Monday, January 23, 2012

More Protein Please?

Have you ever gone out to eat and tried to base your order on whether or not it had enough protein?
We live in what seems like a protein obsessed culture. Wherever you go you see high protein labels and “you need to eat more protein” is touted by pretty much everyone as a common nutrition recommendation. So how concerned should we be about this macro-nutrient? How much do we really need and why?

First of all, I think it’s important that we have a little background info on protein. 

What role does it play? 
Proteins are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies. These body proteins are constantly being broken down and replaced. The protein in the foods we eat is digested into amino acids that are later used to replace these proteins in our bodies. It is necessary that we have foods with protein in them to help rebuild healthy muscle and tissues. Unfortunately with the mass food marketing we are bombarded with, many of us have gotten the idea that we need a lot more than is necessary. 

Read on to find out the truth behind all your important questions regarding protein. How much? What kind? Plus, discover the importance of pre- and post- workout meals and how they can sabotage or enhance your progress at the gym.

Protein is found in the following foods:

  • Meats*, poultry*, and fish*
  • Legumes (dry beans and peas)
  • Tofu and Tempeh* (vegan protein sources)
  • Eggs
  • Blue green algae
  • Seeds (chia*, hemp*, flax*, pumpkin, sunflower)
  • Nuts 
  • Protein powders (whey, brown rice, non gmo soy, hemp)
  • Dairy
  • Grains (quinoa*, brown rice, amaranth, millet, wheat etc.)
  • Some vegetables, and some fruits (provide only small amounts of protein relative to other sources) 
*A complete protein source is one that provides all of the essential amino acids.
An incomplete protein source is one that is low in one or more of the essential amino acids.
Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein sources that, when eaten together, provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids.

Quick Q&A

Is it true that complementary proteins must be eaten together to count as a complete protein source?
In the past, it was thought that these complementary proteins needed to be eaten at the same meal for your body to use them together. Now studies show that your body can combine complementary proteins that are eaten within the same day.

How much do we need?
There is no cut and dry answer. It depends on our age, size and activity level. In the United States we get more than enough protein. It is rare for someone who is healthy and eating a varied diet to not get enough protein. In fact there are lots of cases of people eating too much protein, which can be hard for the kidney to process and becomes a serious medical issue. The standard method used by nutritionists to estimate our minimum daily protein requirement is to multiply the body weight in kilograms by .8, or weight in pounds by .37. This is the number of grams of protein that should be the daily minimum. According to this method, a person weighing 150 lbs. should eat 55 grams of protein per day, a 200-pound person should get 74 grams, and a 250-pound person should eat 92 grams.

Do people who exercise need more protein? 
There is evidence that people engaging in endurance exercise (such as long distance running) or heavy resistance exercise (such as body building) can benefit from additional protein in their diets. It is recommended .5 to .75 grams per pound of body weight per day for endurance exercisers and .77 to .81 grams per pound per day for heavy strength training. For example a 150 pound person doing an intense cross-training workout needs a minimum of 115 grams per day and a 200-pound person should eat 154 grams.

Should I have protein before or after I workout?
It is important to eat something before you exercise. No matter what time of day it is. Even 5:30 in the morning people!!! Your body needs fuel to burn in order to have a good workout and metabolize efficiently. Pre work out meals can include protein, but it’s not necessary if you are doing a short workout. Endurance level workouts (over an hour) require protein before hand to enhance stamina and energy. Try a ratio of about 1:4 protein to carb. 
Try having carbs that will burn off slowly, so it lasts you during the workout i.e. whole grains, seeds and beans.

Pre-workout foods:

  • Toast with almond butter
  • Protein powder and almond milk stirred 
  • Hummus with veggies
  • Fruit with nuts, hard boiled egg or sliced deli turkey
  • Oatmeal with nuts

Post-workout meals are crucial and the most important to restore the body's sugars. You have about a 90 minute window for your body to replenish itself. It’s even better if you eat within the first 30 minutes. This is the best time to eat "carbalicious" meals that your body won’t store as fat. In fact it needs these sugars to put back into the muscles. Make sure though that you also get protein to rebuild the muscle tissue that was just broken down.

Post-workout foods:
  • Whole grain pancakes with eggs
  • Turkey sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Protein shake with fruit (liquid sources of protein absorb the fastest in our bodies)
  • Chicken and brown rice or sweet potato 

How much protein is in the food we eat?

  • Steak 6oz-42g grams
  • Chicken Breast 3.5oz-30 grams
  • Tuna 5oz can-25 grams
  • Egg Large-7 grams
  • Beans 1 cup- 14 grams
  • Tofu 1/2 cup- 20 grams
  • Peanut butter 2 tbsp- 8 grams
  • Pumpkin and flax seeds 1/4 cup- 8 grams
  • Spinach 1 cup- 5 grams
  • Green Peas 1 cup- 9 grams

What happens if we don't eat enough protein? 
Unlike fat and glucose, our body has little capacity to store protein. If we were to stop eating protein, our body would start to break down muscle for its needs within a day or so. This can lead to weight gain, fat storage and other major health concerns.

So there you have it folks. All your protein questions answered. For more information on what the right diet is for you schedule an eating assessment with on of our nutrition coaches. Email to set up a first appointment.


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