minerals, has the highest number of deficiencies in humans.


So there is a reason that we all need to have 5-a-day…. because vegetables are one of the key dietary sources of the main vitamins and minerals, and there are LOADS in a Christmas roast!


Love them or loath them they are a staple of a Christmas dinner. Nutritionally they are a provider of potassium, folate which helps growth and cell maintenance, and vitamin C which helps make collagen, a protein making up connective tissue, aids hormonal reactions and immune function.


Roast carrots drizzled in honey is how my family cook them at Christmas, and we eat them by the ton! Carrots contain a whopping amount of retinol (vitamin A), which has roles in the body associated with growth and immunity.


The cousin of carrots, parsnips don’t contain as much vitamin A, however they can provide us with folate and a massive amount of potassium.


Roasted, mashed, boiled, sautéed, whatever you fancy, potatoes are the starchy carbohydrate staple in your mammoth Christmas meal, providing energy to get you through the charades and boardgames that may follow later on in the evening.



The basics of the Christmas dinner are very healthy… so the only unhealthiness on the rest of the day may be the Quality Streets and Christmas pudding consumed throughout the rest of the day…

Continue reading Why Christmas dinner isn’t THAT bad for you…

Staving those hunger cravings

Imagine this: hefty day at work….. stomach rumbling….. looks at watch……. damn it’s only 11am…..


We’ve all been there, either too hungry before lunch or before tea, and it is NOT a pleasant feeling.

the science – satiety levels tend to improve when food stays in the digestive system longer. For carbohydrates, this can be explained via Glycaemic index* – which is a number expressing how the carbohydrate affects blood glucose levels. Foods with lower glycaemic indexes tend to keep a person fuller for longer as they are slowly digested and contain more fibre/ resistant starch – for example wholemeal foods and pulses. These foods therefore cause a slow and gradual rise in blood glucose levels. Foods with high glycaemic indexes are rapidly digested as they contain sugars and cause quick spikes in blood glucose levels – for example white bread and cereals like cornflakes. Foods may also stay longer in the digestive system, and therefore improve mid-morning/afternoon hunger, if paired with fat or protein as these nutrients tend to have effects on gut emptying.

*Note that there can be some issues with using this method to predict satiety levels as it can be affected by the amount of carbohydrate consumed  and the other components of the meal.

Hopefully I can give you a few handy tips on stopping this from happening so you can power on through your day!


Just think about what you have had for breakfast…. Cereal? Toast? Eggs? Nothing?

I mean, to point out the obvious, if you’re hungry at 11am and you haven’t had breakfast I think I’ve just solved the issue.

BUT, for the majority of us, the hunger pangs are down to WHAT we are eating at breakfast.



Eggs are high in protein which stays in the digestive system for long periods of time, therefore a mixture of eggs with other carbohydrate or fat-based foods will keep you powering on through until lunchtime.

  • Cheese and spinach omelette
  • Poached eggs and avocado on wholemeal toast
  • Scrambled eggs and lean bacon on wholemeal toast
  • Boiled dippy eggs with wholemeal toast and grilled tomatoes


Porridge stays in the digestive system longer as it is high in fibre, so when cooked with semi-skimmed milk (which provides proteins and fats), and topped with some yummy but nutritious toppings, it is the perfect breakfast to start the day with. Here are some topping ideas:

  • Honey, dried fruit, nut and seeds
  • Peanut butter and banana
  • Dates, raisens, banana and cinnamon
  • Nutella and strawberries
  • Coconut flakes, mango, papaya and pineapple
  • Chopped pears and maple syrup


  • Wholemeal/rye bread – jam on toast, bacon butty, dippy eggs, you name it – should increase satiety levels when eaten compared its white bread counterpart.
  • Wholemeal cereals – there is truth behind the saying ‘he must have had his Weetabix this morning’, so stock up on those flaked rectangles of goodness as well as cereals like fruit and fibre, and avoid cereals like Cornflakes and Rice Krispies which contain sugars rather than slowly digesting carbohydrates.
  • Wholemeal rice/pasta – okay, okay, I know this isn’t a conventional breakfast food. As a student, when it is coming up to shopping week, I admittedly have has pasta and pesto for breakfast a few times, and it has kept me full until lunchtime!


Please refer to ‘HUNGRY AT 11AM’. One of the main reasons that you could be getting hungry at 4 is that your breakfast is not big or nutritious enough to sustain you throughout the day.

