A nation full of whey too much protein – the protein obsession

Emma Louise Nolan

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There once was a time when a healthy diet consisted of balance. Eat as much fruit and veg as possible and a mixture of protein, fats and carbs. Although this is very much still the case. For some absurd reason the nation has become obsessed with protein. Protein is now linked with everything that is leanness, high performance, energy and “gains“. The world, and the western world in particular has become obsessed with sufficient protein intake.

The thing is though, that we actually do not need that much protein to sustain a healthy diet. Government guidelines recommend an intake of roughly 56 grams of protein a day for males in the 19 to 50 age category and 46 grams for women. That means if you eat a yogurt for breakfast, a chicken salad at lunch time and another meat based meal for dinner, you’ll have actually consumed more than your recommended daily intake.

One of the main reasons why protein has become such a sensation is due to its profitability. It’s a massive gold mine. Companies are cashing in on the protein frenzy and due to the lack of education amongst the majority of the population, they’re fooling us into thinking its healthy to eat protein bars and protein shakes regularly. Are we really that unintelligent to believe that a chocolate bar labeled “High in Protein” is a healthy snack? It appears so.

Fulfil protein bars are on sale in numerous outlets throughout Ireland. They’re widely available in Griffith College and appear to be the snack of choice amongst many students. On Monday 20th March, The Circular carried out a little experiment in Arthur’s cafe. For a period of sixty minutes, we asked each student who bought a Fulfil protein bar, two simple yes or no based questions.

The first was, have you bought this bar as a meal replacement or a snack. The second was are you planning on exercising within the next hour. Out of the six students who bought the protein bars, only two bought the bars as meal replacements and only one student was planning on exercising within the next hour.

The study indicated that the majority of the students are intaking whey (excuse the pun) too much protein and not consuming protein as an energy supplement to aid physical activity. Furthermore, it indicates a severe lack of education regards protein intake. 

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Of course protein can be extremely beneficial to the human body, it is responsible for maintaining muscle mass and improving energy levels, but an influx of protein can be extremely harmful.

The Circular caught up with Niamh Boyle who is an ITEC certified gym instructor and personal trainer to find out more.

Do you think the world has become protein obsessed?

Yes, I think it has in the sense that people are misusing protein, they’re in taking far too much protein in their diets than they’re supposed to be taking.

Do you think there is a lack of education as regards the required optimum protein intake and consumption?

In general  yes I do think there is a lack of education, particularity in relation to processed protein. Many people are not aware of what qualifies as a healthy food and a non-healthy food. People are putting too much emphasis on protein and not enough on good fats and good carbohydrates. People who are participating in strenuous and vigorous exercise very regularly do require an increased influx of protein but they also need more fats and carbs, there is not enough emphasis put on all of the food groups, like you need a lot of carbs and glucose in your blood to carry out frequent anabolic, high energy training. If your expending more, you need to consumer more of everything, not just protein.

 

What do you think about juice bars and smoothie bars that offer an option to add protein powder,  is it necessary?

I think its a good idea in terms of convenience for people who are vigorously exercising and require high levels of protein such as body builders but in general I think when its been marketed to the general public it’s not a great idea as it can be extremely misleading and influence them to consume extra protein that they really don’t need. Like everything in life, protein is great, as long as there is a balance and its taken in moderation.

Do you think boys more so than girls can get obsessive about protein?

I think that it’s kind of equal for both sexes in the sense that boys can be obsessed with bulking and whey isolates, whereas girls might be more likely to be obsessed with slimming shakes and things like that, so I think it’s different trends for different genders. But it can definitely become a dangerous obsession for anyone regardless of their gender.

What advise would you give to someone who is unsure about how much protein they should be consuming?

I would suggest that they visit a nutritionist if they’re concerned and want to up their protein intake, but I would say that generally people are getting enough protein in their diet, if they’re eating healthy and clean then they are getting enough protein. However talking to a nutritionist is definitely a great idea if you need help with your macro nutrients and figuring out exactly what you should be consuming.

So who knows what else will come of this protein obsession. At the moment the trend is showing no sign of slowing down and it doesn’t look like we’re getting any thinner or healthier in the mean time.

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Emma Louise Nolan