Tag Archives: protein

Protein: How Much and Why?

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Protein.

You need it.  And maybe more than you’re eating now.

If you’re having a strong reaction to reading that, I get it.  But this is an important thing to get right nutritionally.

Food is made up of 3 macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

All foods have some combination of the big 3.  If we purposely avoid one of the macronutrients, and it turns out that your body needs more of that particular macronutrient than you think, there will be problems.

Arguing with that is like saying gravity is a theory and you’re not convinced. 

And there you sit.  Not floating.  (Ok, I’m assuming you’re not floating.  You could be in a hot-air balloon. Gravity is still working, though.)

That said, there seems to be a fear of protein out there lately. Or at least some misconceptions.

I think that’s a backlash to the high protein diets that were popular a few years ago.

The medical profession started throwing up red flags – rightfully so.  I hope they would do that anytime a popular “named” diet is unbalanced.

I’m not getting into food preferences because I strongly believe food preferences need to be personal.  Sustainability is about flexibility.  What I am saying – what I’m not flexible about – is that the human body needs protein.  I’ll explain why.

Humans run on calories.  And we need them from proteins, carbs, and fats in some combination for optimal recovery, energy, hormone health, and mood regulation.

People need micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) from those foods for optimal functioning of – well – everything inside our bodies that has a function.

Protein and the Immune System

Speaking from experience, teachers are on the front lines of the cold and flu season every year.

sick teacher

After I started lifting, I noticed that I didn’t get sick as often as I used to.

Asked around at the gym and the guys said they didn’t catch many colds.

Why?

One reason may be dietary.  Lifters usually make sure they are getting enough protein.

Dietary protein bolsters the immune system.

Did a little research to find out why.

Can’t lie – I’m not a biochemistry major so most of what I found was written in academic language that was a little dense.

I did find several studies that started with a sentence that said something like…

 “We’ve known for a long time that protein malnutrition increases the likelihood of infectious diseases”.

 ~ Dietary protein intake and human health

But why??

Pulled out a nutrition textbook and the explanation there was about the immune response.  Antibodies are blood proteins.  They specifically described how antibodies attack a cold virus.

Protein malnutrition compromises the immune system.  Lifters tend to consume a lot of protein to help us recover from our lifts.  (There are lifters who live full-time in a caloric deficit and they tend to catch colds more often.  That just makes sense.  Fat-loss phases are meant to be temporary because they are hard on the body and the immune system cannot keep up.)

How Much Protein Do You Need?

If you are completely sedentary, the recommendation is 0.8 g per kg of body weight.  That’s about 0.4 g of protein per pound.   So, a 150-pound person who is completely sedentary will need about 60 grams of protein.  If that 150-pound person was maintaining their weight consuming 1800 calories a day, those 60 grams of protein would only be 13% of their total calories!

 

Most people who don’t try to eliminate protein sources from their food choices probably eat enough without trying. 

  • 2 large eggs = 12 grams of protein
  • The peanut butter on two slices of toast = 7 grams of protein
  • Fast food chicken sandwich = 36 grams of protein
  • One slice of pepperoni pizza = 16 grams of protein
  • Added up = 71 grams of protein.  And carbs and fats.  Most foods have all three.

(This isn’t a suggested food list, but just examples for a frame of reference.  These are estimates. The typical American diet, even in a high school cafeteria, probably has enough protein for the completely sedentary human.)

However, if you get up and go to work or school,  walk a bit, do chores around the house, go to the gym a couple times a week – you need more.

 

If you’re not exercising, but aren’t completely sedentary, I’d suggest 0.6 grams times your body weight. 

That same 150-pound person would want 90 grams, or only 20% of intake from protein. 

Some will argue, cite sources, get all upset with me – which is fine.  Really, it’s OK.  What you eat is your choice.  If I’m not your coach, your personal protein philosophy is none of my business. 

But…

  • if your appetite is out-of-control
  • if you get hurt frequently
  • have issues with recovery from your workouts
  • catch every bug that comes floating by

…I’d encourage you to reflect on whether your body-chemistry is actually on the same page as your opinions about how much protein you need.  Just sayin’.

 dumbells

If you lift or exercise regularly with a favorite activity, go for something in the range of 0.8 g to 1.2 g per pound of body weight.

If you’re an overweight lifter, that might be a lot.  In that case, estimate your lean body mass and then multiply that by 0.8 to 1.2 per pound of lean body mass.

