If you have been on any type of wellness or fitness journey you have probably, at least at one point heard that you are not eating enough protein. So, how much do you need and when should you eat it?
It is absolutely true that eating enough protein gets your body fired up on every level. Protein is important for many reasons, some obvious and some not so much. From boosting immunity, regulating hormones, helping to repair and build muscle mass as well as support the growth of the red and white blood cells, protein is essential for our health and wellbeing. Going back to the beginning of my post, and the problem that you are not getting enough of it. Well, I would just say you are most likely getting enough to stay healthy. How much you need a day depends on your health, wellness and fitness goals.
Let`s start with the basics. According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is suggested at 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. (You can convert kilograms to pounds by dividing your weight in pound by 2.2). So, someone who weighs 150 lb. equals 68 kilograms which would result in the 68 grams of protein per day. So, if your goal is to stay healthy and maintain a low activity, then this amount is sufficient, considering you don`t go overboard with the other two macronutrients, fats, and carbs, which I`ll talk about over the next few posts.
If you are the same woman that weighs 68 kilograms, very active or trying to build muscle mass, then 68 grams might be too little for you. Why? Because your body is simply under a lot more physical demand and in order to stay healthy, improve performance, and grow muscle it simply needs more protein to do so. Another reason why you would want to include more protein in your diet if you are very active is to ensure that you are managing your blood sugar levels properly. While any type of food, healthy or unhealthy, will raise your blood sugar the difference is by how much. Carbohydrates tend to spike our sugar levels higher than the protein so it is a helpful practice to always include a small serving of protein in every meal. In healthy people, protein is a relatively weak stimulant of insulin compared to glucose which means that it has minimal effects on blood sugar levels. I usually recommend at least 30% of calories to come from a combination of animal and plant-based proteins.
When you eat protein is also very important. A lot of people focus on eating a carb-heavy breakfast and protein-heavy dinners. While nothing is wrong with having some carbs for breakfast and protein for dinner, it is best to create balance between the two macronutrients in order to support the goals you are trying to achieve. Having a small amount of protein in every meal, including snacks helps to keep you full and support muscle maintenance.
Here are a few things to avoid when it comes to mighty protein:
Don`t skip protein for breakfast. Make sure to include at least 15 grams of protein in your morning meal which should keep you full for at least three hours. Besides keeping you full, protein-focused breakfast will not spike your blood sugar levels in the morning which will help you avoid cravings later in the day.
Don`t skip it post-workout. You have probably heard this one before, and while you don`t need to rush and drink that protein shake as soon as you walk out of the gym, do make sure to fuel up within an hour of working out. During your training, you are creating small muscle tears that can only be replenished by the amino acids in proteins. Proteins’ main job is to aid muscle recovery and repair which is the reason why you should plan a protein-rich meal post-workout.
Don`t eat it right before the gym. Remember, protein is absorbed slowly which makes it less efficient to be used for energy. While you are exercising, all of your energy should go towards that task. If you are eating a protein-rich meal before a workout then your body needs to divide that energy between physical effort and digestion. Instead, choose a high carb snack, like a banana if you haven`t eaten within two hours before your workout.
Don`t rely on processed protein all the time. I completely understand a protein bar or a shake here and there, but using these protein sources more than twice a week is not the best idea. Most of them are very high in saturated fats and sugar. When in a pinch try a bar that has less than 5 grams of sugar and less than 3 grams of saturated fats. Focus on real food by including almond butter, tuna, salmon, string cheese, greek yogurt, etc.
Don`t load up most of your protein in one meal. Research suggests that the body can only synthesise about 40 grams of protein in one sitting, and because our bodies can’t store protein (for later use like carbs), the excess protein will ultimately turn into fat or go to waste. Also, try to time your dinner earlier if eating a larger protein amount. If your body still has to digest heavy foods while it is trying to go to sleep, this may negatively affect your z`s.