"Are protein supplements necessary?" "Should I cut carbs?" "How much protein do I really need?"
We hear you, there's a lot to know. But with so much conflicting information online, it can be confusing and difficult to understand the correct answer to your diet and fitness questions.
To help settle the confusion, we spoke to two dietitians and a personal trainer about men's frequently asked questions. From protein intake and BCAAs to weight loss and muscle gain, these answers have got all your questions covered.
How many days should I work out if I want to gain muscle mass?
"Train with weights at least three days a week to grow muscle," celebrity trainer and former NRL player Ben Lucas told HuffPost Australia. "Any less may not provide enough stimulus for growth, so it is unlikely you will see the results that you hoped for."
How important are rest days?
"Rest days are imperative," Lucas said. "Your muscles grow when you are resting, not when you are working out. Not enough rest (at least one full day a week) will compromise your results so make sure you schedule those days in."
Don't expect to wake up one day and be slapped in the face with motivation. Building exercise into your lifestyle is something you need to constantly work on.
How do I get motivated to go the gym?
"It's about building a habit and being realistic when you start," Themis Chryssidis, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, told The Huffington Post Australia.
"Don't expect to wake up one day and be slapped in the face with motivation. Building exercise into your lifestyle is something you need to constantly work on."
Chryssidis suggests starting slow and working your way up.
"Also make realistic goals -- don't start by saying you'll go to the gym for two hours every day," he said. "I would rather people exercise for 30-40 minutes three or four times a week and make that sustainable."
Lucas recommends focusing on how good you will feel once you've worked out.
"Exercise is one of the best possible things for your body and your brain," he said. "Set an objective goal, work out a plan, have a friend or trainer to keep your accountable to your goal. Even sign up to an event so you have something to train for."
I know I should stretch after a workout but I don't -- how important is stretching?
"Stretching helps you recover from your workout, improves your flexibility, reduces your chance of injury and helps with muscle soreness," Lucas told HuffPost Australia.
"Aim for 10 minutes every other day for progress. You can also consider yoga or joining some form of stretching class to learn some new exercises and for motivation."
Is spot weight loss and muscle gain possible? That is, can working the bicep or abs really improve overall muscle tone?
"Spot reduction is not a thing," Lucas said.
"Focus on the big compound movements (exercises that use more than one joint: squat, bench press, row, etc.) and they will stimulate results for the whole body."
How much protein do I need?
"For the average adult, we would recommend one gram per kilogram of body weight, or if you're trying to put on weight I'd say 1.2-1.5 grams per kilogram of your body weight," Chryssidis said.
"Most people meet their protein requirements very easily through their diet."
How effective are protein supplements? Do I need protein powder and bars to get enough protein?
"The use of protein powders can be beneficial in specific situations," Robbie Clark, dietitian and sports nutritionist, told The Huffington Post Australia.
"We don't actually need as much protein as some would have us believe and it is quite easy to meet our daily recommended dietary requirements of protein, which can be achieved through dietary sources alone."
"This, however, does not take into consideration type, frequency, intensity or duration of exercise. So, requirements will change dependent on a few things," Clark said.
Situations where protein supplementation may be required or prove beneficial include:
- Facilitating post-exercise recovery of muscle function and performance;
- When you are just starting a muscle building program;
- When you are increasing the intensity and/or duration or a workout;
- When you are recovering from an injury;
- When you are trying to gain weight or mass;
- When you decide to go vegan;
- If you are a growing teenager participating in heavy training.
What is whey? Is whey protein healthy?
"Whey is the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production and whey protein contains an incredible range of essential amino acids, which are absorbed quickly and efficiently," Clark told HuffPost Australia.
"Whey is a highly bioavailable protein, meaning it's easy to absorb and digest," Chryssidis said. "In the form of protein powder, you can get various types but the quality depends on what else is in the powder."
Whey is generally well tolerated, although people with lactose intolerance need to be careful with it as it could cause gastrointestinal upset or bloating.
Clark agrees, saying it's important to ensure you buy a good-quality whey protein as they are not all the same.
"It's important to note that not all protein is created equal. Some forms of protein, such as whey, are better than others," Clark said.
If you experience digestive issues such as nausea, flatulence, diarrhoea, pain or cramping when consuming whey, it may not be the best option for you.
"Whey is generally well tolerated, although people with lactose intolerance need to be careful with it as it could cause gastrointestinal upset or bloating," Clark said. "There are also some people who are allergic to whey and should avoid it altogether."
What are BCAAs and creatine -- do I need them?
"BCAAs or branched chain amino acids are essential amino acids -- meaning we must obtain them through our diet because our bodies do not produce them, naturally," Clark told HuffPost Australia.
"The term 'branched-chain' just refers to their molecular structure. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and have various functions related to energy production during and after exercise, so they are needed in adequate -- but not excessive -- amounts."
According to Clark, BCAAs also provide nutritional support for muscle building and athletic endurance, as well as reduce the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) associated with endurance and resistance exercise.
"Creatine is a naturally occurring substance produced by our kidneys," Chryssidis said. "Our body always has some but as a supplement it basically helps our muscle fibres to regenerate quicker and work a bit harder."
While it's not a necessary supplement, it may be beneficial if you are training at very high intensities.