For example, when my body fat was estimated to be 40%,  that meant my lean mass was 60%.  I would take my scale weight times 0.6 to estimate my lean body mass in pounds,  then take that number times 0.8 for a minimum protein intake.  Use 1.2 for a maximum protein intake.

Personally, I like 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of actual body weight because it’s easy.  I train hard, so I don’t feel it’s necessary to worry about whether I’m getting a little too much protein by not calculating my lean mass weight.

Regardless of math and philosophy, if you’re not giving your body the amount of protein it needs, the reality of that will present itself if you start to feel beat up by your workouts. 

If you’re not recovering, look at that protein intake.  That might not be the reason, but it’s a variable that needs to be considered.

A Tiny Bit on Protein and Fat-Loss

If you are in a fat-loss phase, those calories from protein are helpful. 

Protein helps regulate hunger.  After eating protein, you may feel fuller longer, which is nice when you’re living in a caloric deficit.

When you exercise, you want to burn fat, right?  

If there is sufficient protein in your diet, the body is more likely to use stored fat as an energy source. 

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “muscle-sparing”, that’s what they mean.  When protein intake is high, the body won’t metabolize muscle for energy instead of fat.

Balance First

I know there are different opinions on the issue of protein intake.  However, the majority of adults are busy, don’t have time to research it, and rely on trusted resources.  I hope I’m a trusted resource, and I take that responsibility seriously.

I’m all about balance and am prone to be suspicious of any source telling me to eliminate a macronutrient for an otherwise healthy human’s nutrition.

Coming soon!  

I’ll put together a post about alternative protein sources for people who do not want to eat meat.  There are a lot more options out there than there were just a few years ago. 

I need a little time to research because I’m mostly plant-based eater who gets most of my protein from poultry and animals with hooves.  The animals ate plants – but I’m pretty sure that’s not what you meant, right?  😉 

 

Need more?  You don’t have to figure it out on your own.
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Guest Blogger Colin DeWaay: Nutrition for Training Recovery and Performance

A real live lifter drinking her actual protein shake.  DO try this at home!  Read on and as Colin explains what’s important (and what isn’t important) about nutrition for lifting recovery.

If you’re an active lifter, which I’m assuming you are just by clicking on this article, there’s no doubt you want to get the most out of your training. So often we talk about different styles of training, how often we should train, different splits, etc. but the problem is if you aren’t properly fueled for your workouts or recovering properly you aren’t getting the most out of your hard work. Which is why I want to talk about nutrition for training performance and recovery today.

First, I want to take you back, way back, 20-25 years ago when I was a teenager first getting into weights. I was really skinny back then, sitting around 5’10” 120-130 lbs I was often picked on for my size. As someone who became desperate to put on size, naturally I started lifting weights. Into the gym I would go, working hard, going to the gym every day. I LOVED lifting but there was a small problem, my muscles never got any bigger. What gives? Why am I working so hard and not seeing results for my efforts? Well as I look back on things it was pretty obvious. I knew NOTHING about the importance of nutrition for building muscle. So I didn’t change my eating habits at all. I was doing endless amounts of cardio for all the sports I played. I wasn’t recovering and I wasn’t fueling myself properly. Strangely tons of cardio coupled with a diet of nothing but pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers doesn’t get the job done (not that you can’t ever have those foods.)

With this became several years of on again off again lifting patterns. It wasn’t until I was 29 years old that I became serious. This time I started looking into how to build muscle more efficiently. I found out protein builds muscle, so I began eating a ton of protein (more than I need really.) I discovered you had to eat enough food to efficiently build. Wouldn’t you know it, I started seeing results! With this my love affair with weights finally stuck. Looking back I was still incredibly ignorant but at least I was getting somewhere. Anyway, here I am 9 years later, doing this stuff for a living, and I’ve gained some knowledge on the subject, or at least I sure hope! So I want to pass on some of that knowledge so you too can hopefully start achieving better results for your efforts in the gym.

