— Thanks to intern Manja Peters —
Everyone needs proteins so that our body can function properly. Proteins are made up of amino acids and these are also the building blocks of various tissues in our body. Adults are advised to consume 0,83 grams of protein per kilogram body weight per day to stay healthy.1 The advice is higher for athletes (strength, endurance and team athletes), namely between 1,2 and 2,0 grams per kilogram body weight per day. See table 1.
For strength athletes, proteins are necessary for the recovery and maintenance or build-up of muscle mass. This also applies to endurance athletes, but they also use proteins for the production of mitochondria.2 Mitochondria are the energy factories in the cell. These energy factories convert ATP, the fuel that the muscles use to contract. The more mitochondria and the larger the mitochondria, the greater your endurance.
The average Dutch person aged 19 to 50 eats more protein than the Health Council recommends, namely 1,0-1,1 grams of protein per kilogram body weight per day.3 This is because our diet is relatively rich in protein rich products, such as dairy, meat, eggs and grains.
Too little or too much protein
To get enough of all vitamins and minerals, it is important to ensure a good balance between the three macronutrients: proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
If you do not consume enough protein, this can eventually cause various complaints: from delayed muscle recovery after training to loss of muscle mass, but also slower wound healing.
But eating too much protein is not necessarily beneficial either. If your high protein intake results in a calorie surplus and you don’t do enough strength training, it can lead to an increase in body fat. Just like eating too many carbohydrates or fats. So eating more proteins does not mean that you automatically gain muscle mass.
Protein enriched versus protein rich
Protein shakes are well known to most athletes, but in the supermarket more and more products with the text ‘high protein’ or ‘rich in protein’ on the package are appearing. ‘High protein’ of course sounds attractive and invites you to buy the product, but it is nothing more than a protein enriched food. A food to which extra proteins are added, such as a muesli bar with extra proteins or chocolate mousse with extra proteins.
There are of course also products that are naturally high in proteins. Most people think of meat, fish, eggs and milk (products), but plant-based products such as soy, pulses, nuts and whole grains are also rich in proteins. See table 2 with an overview of various protein rich foods.
As you can see, quite a lot of foods are naturally rich in protein. This raises the question whether it is possible to cover your protein requirement with just a healthy daily diet. And if so, does it make any sense to buy protein enriched products then? We will calculate this in the example below.
21-year-old man with a healthy weight who wants to stay fit.
Weight/height: 75 kg at 1.83 m (BMI 22,4 = healthy weight).
Sports: running once a week, strength training twice a week.
Protein requirement for muscle maintenance: 1,2-1,5 x 75 kg = 90-113 grams of protein per day.
Protein requirement for muscle grow: 1,5-1,7 x 75 kg = 113-128 grams of protein per day.
NB! Are you overweight? Then first calculate with what weight you have a BMI < 25. This is the body weight to calculate your protein requirement.
* Do you prefer a vegetarian diet? Replace the smoked salmon with a boiled egg, the pork rind with 120 grams of tofu or pulses and opt for low-fat quark instead of semi-skimmed yogurt.
Nutritional value vegetarian meal plan: Energy: 2549 kcal / Protein: 107 grams
The sense and nonsense of protein enriched foods
The example meal plan above shows that many athletes can already meet their protein requirement with a healthy daily diet. For them, the use of protein enriched foods is therefore not necessary. Yet the shelves in the supermarket are full of products that are enriched with proteins. That’s for a reason: it sells well! And that, of course, is the goal of manufacturers. The slogan ‘high protein’ on a package gives the consumer the idea that the product is (more) healthy, that the consumer is making a sensible choice, but is that really the case? We take a sample of the supermarket assortment to answer this question.
If you compare the above two products with each other, you will see a large price difference. The HiPRO Protein mousse is 6 times as expensive if you calculate with the same amount. Above all, you can also buy low-fat quark in a kilo package, which means that the price is proportionally lower. One kilo, or 1000 grams of low-fat quark from De Zaanse Hoeve costs only € 1,79.9 So a dairy product to which extra proteins have been added is much more expensive.
