While diet and nutrition can often be overwhelming and confusing at times with all of the latest fad diets and supplements on the market, eating healthy is really a simple concept. Although the concept is simple, I could easily spend many articles, or an entire book for that matter, debunking many diet myths and detailing the essentials of eating a clean diet. So be on the lookout for future nutrition articles and who knows, maybe even a book one day. But to keep things simple, I want to talk about maybe the most underrated macro-nutrient of all; protein.
Wikipedia defines proteins as "biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function." To put it simply, proteins are made up of smaller molecules called amino acids. They are responsible for some of the most important functions of our body including many cellular functions and chemical reactions necessary to live a healthy life.
There are 20 different amino acids, 9 of which cannot be synthesized by the human body and are thus referred to as 'essential amino acids.' This means we need to eat certain foods in order to get those amino acids so our body can function properly...
Where can we get those essential amino acids?
To start, there are foods that are considered to have all 9 essential amino acids in sufficient amounts and are often referred to as complete proteins. Pretty much all animal products are sources of essential amino acids including:
Whey Protein Supplement
Soybeans and Quinoa and are also considered complete proteins
We can also look to combinations of 'incomplete proteins' to satisfy all 9 essential amino acid requirements. Most of the incomplete proteins come from vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts. Many traditional combinations of foods often form a complete protein, thus lowering the need to consume animal products. Some examples are:
Beans and rice
Hummus and pita bread
Peas and carrots
Peanut butter and whole wheat bread
While these combinations may form complete proteins, they are typically made up of a smaller percentage of protein. Meaning, you will need to eat more (calories) in order to consume sufficient amounts of protein.
How much protein should I get?
So now that we know the importance of protein in our diet, and where to get protein from, we need to understand how much to consume. Typically, the minimum amount of protein required to avoid deficiency is 0.8 g/kg of body weight according to the American and Canadian Dietary Reference Intake.
However, this is the MINIMUM requirement to avoid deficiency, and does not account for exercise and other daily activities. Not to mention, it doesn't consider if you want to build lean muscle or simply maintain it. As an active person, it is generally required to consume about 1.8 g of protein per kg of body weight.
To translate, let's compare a 130 lb. person and a 200 lb. person:
130 lb. = 59 kg 200 lb. = 90 kg
MIN. REQUIRED= 47.2 g of protein/day MIN. REQUIRED = 72 g of protein/day
BUILD MUSCLE= 106.2 g of protein/day BUILD MUSCLE= 162 g of protein/day
So if you are an active person, you exercise regularly, and/or you want to increase your muscle mass, you need to consume a higher amount of protein. A general rule that I like to use which makes the conversion of kilograms to pounds easier is to consume the same amount of protein in grams which is equal to your weight in pounds i.e. 200 lbs. = 200 g of protein each day. Yes, that is a little more than the recommended amount to build muscle, but that may be beneficial.
Is consuming that much protein safe?
Another important point is to remember that it is safe to consume more protein than the recommended amount and by doing so; you could possibly produce greater muscle building benefits. By higher amounts, I mean an extra 25- 100 g per day. I have yet to read any research that shows long or short term negative effects of consuming these amounts of protein. The only thing you risk is developing lean muscle mass, as long as you are consuming the correct amount of calories.
When is the best time to eat protein?
Finally, we need to know when to consume our protein. It is best to evenly and equally space out the amount of protein and the time you consume it. Typically, 20- 50 grams every few hours, 4-6 times a day according to your body weight requirement. It is also best to consume protein with some carbohydrates immediately after or within 30 minutes of exercise to promote muscle growth and rebuilding.
What happens if I don’t get sufficient protein?
The longer you wait after this time frame, the less prime your muscles are to rebuild and grow. By waiting to consume protein after a workout or by not consuming enough protein throughout the day, you also increase your chance of losing lean muscle mass. There by, increasing the chances of slowing your metabolism, losing your strength and ultimately decreasing performance capabilities. All of which, are factors I’m sure that most of us would like to improve on in order to be lean, healthy and fit individuals and athletes.
What is the best protein to consume after a workout?
Not only is the timing and amount of your protein important, but the type of protein you consume after training may be a crucial factor as well. Studies suggest the best way to ingest your post-workout protein is through a whey protein supplement shake. This is the case typically for two reasons in my opinion: 1) Most studies use whey protein shake supplements to measure their tests for convenience and consistency and 2) Many people believe that protein will absorb faster through your gut in liquid form as opposed to a solid food which will take longer to break down and digest.
To summarize, protein is an essential part of our diet that should always be considered no matter if your goal is weight loss or muscle gain. Not only do we need to take into consideration the amount of protein we consume, but we also need to factor in the types of protein and the times we ingest it.
Coach Chris has been helping elite athletes and fitness enthusiasts reach their goals for over the last ten years...read more