Step number one to properly recovering from the gym is to not only make sure you’re getting sufficient calories but also sufficient protein. I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about macro breakdowns because I’ve gone over setting macros before. Keep in mind this article is NOT about losing weight, this is about optimizing nutrition for performance and recovery. But the moral of the story is if you want to recover and perform your best you have to be fueling your body properly. It needs enough protein to repair the damage you’re doing to your muscle and grow. It needs sufficient carbs to provide energy and fuel your workouts (that’s right, better get over that fear of carbs.) Fat also aids in digestion and plays a role in hormone support so we can’t just avoid fats either. Bottom line, you need enough calories.
How many calories should you be eating? I can’t say that without knowing a lot more information about you because every individual is unique and needs to be treated as such (again read the article about setting macros for more detail here.) But at the end of the day before we look at anything like meal timing/frequency, supplements, or anything else, your total macronutrient intake is going to be the most important thing for your results, by far. Regardless of when and how often you eat. Once you get that down, then we can start looking at some possible ways to take it to the next level.

One of those things? Meal timing. I’m sure at some point you’ve heard (probably by supplement companies) that you have to slam a protein shake right after your workout is done or you’re not going to recover and build muscle effectively. While this is wildly untrue, I do think it’s wise to get some decent nutrition in after (as well as before) your workout. I actually do recommend you get a good protein source within an hour or two both pre and post-workout and I also recommend getting around 25% of your total carbs for the day in both meals as well. The reason for pre-workout is to be properly fueled for your work so you can perform at your best and post-workout the body is primed to absorb and utilize nutrients better so it only makes sense to take advantage of that to me.

When it comes to protein I recommend around 1 gram per pound (or per pound of lean body mass if you’re more overweight) splitting it up fairly evenly 3-5 times per day every 4-6 hours to take advantage of the “leucine threshold” (the amount of leucine, the primary amino acid in protein responsible for muscle-protein synthesis, that can be used at one time for anabolism.) There also appears to be a possible “refractory” period with increasing protein synthesis, meaning we can’t elevate it too soon after taking in protein, which is why I recommend spacing out your protein rather than constantly feeding it. For what it’s worth, by the way, I don’t buy into your post-workout protein needs to be a shake. It’s an easy and convenient way to get it in, but if you just come home and eat a meal with a good protein source that’s every bit as effective.

For carbs outside of the pre/post workout window it doesn’t really matter when you eat the rest. It might be a good idea to get a decent amount, maybe around 15%, in your first meal just to get things going, but really whatever you like is fine. When it comes to fat it doesn’t really matter when you eat it, but I do recommend limiting fat (as well as fiber) pre-workout to avoid any potential gastrointestinal issues during training.

Now, I know I’ve already said this but it’s worth repeating. How and when you split up your nutrition is nowhere near as important as your totals for the day/week. So if trying to split everything up perfectly causes you stress/anxiety and knocks you off your plan then just eat in a way you enjoy that will help you reach your goals. Or start with working on hitting macro goals and slowly move towards timing as you get better. But it doesn’t matter how “optimal” something is if you aren’t going to follow it. That said if you don’t mind and want to get everything you can out of your nutrition, the above strategy would be my recommendation.

Besides that a couple of often overlooked factors with regards to nutrition for performance and recovery are sodium and water. Sodium is often looked at this horrible thing that should be avoided but the truth is sodium is not only necessary (you would literally die without salt) but it’s an electrolyte that aids in performance. If your sodium levels are low you will not be able to perform your best. Understand that your sodium input today is what you output the next day. Unless you are salt sensitive (about 5-10% of the population) or have a medical condition that requires you to keep sodium low there’s no need to limit it and you may even find you do better by adding in more. As far as water goes, well you probably know the importance already but dehydration is not going to help performance at all and without enough water your nutrient uptake will suffer as well. I think 80-120 of ounces per day is a good spot for most people, but it depends on many factors including how much you typically sweat (same with sodium.)

As far as supplements go there aren’t a lot that play a major role in performance or recovery. But if there was one I would pretty much universally recommend to any lifter it would be creatine monohydrate. Creatine has been shown time and time again to aid in muscle size, strength, and performance. Because creatine is a stored energy it doesn’t matter when you take it, only that you take it daily to saturate your muscle cells. If you’re going to take creatine aim for 3-5 grams daily. There is also whey protein but I don’t really even consider whey  a supplement, I consider it food. No matter what you want to call it though, it can be a great way to get your protein up if you struggle to eat enough, but it’s certainly not necessary.