What is even more striking is that many more ingredients have been added to the HiPRO Protein mousse. For example, the product contains gelatin, which is used as a binder. Good to know: as a vegetarian it is better to choose a different product, because gelatin is extracted from the skin and bones of cows and pigs. In terms of protein, the difference in nutritional value between these two products is minimal. The HiPRO Protein Mousse contains a lot of fat and saturated fat, which means it also provides more calories. The sugar content of the low-fat quark is slightly higher. However, these are not added sugars, but lactose, also known as milk sugar. Milk sugar occurs naturally in dairy products.
In the table above, the huge ingredient list of the LiGA Protein bar immediately stands out. The product is high in calories, (saturated) fat and added sugars and the amount of protein is lower than a handful of nuts/raisins. Mixed nuts and raisins also contain a lot of sugar, but this is due to the raisins and not due to added sugars. So don’t be seduced by slogans on the package, but look at the ingredients and nutritional value on the back of the package.
Looking at the example meal plan you can conclude that a healthy daily diet is in many cases sufficient to cover the protein requirement. Even if your protein requirement is higher than the average requirement of 0,83 grams of protein per kilogram body weight. In addition to proteins, you will also reach enough carbohydrates, fats, fibres, vitamins and minerals by eating healthily.
Especially male athletes who have a higher (but healthy) body weight or vegetarians/vegans can benefit from the use of protein enriched foods, because they have a higher protein requirement.
But first calculate your protein requirement, keep a food diary for a few days and then compare your protein intake with your protein requirement before you decide to start using protein enriched food. Foods that are enriched with proteins often contain unnecessarily many ingredients and are usually a lot more expensive than products that are naturally rich in proteins. Therefore, remain critical and compare products with each other by looking at the list of ingredients and the nutritional value table on the back of the package. And if you can’t figure it out yourself or if you have any questions based on this blog, you can always contact a (sports) dietitian.
1 Gezondheidsraad (2021). Voedingsnormen voor eiwitten. Referentiewaarden voor de inname van eiwitten. Geraadpleegd van https://www.gezondheidsraad.nl/documenten/adviezen/2021/03/02/voedingsnormen-voor-eiwitten
2 Jeukendrup A, Gleeson M. (2018). Sport Nutrition. (1e ed.) Champaign, Verenigde Staten: Human Kinetics Publishers.
3 RIVM (2020). The diet of the Dutch. Results of the Dutch National Food Consumption
Survey 2012-2016. Geraadpleegd van https://www.rivm.nl/bibliotheek/rapporten/2020-0083.pdf
4 Burke L, Deakin V. (2021). Clinical Sports Nutrition. (6e ed.) Sydney, Australia: McGraw-Hill Education.
5 RIVM (2022). NEVO-online versie 2021/7.1. Geraadpleegd van https://nevo-online.rivm.nl/
6 Voedingscentrum (2023). Hoeveel en wat kan ik per dag eten? Geraadpleegd van https://www.voedingscentrum.nl/nl/gezond-eten-met-de-schijf-van-vijf/hoeveel-en-wat-kan-ik-per-dag-eten-.aspx#voedingsschema
7 AH (2023). HiPRO Protein mousse dark chocolate. Geraadpleegd van https://www.ah.nl/producten/product/wi515846/hipro-protein-mousse-dark-chocolate
8 Jumbo (2023). Jumbo Franse Kwark Mager 500g. Geraadpleegd van https://www.jumbo.com/producten/jumbo-franse-kwark-mager-500g-394225CUP
9 AH (2023). De Zaanse Hoeve Magere kwark. Geraadpleegd van https://www.ah.nl/producten/product/wi458995/de-zaanse-hoeve-magere-kwark
10 Jumbo (2023). LiGA Proteïne Repen Pinda 6 stuks 160g. Geraadpleegd van https://www.jumbo.com/producten/liga-proteine-repen-pinda-6-stuks-160g-446637DS
11 AH (2023). Brouwer Studenten haver ongezouten. Geraadpleegd van https://www.ah.nl/producten/product/wi447956/brouwer-studenten-haver-ongezouten