The general consensus amongst doctors and sports scientists is that we need anywhere from 0.8g to 2g, per kilo bodyweight, per day. As you may have realised, that’s a pretty wide range! For someone weighing 63.5kg (about 10 stone) that’s anywhere from 51 – 127 grams of protein per day. To put that in perspective in terms of food intake; 100g of chicken breast contains roughly 30g of protein, tofu about 48g, soy protein isolate about 80g and whey protein about 85-90g.
So as you can see; theoretically you don’t need a huge amount of food to reach your protein requirements for the day. However………..it’s not quite that simple (is it ever?). The figures for how much we need are based on numerous, very high quality, studies that examined a wide range of people under a wide range of different dietary requirements (athletes, elderly people, young people etc) and if you look at the studies, you’ll notice that there are a wide range of variables that can affect what an individual’s protein requirements are at any given time. Like all dietary requirements, it can vary from day to day, depending (at least) on how old, how active and how fit and healthy you are.
The simplest way to look at it, which should work for just about everyone, is this; aim for between 1-1.5g of complete protein, per kg bodyweight, every day. That should ensure you get all the amino acids you need. Try and get most, if not all, of this from your normal diet and use several different protein sources.
So do you really need protein supplements? Well; they’re a great source of complete protein, highly bioavailable and easy to consume, especially during or after training. Having a protein drink after training will give your body not just a full range of amino acids to help with repairing and strengthening your beleaguered muscles, but it will also help hydrate you. Plus, if you’re looking to control your calorie intake; protein will satisfy your hunger far better than sweet or fatty foods.
But do you *need* supplements? If you have a properly balanced diet then..no. The clue is in the name, they’re “supplements” to a proper diet. But if you’re training hard and regularly they could be a valuable addition to your training regime as they can help you recover faster. That said, I would recommend that you focus more on your overall diet and aim for no more than 1-2 protein drinks per day. If your diet is good, then any more than that is going to be a waste of money and if your diet isn’t good enough, you’ll likely be missing a whole lot more than just protein. But we’ll come to that in a later post…
Over the rest of this series on nutrition for climbers, we'll take a look at fats, carbohydrates and sports supplements. Then we'll show you how to put it all together into nutrition plans that work for you, both everyday and on those fully psyched crag days.