Other than that there are a couple other things I want to briefly touch on here. If you want to perform your best and if muscle or strength are important to you there are a couple of pitfalls you’re going to want to avoid. You can’t be undereating or doing excessive amounts of cardio. Neither of these things are going to help you towards your goal. Yes, there are times when you’re going to decrease the amount you eat and/or increase your cardio to cut down on some of the fat, but it can’t be a perpetual thing. You should be spending MUCH more time working on building than you are dieting. Constant dieting patterns absolutely ruins people, not to mention what it does to your metabolism. That said I do think it’s good to keep some cardio in your routine as it does have benefits for things like heart health and even work capacity in the gym. But you can’t go out there training for marathons expecting to build muscle much less recover properly.

So these are some of my tips to use nutrition to your advantage to aid in recovery, perform your best in the gym, and get the most of your training. Keep in mind when it comes to recovery and performance there are more factors than JUST nutrition such as sleep, stress management, proper training protocols, etc. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be sure to get back to you!

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For more information from Colin download this free guide to help give you some direction. This will also put you on an email newsletter where you’ll receive daily emails with helpful advice.

Colin DeWaay holds a personal training and fitness nutrition specialist certification with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He’s the owner of Colin DeWaay Training LLC, an online strength and nutrition consulting business that fully customizes training and nutrition programs for those interested in general fitness all the way up to advanced powerlifting programs. He specializes in helping people with a history of yoyo dieting create a more sustainable healthy lifestyle, improving metabolism through reverse dieting if necessary, and helping make binges a thing of the past by creating a healthy relationship with food utilizing flexible dieting. His goal is not to produce quick results, but to help produce realistic, sustainable results that last.

http://colindewaaytraining.com/

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The Week Ahead…Thinking Out Loud

Just thinking out loud here.  Indulge me, please.

Still doing rehab for my pulled TFL.  Two days into it and it’s responding well.  I’ve got to plan out the week a little because I want to take the week off the 5 x 5 since  I’m not supposed to be lifting heavy.  Basically, the whole week is ‘assistance work’ for the 5 x 5.  All light, high reps.  Just keeping the muscles activated because all my healing super powers need to be focused on that muscle pull.

Monday: Legs

Box Squats – 3 sets of 25 reps.  I’ll add a little bit of weight to the bar for the first two sets.  A tiny bit.

Leg Curls, Calf Raises – can’t do a whole lot without hitting the TFL more than I should.

Massage Monday afternoon – and it’s gonna hurt.

Tuesday: Squat Rehab, Chest, Triceps, Abs – Chest work will be incline with dumbbells.  I want to do exercises NOT part of my 5 x 5.

Wednesday: Off – easy cardio, rolling, and stretching.

Thursday: Squat Rehab, Back, Biceps

Friday: Squat Rehab, Shoulders, Abs

Saturday: Squat Rehab and (hopefully) step mill.  At some point, I’ve got to throw in some functional work for the right leg, too.  You know, standing around on unstable surfaces, step ups, single leg RDLs – don’t know when though.  I’ll run it by Coach and see what he says.

Sunday: Totally off.  No gym at all.

Nutrition

After chatting with Coach about the carb-loading experiment, he said “More protein.”  I like protein, but I replied with a “Really?”  I reminded him that more protein would mean I’d be eating as much protein as a 180 pound male bodybuilder.  He gave me a look that implied “What’s your point?”  So I guess I’m going to go back to the macros I used last August, but I’ll eat more calories because I’m not cutting right now.  This week, I think I’ll be super careful try to stay just above maintenance.  I won’t be hungry – we’re still talking about 2200-2400 calories a day.

OK – so those are my thoughts.  I’ll comment as the week unfolds.

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Food Prep!

 

 

 

 

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Food shopping done.  I cook for the week on Sundays.  I really don’t like food prep, but I like eating.

The Breakfasts…

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I have a lot of 99% lean ground turkey in the freezer.  I mixed it with egg whites, red onion, sweet bell pepper, and tex-mex diced tomatoes.  Added some spices.  Used grapeseed oil for the fat.  This will be my post-workout meal in the mornings with blueberries.

The Veggies…

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For some reason, I started craving red cabbage when I was food shopping today.  Weird.  Last week, I had a craving for tomatoes.  I don’t think I’ve ever craved red cabbage in my life.  Body must need something, so I bought a head of cabbage, chopped up half and made this broccoli slaw with part of that half head.  Tossed in a few raisins and some organic dressing made with no sugar.  (Had to read a few labels to find one without sugar.)

