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8 ways to boost your protein intake in 2018 - and why it matters

Dietician Orla Walsh shares insider insights for your diet.

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WHETHER YOU BELIEVE wholeheartedly in the concept of #NewYearNewYou or you’ve been pretty reluctant to leave the couch so far, January is the perfect time to at least consider the food that you tend to put into your body.

Over the last year, items like protein balls and nut butters have finally become easily available and something that you don’t need to break your blender trying to make, meaning that getting your protein intake right is more achievable than ever.

No matter what your fitness level or age, protein has an absolutely vital role to play in both building muscle and ensuring it’s fat that you lose not muscle. It feeds our bones and muscles and even helps guard against issues like osteoporosis and muscle weakness.

Here’s how to be a little smarter about the protein you do consume this year.

Why should we care about protein?

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As Sports & Exercise Nutritionist, LGFA star and Lidl brand ambassador Sharon Courtney explains, protein is still crucial for building and keeping our muscles healthy, no matter how irregular our gym visits are:

It is needed to build connective tissue, cell membranes and muscle cells and this is important regardless of whether we are physically active or not. Protein is used in many processes and needs to be constantly replaced.

But what does that mean in practical terms? Dietician Orla Walsh explains that getting the right amount of protein now can protect us later in life from issues such as osteoporosis and muscle weakness:

Protein is one of the macronutrients that feeds our entire body but its main role is to feed muscles and bones which are constantly breaking down and rebuilding, and protein is what stimulates them to rebuild.

But aren’t we already eating enough of it already?

Technically, yes we are, but according to Walsh, there are two main problems with the way we tend to consume protein in Ireland – though both are very fixable. Firstly, our concept of ‘meat and two veg’ may not be the best way to consume protein:

The issue with protein is that most people have enough but don’t spread it throughout their day so they don’t get optimum results. Fro example, there’s no point in eating it all at dinner as you can only absorb a little at any one time.

Balancing our protein over the day can be helped by adding it to our breakfasts, lunches and thinking about reaching for a protein-filled snack, as Walsh outlines below.

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Secondly, we tend to look to meat and poultry as our go-to protein source, when we are missing out on brilliant nutrients in foods like fish, as Walsh outlines:

The key with protein is variety. Irish people aren’t great for eating fish, but it’s the one type of food you should not be eliminating. Fish is a nutritional powerhouse that mixes protein, vitamin D and Omega 3, which both help sensitise your muscles to protein (use it efficiently).

If fish isn’t your thing, think about mixing your poultry, meat or dairy with plant sources instead for optimum results, explains Courtney:

Plant foods such as bread, pasta, rice, cereal, legumes, lentils and nuts also contribute significant amounts of protein but are missing a few amino acids. It is important to mix these together to ensure adequate amino acid balance.

So, how do I spread it out better?

Balancing your protein intake can be done easily by adding a little more thought into your breakfast, lunch and snacks, says Walsh, who argues that we just need to look at our diet a little differently:

The key to maximising your protein intake is thinking of it as four ‘hits’ a day – breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper, all ideally containing high quality protein sources.

At breakfast…

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If you’re looking to get lean and build muscle, what might seem like a ‘healthier’ breakfast swap might actually be a mistake, says Walsh, who suggests a few simple additions to your breakfast:

People often make the classic mistake of making porridge with oats and water when they need milk to get protein. You need to make sure your breakfast is high in fibre and protein so try nuts, seeds, protein milk, beans, Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese and quark.

If nuts aren’t that appealing, you do need to ensure that your portion size provides you with the optimum amount of protein, says Walsh, who gives a tasty example:

For example, two slices of bread and one egg is not enough. In order to get an adequate protein serving, try to have two eggs and a slice of toast instead. Or try adding milk to your coffee.

At lunch…

The hearty soup you prepared the night before can be brilliant for a nutritious lunch option, but you do need to make sure that you’re not forgetting about your protein intake, reminds Walsh:

People will opt for healthy lunch options like homemade bread and soup but they forget to put protein into the soup. You can do this by adding lentils or peas, or adding hummus or tuna to the bread.

And will this help me if I’m going to the gym?

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If you do choose to return/start out in the gym this month, managing your protein is vital for ensuring that you looked toned and health, says Walsh:

In January a lot of people go on diets so increasing your protein throughout the day can preserve your muscles, ensuring that you’re losing fat and not a mix of fat and muscle tissue.

As both these nutritionist confirm, protein is something that is very much worth paying attention to in 2018 if you’d like to get in shape, and getting it right is a lot easier (and tastier) than you’d think.

Whatever your level of fitness in 2018, Lidl can help you make the right choices for your diet this January. Check out their Healthy Co range which includes tasty treats like HealthyCo Almond & Prune/Cranberry & Goji Rawballs and HealthyCo Natural Soups, while this week’s Super Savers contain a number of brilliant protein sources like spinach, haddock and whiting.

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