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Why is protein important for exercise

By Nadia McMorran

When we hear about protein being a necessary supplement for exercise, it often invokes thoughts of large bodybuilders downing protein bars and shakes in order to bulk up during their many hours at the gym. Protein is not just reserved for the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger - it is a necessary macronutrient for anyone taking part in any kind of exercise, and it is also necessary at a cellular level in the body.

It helps to repair both internal and external damage, supports the immune system, provides sustained energy, helps to transmit signals between different cells, tissues and organs, carries out chemical reactions, provide structure to cells and carries atoms and molecules throughout the body. Optimal protein intake can also help to prevent obesity, diabetes and heart disease, while improving your mood and promoting healthy brain function.

While protein is a necessary component of everyone’s diet in order to be healthy, people that exercise regularly require more than those who don’t. When you exercise, you are actually tearing and breaking apart your muscle fibres, so in order for them to be successfully repaired by your body you need to have an adequate intake of protein. Protein is full of amino acids and enzymes which specifically rebuild muscle and help your body to adapt to exercise.

Consuming protein after exercise also promotes muscle growth during this crucial 24 hour time period, so helps with recovery, prevents muscle wastage and restores energy levels. While we do get protein from foods such as meat, eggs and nuts, when exercising it can be much simpler and more effective to get additional protein through foods such as wholesome smoothies with added whey protein, which can reach your bloodstream in as little as 15 minutes after consumption.

It’s also important that this protein is consumed within an hour of completing any exercise regime, so it is much easier to drink a protein shake than try to eat a protein filled meal. If you don’t consume protein in this recovery time after working out, you may actually lose muscle mass instead of gaining it.

Here’s an idea for a tasty post work out smoothie – this can easily be altered with different fruit or vegetables to suit your tastes (how-ever, berries are low in sugar and leafy greens have a higher nutrient content than other vegetables)

1 cup coconut water (this is full of electrolytes and other nutrients)

¼ avocado (potassium, fibre and good fats to stablise blood sugar and appetite)

2 scoops protein + veggie or protein + fruit powder

A handful of fresh or frozen blueberries (full of antioxidants, nutrients and fibre)

2 handfuls of leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collard greens, beet greens or swiss chard (extremely rich in nutrients and fibre)

Ice (optional)

Whizz all the ingredients together in a blender and serve.

Drinking a healthy smoothie such as this after exercise will balance your blood sugar and satiate your appetite, preventing post work out bingeing and helping you to maintain a healthy weight.