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Asparagus stir fried with mushrooms and red onions.  Added Mrs. Dash Tomato, Basil, Garlic blend.

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Bok choy, kale, spinach, and red cabbage stir fry with grapeseed oil.

Didn’t take pics of the sweet pototoes and spaghetti squash I made in the two crockpots I use every weekend.

Uh huh.   I never used to like veggies, but I like my veggies now.  Lots and lots of them.  I eats my spinach!!!

 

The Protein…

Simpler than veggies.  Just chicken breasts and salmon.  Ran out of propane, so there was no grillin’ done today.  I fried the chicken breasts and those will go to work. The salmon fillets are in the freezer.  I’ll steam them as needed for dinners.

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A Day in the Life of My Tummy

Remember when I told you that bodybuilders are obsessed with their food?  It’s not just a source of pleasure – which it is because I’ve learned to love this food – it’s my FUEL.  What I eat, when I eat, and how much I eat, makes a huge difference in how I’m able to train and the progress I can make.

When I look back at my food journal for the last few weeks, it looks like I kept my daily calories about the same, but I cycled the carbs based on my workouts.  This day had about 100 grams of carbs and that would be a “moderate” carb day for me right now.  (Important: 100 grams is considered a low amount of carbs for most people.  I feel good at this level and have been eating like this for a long time. )  Most days are moderate for me.  There will be one sucky low carb day (50 grams or less) on a rest day and one high carb ‘reload’ day (250-300 grams) about once every two weeks.  I schedule a reload day to be when I have a more intense workout planned- like a leg day or a dead lift day.  On a reload day, the food is pretty much the same, but I add in more pasta or bread to increase the carb grams.  I eat for maintenance on that day, which means calories in = calories burned.  Every other day, there is a calorie deficit.

I’m sharing a “moderate” day of food with you.

Breakfast: 6 egg whites scrambled with Mrs. Dash Tomato-Basil-Garlic (my favorite), 1 slice Ezekiel bread with 1 tablespoon fresh ground almond butter, 1/2 cup strawberries

 299 calories, 29.5 g protein, 25.2 g carbs, 9.3 g fat

 Morning  (post-workout) Snacks 1, 2, & 3: Whey Protein Shake, 1/2 grapefruit with 1 packet of Stevia, and 1/2 cup low fat cottage cheese (forgot to take a pic of the cottage cheese)  These are eaten at different times.  After I lift, I get HUNGRY so I spread the food out to fool myself into thinking I’m eating a lot.

248 calories, 36.2 g protein, 17.4 g carbs, 3.9 g fat

Lunch: 4 ounces chicken breast, a plate of mixed spring lettuce and spinach (I don’t measure lettuce), 1/4 avocado, 1 ounce red bell pepper, 1 tablespoon organic roasted red pepper dressing

338 calories, 41.9 g protein, 8.6 g carbs, 15.1 g fat

Afternoon (pre-workout) Snack: an apple with low fat string cheese (almonds would have been a better choice, but I was craving cheese)

151.4 calories, 8.3 g protein, 22 g carbs, 4.5 g fat

Drive home as fast as possible for post-workout meal…

Dinner (last meal before bed, usually around 6 pm): 2.5 ounces ground beef patty (85% lean), 1/4 avocado, 1 tablespoon feta cheese, 1/2 plate of mixed spring lettuce and spinach, 1 teaspoon raw sunflower kernels, 1 tablespoon roasted red pepper dressing, chocolate protein smoothie

609.3 calories, 61.3 g protein, 23.4 g carbs, 35.7 g fat

(FYI – about half of those calories came from the protein smoothie.  It’s got a bunch of goodness in it for my muscle recovery over night.)

OK, so that’s one of my days.  So far, so good.  Over the last few months, I’ve been losing fat and gaining muscle with the food plan I’ve put together.  Over the last two weeks, I’ve lost 6 pounds. After being stalled for a while, something has changed.  Sleep? Body composition?  Metabolism?  Don’t know.  As the show date gets closer, I’m prepared to make the changes necessary.  I’ve always said that I wanted to be as healthy as possible as long as possible, but assumed “scary” diet would have to kick in around 8 weeks out.  Today is 8 weeks and 5 days, so I’ll be researching this week about what needs to happen over the next two months.   As long as I’m losing weight and still setting PR’s with most of my lifts, I’m assuming everything is on track for right now.

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