Contrary to popular advice, it is worth counting your chickens. If you’re an average 76kg man, you need at least 200g of it each day. Without it, there is a risk of being slow and off the mark. 200g of chicken provides the human body with the recommended daily allowance of protein: 0.8g per kilo of body weight. “If you’re even slightly deficient in protein you can’t build muscle tissue,” says sports nutritionist Matt Lovell.
Aside from protein, chicken contains high levels of selenium (39% of your RDA per 100g), an important mineral if you want a hatchling of your own. University of Edinburgh research found that selenium boosts your fertility.
This bird also comes ready stuffed to protect your heart: a chunky chicken sandwich provides 30% of your RDA of the vitamin B6, which makes you twice as likely to dodge heart disease as people who don’t get enough. Clucking hell.
Getting your hands on chicken breasts is rarely an invitation to turn down. Leaner than thighs or drumsticks, a single 100g breast portion provides 30g of protein for the price of just 1g of saturated fat. By comparison, a trimmed sirloin steak gifts your arteries 15g of heart-bashing sat fats for exactly the same amount of protein.
Chicken wins, clearly. But for best results, skin your meat before you eat it. If you leave it on you’re looking at bad news. The extra sat fats in the skin increase your levels of cholesterol, found to cause 27% of coronary heart problems in a study in Circulation. To bulk up, Lovell recommends 2.2g of protein per kilo of body weight a day – that’s around 500g of chicken for a 12st (76kg) man.
It’s important to mix up your sources of protein. So follow a tuna salad at lunch with a chicken stir-fry for dinner. And sprinkle some pine nuts for an extra 14g of protein per portion. And just to confirm, a ‘bargain bucket’ never counts.
Mainline on chicken and you’re in danger of crowding out other nutritional benefits. “It’s vital not to neglect other sources of protein such as fish, eggs and lean red meat, which offer useful amounts of iron, good for the immune system, and B12, important for energy metabolism,” says NHS dietitian Tracy Purbrick. Grill a tuna steak for dinner instead and, as well as a lean helping of protein, you will find making spreadsheets and re-tuning Freeview boxes unexpectedly easy.
Research at the University of Manchester revealed that vitamin D, which is found aplenty in tuna, sharpens your mental processes. Just don’t embark on your own never-ending chicken run. That will only see your money flushed down the toilet, Lovell says. “There is a limit on how much protein your body can use,” he says. “Eat too much and it’s going to be excreted as waste product.” So keep to the right amounts to stay high in the pecking order.