Despite this, most people (including me) reach for a mid-afternoon snack to keep me going through to teatime and there has been some pretty extensive research on what snacks we should be eating to keep us going, and stop us from over-snacking or over-eating at the next meal.



There has been some interesting research conducted that found that eating yoghurt over other high-fat snacks increases the satiety of the consumer, and yoghurt tends to include high amounts of protein which can also aid this. Greek yoghurts tend to be the preferred option, and if you prefer it topped with something to sweeten it, refer to the porridge toppings above.


Again, high in protein and fat, nuts are a great snack alternative to anything high in sugar. Although a handful may not seem like much quantity-wise, they will sure fill you up. Here are some nut options worth about 100 calories:

  • 15-19 almonds
  • 13-14 cashews
  • 28-30 peanuts
  • 10 pecan halves
  • 28 shelled pistachios


High in fibre so moves through the gut slower, containing lots of vitamins and minerals and counting as one of your 5-a-day, these are a perfect snacking option. A handful is usually a good portion, and prunes, plums and dates have been found to come out on top when looking at satiety levels.

I hope this helps stave those cravings and gives some good options for breakfast and snacks for those on-the-go days!

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WTF is DF??

Dietary fibre… something that helps digestion, right? Maybe in cereal?

There are so many packages stating that the products are ‘high in fibre’, but what does this even mean for our health? Is there a set amount of it you are meant to have per day? And what foods can you eat which include fibre?

Well don’t worry my darlings, all will be explained:


Fibre is a type of carbohydrate of which, when eaten in high consumption, has a multitude of health benefits. It has been proven to reduce the amount of fat in the blood and therefore reduce risk of heart disease. It can also help regulate body weight, increase the immune systems function, and prevent irritable bowel syndrome and constipation. On top of this, it also lowers risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. So it’s god damn important!!

The science – fibre is a plant component that resists digestion in the small intestine, so moving into the large intestine where it undergoes fermentation. This fermentation process is important as it provides energy in the form of sugars (monosaccharides). Overall, this digestive process maximises the time to absorb nutrients from other foods eaten by moving slowly through the small intestine in a thick and viscous consistency. 


The government recommends, on average, 30g of fibre per day as part of a healthy diet. Most adults only consume 18g – so much lower than the expected amount. But, what does 30 grams of fibre actually look like? Most of us don’t weigh our food so how are we meant to know that we are getting our 30g in…


ANYTHING WHOLEMEAL – wholemeal and granary bread (2.5g per slice), cereals like wholewheat biscuits (1.9g per biscuit) and shredded wheat (3.7g per bowl), wholegrain pasta (9.2g per bowl), brown rice (2.7g per portion), bulgar wheat (you can probably get it from M&S or Waitrose?).

Porridge (1.5g per bowl).

Potatoes with the skin on (2.5g per jacket potato) (most of the nutrients of a potato, and any root veg really, are in the skin).

Pulses – beans (6.5g per two tablespoons of broad), lentils (1g per portion) and chickpeas (3.7g per 3 tablespoons). So stock up on the houmous…

VEG AND FRUIT – peas (2.8g per serving), broccoli (2g per serving), brussels (2.8g per serving), avocado (5g per serving) are all high fibre vegetables and raspberries (1.5g per 15), blackberries (2.3g per 15) and pears (2.4g per pear) have high amounts of fibre for fruits – please note that these are just vegetables and fruits that have the highest amounts of fibre, all fruits and vegetables contain some fibre so are important to include.


SO, knowing all these foods and the amount of fibre is in them in grams may not mean anything to you – so if you want a slightly simpler way of knowing that you are having your 30g of fibre per day there is an easier way of doing it:
It can be recommended that, with your 5-A-DAY, you should be having 3 portions of the following foods per day (that is 3 portions overall, not three portions of each food):

  • One slice of wholemeal bread
  • 1/2 a wholemeal pitta
  • 2 tablespoons of brown rice
  • 3 tablespoons of wholegrain breakfast cereal
  • 2 oatcakes
  • 1 tablespoon of uncooked porridge oats

Hopefully this has cleared up some of the confusion over WTF is DF and how it works in the body. Keep posted for some easy high-fibre recipes to help with hitting that 30g a day target!!

Continue reading WTF is DF??