Last Friday, in response to a request from one of the women in my online fitness group, I Periscope-d** about protein. Specifically addressing questions about why it’s important, how much active women need and suggesting ways to increase one’s intake.
Alas, Periscope failed me. While a wonderful platform for interacting in real time, it seems to still be rather ‘glitchy’, freezing at inopportune moments and forbidding anyone (me included) from watching the re-broadcast during the 24-hour re-broadcast period.
Today’s post is a re-creation of that broadcast (without the spammers’ comments – hooray and the viewers’ hearts – boo….).
** Haven’t a clue what I’m talking about? Periscope is a new social media platform that allows people to broadcast live from anywhere in the world. Download the free app. Register using your Twitter ID. Search for and follow your favourite social media peeps (you can find me @fitknitchick_1). Turn on notifications to get a message when those you follow are broadcasting live. While a broadcast is happening you can (1) type messages into the text box at the bottom (the broadcaster will see and perhaps respond to them), (2) show how much you love their content by tapping your screen to give ‘hearts’ (kind of like ‘liking’ on Facebook) and (3) share with your friends by scrolling up or left-to-right (depending on your phone) and hitting the ‘share’ button.
When I start working with a new fitness coaching client, I have them track their food. In almost all cases, I find them to be eating too little protein to accomplish their dual goals of building muscle and losing fat.
Helping them to increase their protein intake is often the first step we take together to improve their diet and elevate their energy levels.
Why eat protein?
Protein is one of three classes of macronutrients (the other two being carbohydrates and fats) required by your body to carry out it’s day-to-day functions.
Protein is essential for:
- the building and repair of body tissues (including muscles, ligaments and tendons)
- enzyme and hormone production
- maintenance of a healthy immune system (antibody production)
- fluid transport balance
It increases feelings of satiety between meals and, unlike carbohydrates, doesn’t elevate blood sugars or trigger the release of insulin into the bloodstream. And with only 4 calories per gram, it’s an efficient way to keep your daily calorie intake in check while supporting muscle growth.
How much protein do you need each day?
For many years health professionals have recommended that active adults consume 0.8 to 1.0 g of protein per kilogram body weight. That would mean that a 155 pound woman needs somewhere between 56 and 70 grams of protein daily.
(Still doing everything the empirical way? Take your weight in pounds, divide by 2.2 to get kilos then multiply that number by 0.8 to 1.0. Now you’ve got grams of protein per kilograms of body weight 🙂 ).
Recent research suggests that this may not be enough for exercising individuals because protein can be used as fuel during exercise, particularly when that exercise is relatively high in intensity.
Protein recommendations for athletes are much higher; 1.2 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight (or 85 to 127 g for our 155 pound friend).
For most of us, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. And, as with all things nutritional, it pays to be your own detective (that is, pick a number, aim for it for a few weeks, evaluate whether it’s getting you any closer to your goals and adjust accordingly).
Some obvious, and not-so-obvious sources of dietary protein
Proteins are structural molecules made up of specific combinations of 20 different amino acids, 8 of which cannot be synthesized by the body and must, therefore, be supplied by the diet.
Protein sources that provide all 8 of these essential amino acids are referred to as ‘complete’ proteins.
These would include all of the following animal-based sources of protein (as well as quinoa, a plant-based protein):
- poultry, fish, beef, pork, bison, shellfish (the foods that we typically think of when we hear the word ‘protein’; 15 to 25 grams of protein per serving)
- dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese (8 or more grams of protein per serving)
- eggs and egg whites (7-9 grams of protein per serving)
- whey protein powder (20-25 grams of protein per serving)
Most plant-based sources of protein are ‘incomplete’ and and include the following (as well as many others):
- oats, rice, grains and barley (< 8 grams of protein per serving)
- nuts and seeds (and butters made from them; 3-6 grams of protein per serving)
- various vegetables including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus and kale (< 6 grams of protein per serving)
- soy products, including edamame, tempeh and tofu (10 – 30 g of protein per serving)
- hemp and rice protein powders (12 – 15 grams of protein per serving)
Note that most vegetarian options provide fewer grams of protein per serving than their animal-based counterparts. Combine that with their ‘incomplete’ protein status and it’s easy to see why vegetarians may have a harder time meeting their daily protein requirement than non-vegetarians.
Suggestions for increasing your daily protein intake when you’re on the run
For many of my clients, getting enough protein in the meals they eat at home isn’t a problem.
The challenge comes when you’re out of the house all day and you need some quick sources of protein (ideally, those that don’t require refrigeration) between meals.
- string cheese (it doesn’t get all melty, like regular cheese, if you leave it in your gym-bag all morning)
- individual serving tuna cans (just remember to bring a fork and a plastic baggie to put the opened, an often leaky, tin in when you’re done)
- whey protein in a blender cup (choose one that mixes well with water)
- edamame (I buy the pre-shelled frozen kind and scoop some into a plastic container before I head to the gym; it’s thawed by snack time)
- home-made protein balls or energy bites (a Pinterest search should yield you hundreds of recipes in just a few seconds ;- )
- raw nuts (I always portion these out and pack in their own containers; it’s way too easy to over-consume these calorie-dense goodies)
- beef, turkey and salmon jerky (I made a rhyme!)
For more portable protein-filled snack ideas, check out this post >> 5 Emergency Snacks, No Refrigeration Required
Do you have a favourite way of increasing protein intake? Something I haven’t mentioned in this post? Or a trick that helps you on those days you’re away from home and eating out of your car?
Please share with my readers by leaving a comment below!