Proteins: I know you’ve heard of them, but what do you really know about them? Which ones should you eat? How much should you eat? When should you eat them? Let’s dive in and find out.
Proteins are one of the three macronutrients (along with fats and carbohydrates).
Proteins and fats usually come from something that has a set of eyes or a mother (animal source of protein). Exceptions to this rule would be; avocados, seeds, and nuts, which are quite high in fat and therefore placed in the “eyes” group for the purpose of balancing your meals. When proteins are digested or broken down, amino acids are left. The human body uses amino acids to make proteins to help the body:
- Break down food
- Repair body tissue
- Perform many other body functions
- Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins. Amino acids and proteins are the building blocks of life. Therefore, only amino acids are capable of forming tissues, organs, muscles, skin, and hair.
The importance of amino acids as the precursors of enzymes and neurotransmitters is often underestimated. As such, amino acids regulate almost all of the metabolic processes in the human body, and they are essential for a healthy body.
How Much Do You Need?
I usually recommend that you consume between 0.6 and 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh, say, 180 pounds, you want to shoot for between 108 and 144 grams of protein per day. Generally speaking, the leaner and more active you are, the higher your protein intake should be on that scale. Since most of you have a relatively sedentary lifestyle you should be on the lower end (0.6) or 108 grams for a 180-pound person. Now, if you are the 180 pounds, 108-gram person you would need to divide 108 by the number of meals/snacks per day to reach your requirement. Most of you are eating three meals so that’s approximately 36 grams/protein per meal.
In fact, in a recent NY Times Article it was said that those over age 40 that wanted to increase strength with resistance training also needed to eat more protein.
That might sound like a lot of protein_ but consider how much protein is in these common foods such as from the list below:
- Chicken (4 ounces, skinless, the size of a deck of cards) – 35 grams
- Tuna (6 ounces, packed in water) – 40 grams
- Fish (6 ounces of cod or salmon) – 40 grams
- Lean red meat (4 ounces) – 35 grams
- Eggs (1 egg) – 6 grams
*The RDA was set to ensure a person gets the minimum amount of amino acids a body needs to function properly. That’s the amount you need if you’re sedentary and sitting in bed all day. Active adults need more than the RDA.
When Should You Eat Them?
Eating breakfast is the best way to start your day! You’ll quickly see how much better you feel through the morning and the rest of the day when you fuel up.
Breakfast provides the energy your body needs to start the day. When you wake up in the morning and you haven’t eaten for 8-12 hours, it’s time to ‘break the fast.” A healthy breakfast should contain protein and fiber. Research shows that a healthy breakfast helps improve mental and physical performance and contributes to many important nutrients in your diet.
Recovery Nutrition: Re-Fueling Muscles
I am always asked, “What should I eat now, after my workout?” Well, refueling muscles after exercise is essential. Exercising muscles are fueled by carbohydrates that are stored in muscle tissue as glycogen. Muscle glycogen becomes depleted after exercise and needs to be replenished. The optimal time to replenish your muscles after exercise is as soon as possible, but certainly no more than 60 minutes post-exercise. When carbohydrates and protein are consumed within sixty minutes after a workout, the glycogen-producing enzymes will rapidly replace depleted glycogen supplies and help the protein get into the cells to begin the repair process.
Repairing Muscle Damage
Research indicates that people leading an active lifestyle need additional protein to reduce post-exercise muscle damage, promote recovery and increase strength. In fact, unless a protein-containing meal is consumed during the recovery period, post-exercise muscle breakdown may exceed synthesis, resulting in a loss of muscle mass and a longer time to full recovery.
I am a big believer in the “You are WHEN you eat” as much as the “You are WHAT you eat” principle. Remember, most of you are sitting on your bottom 8 – 10 hours/day. And most of you are not in the gym doing intense exercise 4 – 6 days/week. If you consume most of your calories early in the day your body can use it as fuel (giving you the best opportunity to maintain a healthy weight). On the other hand, of you eat most of your calories later in the day, your body will store those calories and you will likely become insulin resistant.
What does insulin resistance look like?
Brett’s Bottom Line:
- Try to space out your protein intake so you are consuming at least 30 grams per meal and per snack.
- Eat naturally protein-rich foods including eggs, nuts, lean meats, yogurt, milk, cheese, tuna, salmon, anchovies, beans, nut butter, and quinoa.
- When purchasing protein in the supermarket consider the source of your protein. When buying poultry look for “free-range, organic”, when buying beef look for “grass-fed, organic”, and when buying dairy products the same applies (remember, cows were meant to eat grass and the protein and fat from grass-fed cows is far superior to that of grain-fed cows).
- When buying eggs: pasture~raised, organic, naturally raised (the amino acid profile is far superior to mass-produced white commercial eggs).
- Good post-exercise recovery nutrition replaces muscle glycogen and protein stores and ensures performance readiness for future exercise needs.
- Protein should be part of each meal and snack throughout the day. Spacing out protein also helps with satiety. Protein helps your meal digest more slowly, so you feel fuller longer. This also helps you better control your blood sugar levels, so you have sustained energy.