"Because of creatine's ability to supply energy where it is demanded, it's mainly used by athletes to increase their ability to produce energy rapidly, improving athletic performance and allowing them to train harder," Clark said.
What's the difference between the types of protein?
"There are many different types of protein powders on the market and all serve different purposes and have a different response in the body -- particularly when it comes to bioavailability and absorption," Clark said.
Here is Clark's summary of the various types of protein:
Whey protein -- is a complete protein from dairy, has an optimal amino acid profile and is quickly absorbed making it an optimal choice for post-workout recovery.
Casein protein -- is the second type of protein found in dairy. It offers similar benefits to whey but with a different release process. It digests over a long-period of time, which means it's not as beneficial for the immediate post-recovery process.
Soy protein -- is not a complete protein but still has a good amino acid profile and is very low in fat or fat free. Soy protein powders are an alternative for vegans and vegetarians.
Rice protein -- being a plant-based option, it is not a complete protein and is deficient in some amino acids. However, it is extremely hypoallergenic and contains other nutrients such as fibre, B vitamins and complex carbohydrates.
Pea protein -- as with most plant-based proteins, pea protein is hypoallergenic. And with few additives or artificial ingredients, this one appeals to those looking for protein sources closest to the whole-food source. It is also the closest plant-based protein to a complete amino acid profile.
What are the mistakes people make when drinking protein -- do you have to consume it at a certain time or with certain foods to get the full benefit?
The reason why some people may see better results than others doesn't necessarily come down to how much protein they are consuming, but how well their body is digesting and absorbing the protein, Clark said.
"It is crucial that you optimise your gut health and choose a protein powder that is not going to cause gastrointestinal upset or irritation as this will interfere with your body's ability to utilise the protein efficiently," Clark added.
Timing of your post-workout nutrition is also important for muscle growth and repair.
"It terms of the best timing for ingestion of protein, it should be consumed within 45 minutes after your training or workout. This has been shown to be the optimal time for protein synthesis, metabolism and repair to occur," Clark said.
"If you choose to consume a protein supplement at this time, it should not replace a proper meal containing dietary sources of protein at your next main meal or snack."
What are the best foods to have pre- and post-workout?
The main goals for pre-workout nutrition is to fuel and hydrate your body for the exercise session ahead, to get the most out of your training session and to avoid fatigue and hunger pangs during the session.
According to Clark, the food you choose before a workout should serve the purpose of being:
- Rich in carbohydrate to prime your fuel (muscle glycogen) stores;
- Low in fibre, especially if you have issues with your gut e.g. upset, discomfort or fullness;
- Easy to digest -- avoid foods overly high in fat as these are slow to digest;
- Familiar -- practise your options in training and stick with what works best for you;
"There is no one 'best' pre-exercise meal or snack option and it will depend on what your individual goals and requirements are but here's a few ideas to get you started," Clark said.
- Small bowl of cereal with chopped fruit and yoghurt;
- Crumpets, pikelets or toast with sliced banana and drizzle of honey;
- Small bowl pasta with tomato based sauce;
- Fruit smoothie with your choice of milk or milk substitute;
- Raisin toast;
- Tub of Greek yoghurt with diced fruit.
"Similarly, when it comes to choosing the best post-workout snack or meal, there is no one size fits all approach and recovery strategies should be individualised," Clark told HuffPost Australia.
"The general recommendation to optimise post-workout nutrition and recovery is to consume 20-30g of protein (or an equivalent of 9g of essential amino acids if you're supplementing) paired with at least 50g carbohydrates."
Some top picks for post-workout snacks or meals include:
- A protein shake or smoothie -- protein powder with the addition of milk or milk; alternative (e.g. almond milk, coconut milk, etc.) and fruit;
- 2 boiled eggs, plus a banana;
- Small tin of tuna on two wholemeal rice cakes;
- Seasonal fruit salad topped with Greek yoghurt;
- Small tub (200g) Greek yoghurt and a teaspoon of chia seeds and a sprinkle of nuts;
- Lean chicken and wholemeal salad roll;
- Small tin of tuna and one cup cooked quinoa;
- Buckwheat thins with natural peanut butter (or other nut butter) and banana;
- Hummus and one wholemeal pita bread;
- 1 small bowl lean mince Bolognese and and pasta;
- 1 cup ricotta mixed with one teaspoon honey, sprinkle of cinnamon and apple pieces.
Does a meal need to contain meat to have enough protein?
"No, it doesn't," Chryssidis told HuffPost Australia.
"There are a range of food sources that provide protein within our diet -- it doesn't just have to come from animal-based protein (although the proteins meat provide are highly bioavailable)."
"You can get protein from eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, quinoa, whole grains and more."
Should I limit carbs and fat to lose weight or gain muscle mass?
"No. It comes down to your total energy intake versus energy expenditure and achieving an energy deficit to lose weight," Chryssidis said.
In order to get the results, Chryssidis advises to eat a balanced diet, get the timing of your protein right and appreciate that "you still have to work hard in the gym to get the results".
"If you deplete yourself of your primary energy source -- carbohydrates -- you simply won't be able to work as hard," he said.
How bad is it to eat fast food after a big night out?
"At the end of the day, if it's a one-off it's not going to hurt. We've all done it," Chryssidis said. "If you're doing it every week then it is going to cause you a problem.
"If you're eating well otherwise and exercising regularly, it's going to be fine. It's about balance and moderation."