What Is Protein?
The first and main job of dietary protein is to repair/rebuild cells and enzymes. These incredible amino acids are the building blocks of our entire bodies, and only a small amount of the caloric potential in protein is used for energy. This means out of all your macronutrients, they are the least likely to end up adding to your love handles because your body needs them to grow new hair, skin, nails, and of course, muscles. So why isn’t everyone walking around with slabs of muscle? The USDA recommends about 50 grams of protein per day for adults. However, in order to maximize a fit lifestyle, build and repair muscle, maintain connective tissues, and tendons, individuals thrive on much more than the government nutrition agencies suggest.
How Much Protein Per Day?
The first question on almost everybody’s mind on this topic is always the same. “How much protein per day?” When our clients are over the age of 65 we usually hear, “How much protein do seniors need?” The simplest answer I can give you is that it’s different for everybody. Many nutrition experts, doctors, strength coaches, and others in the fitness industry disagree on the ideal amount for each person. That is simply because, like it or not, every person is different. Your protein needs will change as you age, as your training progresses, as your goals change, what your recovery is like, and how the rest of your diet is set up.
Some recommendations require that you know your total lean weight or weight in kilograms, both easy to determine, but to keep things very simple, start by eating 1 gram of protein per total pound of body-weight. Extremely athletic, deconditioned, obese or underweight individuals, or individuals with specific needs may need more detailed guidelines for determining protein levels. Try including as many complete protein sources as you can. An easy place for most people to start is with meat protein, organic whole milk protein, and seafood, since many of us consume some of these daily already.
When eating incomplete proteins, such as beans, rice, vegetables, and some grains, be sure to include a variety of other foods with your meal to get a balance of amino acids. Some of the best lean protein sources are chicken and fish, so make sure they’re on the plate regularly. Feel free to tinker with your intake in relation to your body composition goals, satiety levels, and rate of recovery. I highly recommend using My Fitness Pal or another free diet tracker in order to monitor your average intakes.
But What About. . .?
If you are concerned about consuming such high amounts of protein, you should do your own thorough research. There have been many false ideas floating around the media and the locker room that may have dissuaded you from increasing your protein. A common misconception is that higher amounts of protein become too much for the kidneys to process. High protein intake along with a regular health diet including all of the essential nutrients will not cause renal disease. Chronic diseases, cancers, cardiovascular, and digestive disorders open the doors for kidney failure, which does make it harder for individuals with kidney disease to completely process the natural waste products created during protein digestion.
Protein will not cause you to gain unwanted weight or muscle mass over night. Only through goal setting, dialed in training, and proper total nutrition will this happen – if that is your goal. For women especially, whose goals may not include gaining 20 lbs of muscle, a high protein intake is still a must. Lean protein meals are essential no matter what your goals are.
Muscle building comes from the entire diet as a whole, specific strength training protocols, and with the help of hormones found naturally in your body. I recommend splitting up your total protein intake to get an equal amount at each meal, just to give you an average to shoot for. This may seem difficult, but there are some protein-rich foods that fit comfortably into each meal. For example, foods with protein for breakfast would be eggs, Greek yogurt, Kodiak protein waffles, or throw some fruit, peanut butter, and protein powder into a blender for an on-the-go breakfast smoothie!
Get More Daily Protein With a Supplement
Unless you are eating 8 ounce portions of meat at every meal, you will probably need to supplement with a protein powder. The best brands I have come across, as far as flavor and cost, are Optimum Nutrition and Dymatize. Do not cheap out and go to Wal-Mart for your protein powder! The most common form is whey protein, which is derived from cows milk, and is the fastest digesting protein source. Digestion speed is important if you are consuming whey after a workout. Caesin is another form of protein from cows milk and digests very slowly, ideal for drinking before bed, to supply your muscles throughout the night. There are many other sources of protein including egg, rice, pea, hemp and more, there are also blends of protein types that will have varying digestion speeds. If your diet is already well rounded, get a basic protein powder with less that 3 grams of fat and 6 grams of carbs and nothing more added. There are protein powders that can replace a meal or a snack, these include more fats, carbs and often enzymes, vitamins and minerals.
There are many ethical, environmental, and nutritional issues surrounding high protein consumption. Many mainstream books and films (Omnivores Dilemma, Food Inc, Slow Food Nation, King Corn) have highlighted the overuse of antibiotics, pesticides, fertilizers, and the happenings in unsanitary, crowded factory farms. The best option would be to find local, grass fed animal products that a nutritionally superior and environmentally sound. Resources like eatwild.com can connect you with local farmers. As with anything worth buying, you get what you pay for, and top quality meats and animal products (the best sources of protein) are expensive and may require that you buy in bulk. It is best to vary your protein sources as much as you can.
Log onto My Fitness Pal to track the protein you have eaten today, browse supplement websites to find a brand and flavor protein powder that you would like to try, and spend the next few minutes thinking about how to add more protein to all of your meals tomorrow.
Let me know if I can help!