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Get your protein in!

Body composition and metabolism: Catherine Burns writes We often overlook the importance of muscle mass, thinking that if we are slim and our body fat is low then we have nailed it (Photograph submitted)

The other day I was trying to figure out how old I would be if we manage to get to Season 100 of Beat the Couch ― and whether or not I could feasibly run that race. As we do two Seasons a year, and we are currently between Seasons 22 and 23, by the time Season 100 comes around, I will be 86 … Could I run a 5K then? I hope so!

While you may think the key to running at that age would just be to keep running now, I would actually argue that maintaining muscle mass is the most important thing on the agenda.

We often overlook the importance of muscle mass, thinking that if we are slim and our body fat is low then we have nailed it.

But muscle mass is important for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it helps to keep your metabolism nice and high.

As muscle takes more calories to sustain than fat, the more muscle you have, the more calories you use up simply existing. This means that two people of the same size or weight could have very different calorie requirements.

The person with more muscle will be able to consume more calories without gaining weight.

The benefits go beyond body composition though. As muscle is involved in whole-body protein metabolism, it actually influences your body’s response to stress, which includes recovery from accidental trauma or illness.

In fact, low muscle mass tends to lead to longer hospital stays, increased post-operative complications and an overall shorter life span in general.

More recently, the connection between muscle mass and longevity has been highlighted with significant research indicating that elderly people with lower muscle mass have a much higher risk of falls, and hospital admission due to those falls.

In short, if we want to stay fit, active and robust as we age, then we need to protect muscle mass.

The tricky part? Some people build muscle more easily than others ― and this is partly down to genetics.

Also, it gets harder to increase muscle mass the older we get. But the good news is that your nutrition can heavily influence how well or easily you build muscle.

When you do a workout and stress your muscles, you essentially are causing trauma and breaking them down.

This sounds like a bad thing, but so long as you have sufficient circulating amino acids (from protein) to repairs these muscles, then the repair itself is what creates muscle growth.

If you don’t have enough circulating amino acids, then your muscle repair will be inhibited and you will be sore and not progress.

How can you make sure you get enough protein? Well of course the specific amount each person needs is down to their existing body composition, how much they are working out, their goals, what age they are and perhaps some extra needs such as intense sports participation or pregnancy.

If you want an exact figure, then see your dietitian or a sports trainer with a legitimate nutrition qualification.

Meanwhile, look at your diet to make sure you are getting a decent source of protein each time you eat.

This doesn’t mean you have to eat a steady stream of animal products, remember that nuts/seeds and beans/lentils, as well as tofu/tempeh/edamame and quinoa all have a decent protein content.

Just note that vegan proteins (eg beans) will yield better amino acid bioavailability (uptake) when you combine several types into one dish.

For example, instead of making a chick pea curry, you could make a chick pea and red lentil curry and serve it with quinoa instead of rice.

Where people tend to fall down though, is adding protein into their snacks. It’s very easy to be carb-focused here and just have fruit, crackers, popcorn etc (all carbs.)

See below for some easy ways to build more protein. The extra bonus is that protein helps to steady sugar release from the carbs that you eat, so you get a more sustained energy release and less pressure on your insulin response.

High protein snacks:


At the office (Waterfront Wellness) we’re big fans of yoghurt as a snack but also a little fussy about where it comes from. Try an buy an organic, grass-fed brand ― which will mean that your yoghurt is higher in Omega 3 than yoghurt from grain-fed cows.

If you can’t afford organic, at least buy a UK/European brand vs an American brand, as the farming standards tend to be better. Also aim for Greek or Icelandic strained yoghurt (eg Siggis) which have a much higher protein content.

And Siggis actually do a fantastic plant-based yoghurt, with 10g protein per serving and only 7-9g sugars, which is minimally processed and made without weird additives or gums. Find it at Miles.

If you buy a brand with more sugars, then try and pick the plain option and just liven it up with some fresh fruit. The Holy Crap cereal from Miles is also a decent add-in for plain yoghurt.

Leftover roast chicken

I often roast a chicken at the weekend with the sole-purpose of having it around for snacks!

If you don’t want to roast your own, you can always get a cooked one from the deli. If you work from home, it’s easy to have chicken and fruit for a snack.

It’s easy to pack for work too. If you want a completely savoury option, try chicken with avocado on oatcakes, which are flat savoury crackers ― packed full of fibre and much tastier than they look!


You can also have oatcakes with hummus or nut butter (I suggest almond or cashew) for a great plant-based protein fix. Oatcakes provide lots of steady energy too.

My favourite brands are Nairns and Rude Health ― both widely available and usually found in the crackers section!

Trail mix

Snacking on nuts is a good high protein option but it can be very calorie dense. I like to add in some roasted chick peas too which keeps the fibre and protein high but lowers the overall fat content.

By making a mix of nuts, and chick peas, you also increase the range of amino acids you are exposed to, improving bioavailability. No harm in adding a little dried fruit and some chocolate chips too!

Grass-fed jerky

If you go with jerky for a snack then just as with the yoghurt, try to go for a grass-fed brand which improves the quality and type of the fats present in the meat that you eat. Also try just to go for a plain option. Teriyaki flavours can be delicious but often give you unnecessary sugars.


Whether you whip up a few scrambled eggs or choose boiled for a portable option, eggs are a great way to get in some extra protein.

You don’t really need to worry about eggs increasing your cholesterol level, as eating cholesterol doesn’t give you high cholesterol, except if you have a rare genetic condition.

High cholesterol tends to come from low exercise, eating bad fats and having a poor consumption of good fats and fibre.

Protein bars/shakes

There are so many protein bars on the market. Whole, real-food options are always my go-to, but if you need a bar then there are a couple I can recommend.

Always avoid anything with isolated soy protein, artificial sweeteners, high sugar alcohols or concentrated whey from a non-grass fed source.

I like the Aloha plant-based options (Miles) and the RX bars (most stores.) The high-protein Go Macro bars (Miles, Lindos) are also a good choice if you are being active too ― although they do contain higher sugars than Aloha.

When it comes to protein powder for shakes, the same general rules apply. Miles have a great organic grass-fed whey protein powder from Garden of Life; they also have a good plant-based version.

Sun Warrior is also a decent brand and is found in most stores. If you want a good protein shake on the go, check out the Nutrifit options at Harry’s Café in Miles, most of which include the Garden of Life plant-based protein.

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION, BNTA is a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in Britain. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda or instagram @naturalbda

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Published July 05, 2024 at 7:59 am (Updated July 05, 2024 at 7:31 am)

Get your protein in!

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