How much protein do I need in lockdown?

I thought it was time to delve into the protein macro again, particularly as our habitual exercise patterns have shifted somewhat. We may be exercising more, or less than usual or altering the type of exercise we’re doing. Lockdown might also have influenced out dietary choices too – with a lack of steak restaurants and a boost in tinned pulses consumption perhaps?

So, how much protein do we really need. Well, the answer is it depends (of course there’s not a straight answer in the world of nutrition) so see which of these categories you’re falling into:

Sitting down a lot…

If you’re mainly sedentary at the mo, a minimum of 1g/kg body weight is recommended. To use this protein to your advantage, it is best to space it out across the day, with the aim of around 20g per meal. This is easy to achieve with animal proteins and also very doable with a combination of plant- based proteins together, for example pulses and grains. Have a look at the ready reckoner below.

Doing some form of resistance exercise will also encourage this protein to be used for muscle protein synthesis, and this together with a regular, spaced out intake, will improve body composition. This is particularly important for the older generation. More on this here, but recent studies have confirmed that older people need to consume more protein to get the same muscle building effects as the younger and middle- aged people. And there’s a lot of days when bread and apple are lunch for my Mum!

Doing more exercise in lockdown than you would usually…

For more active individuals doing moderate – high intensity exercise multiple times a week (note this isn’t a slow plod round the park), a higher protein intake is recommended of 1.4-1.6g/kg body weight, to support harder working muscles.

Making changing your own body composition, your new lockdown hobby…

If you’re aiming to build muscle, but lose fat, then you will need to be in a calorie deficit, and secondly you will need more protein to protect your muscles in this scenario. The body doesn’t like deficits and often a loss of muscle mass is associated with this, unless it is protected by higher protein intakes of around 2g/kg or slightly higher.

Just to reiterate, burning fat and losing fat are not the same thing. We all burn fat, all the time – it is a fuel our body can use, just like carb. Losing fat refers to fat stores, which will deplete if we are in an energy deficit. I’m not one for supporting big energy deficits though, especially if associated with a strict diet or set of rules, that is actually just making you miserable and not addressing deeper issues.

If you don’t wish to lose body fat and simple want to gain muscle, then high protein intakes are still required but the recommended range is open to interpretation (1.4 – 2.7g/kg body weight) and depends on individual circumstances and training plan etc.

If you’re overweight, higher protein intakes of 1.2 – 1.5g/ kg can also be beneficial to support training and help with fullness. It’s important to give this context though, and no weight management plan should involve a calculator so please do get in touch if you would like to take a closer look at the balance of foods in your diet.

And before you go, let’s try to give it some meaning back in the kitchen. So say you weigh 70kg, and have started to do a combination of HIIT sessions in the living room and some long bike rides, you would benefit from around 105g protein, spaced out over 5 meals and snacks giving you about 21g each time.

Here are some examples of what 20g and 10g protein looks like:

Animal protein – portions providing about 20g protein

Animal Source Approximate weight Handy Measure
Beef, lamb, pork 75 g 2 medium slices
Turkey, chicken 75 g 1 small breast
Grilled fish 100 g 1 small fillet
Fish fingers 100 g 6 fish fingers
Salmon/tuna/ mackerel 100 g 1 small tin/ fillet
Shrimps/prawns 100 g 2 serving spoons
Eggs 3 medium
Cottage cheese 150 g 4 tablespoons
Milk (skimmed/semi-skimmed) 600ml 1 pint

Vegetable Protein – portions providing approximately 10g protein

Vegetable Source Approximate Handy Measure
Nuts (e.g. peanuts, cashews) 50g
Seeds (e.g. sunflower, sesame) 50 g 4 tablespoons
Baked beans 200 g Half a large tin
Kidney beans/split peas 150 g 5 tablespoons- cooked
Lentils 120 g 5 tablespoons-cooked
Tofu (Soya bean curd) 125 g ½ packet
Soya milk 350ml Approx  2/3  pint
Houmous 125 g 3 tablespoons (~ half a tub)
Peanut butter 50 g Thickly spread on 2 slices bread (2 heaped tablespoons)

More protein insights and supermarket picks coming up on my Instagram so look out for that.