American’s don’t eat enough protein. Nearly every day, I have at least one patient who could have prevented some aliment if they would have just ingested more protein. It may seem too simple, but it is a real fact that is often missed by most athletic trainers, coaches, sports physicians and other health care providers.
The young athlete is 98% likely to not consume enough protein. The typical 35 year-old divorced female can join the new workout club, but she has a 95% chance of not consuming enough protein. In either case, the lack of protein leads to serious and significant disease and injury.
It is no shock that our bodies are made up mostly of proteins and water. We all know how important water is, but often miss the necessity of protein. Your body also uses proteins for most of the chemical reactions internally. The functions of your nerves, hormones, brain transmission, blood production, immune defense, digestion, all tissue growth and repair are all directly related to protein consumption.
The common presentation of a lack of dietary protein can start as a simple muscle pull, tendon irritation, but then leads to more consistent strains and sprains. The issue of poor sleep, multiple colds, a flu that never quite goes away, aches that seem to dance around the body or jumps between areas, can all be related to a protein deficiency.
The lack of protein is most common in females, who think that eating protein is a “guy thing” and will lead to too much muscle mass. They often starve themselves and the low protein diet often results in “holes” that form in a muscle and tendon and also the ligaments over time. These “holes” are commonly in areas that are used consistently as part of the training. Eventually they expand and cause larger unexplained or misdiagnosed problems that most physicians are too naive about?
How much protein do I need?
The American College of Sports Medicine originally recommended 1.2-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and as of 2011 cut that number in half and indicated that was now per kilogram, for any school age athlete. That number doesn’t change much for someone who is 21-62 years-of-age, but read on to get a realistic answer of your protein needs. As you age past 65, you need less protein since the body isn’t recovering at the same pace as a younger person.
A 130 pound female has approximately 90 pounds of muscle. So realistically a diet of 90 grams of protein per day is appropriate for that specific individual. When trying to lose weight or manage it, then replacing your lean body mass with an equal amount of protein is appropriate. Trying to gain weight? Then add 10-20% more protein than your lean body mass.
What foods have protein?
The best sources of protein are eggs, fish, poultry, lean meats and protein supplements, basically in that order. Eating real food is much better than any protein supplement since the trace nutrients help with proper digestion.
Foods such as nuts, beans, rice, grains, cheese, dairy products and soy products are not complete proteins and don’t absorb completely in your body.
When should I eat protein?
The average person cannot absorb more than 20 grams of protein at a time. This means, eating multiple meals per day is necessary. Is that a pain? Yes!
You have no choice, but to eat multiple small meals a day. The average person should eat 5-8 small meals per day. This also helps stabilize your insulin levels, which is very important for both weight loss and lean muscle gain.
The times you should eat protein is relative to your exercise patterns. It typically takes 60 minutes for “real food” protein to be absorbed, but isolated supplements can be digested in less than 30 minutes.
Avoid pre-workout drinks and eating an hour before exercising. Always workout on an empty stomach if you are trying to lose weight; this forces your body to use stored fats as energy, rather than using circulating blood sugar as fuel.
Eating immediately following a workout is the best choice. Choose foods that are both simple and complex carbs that have some small amounts of protein, such as fruits, grains, and dairy. Avoid post workout drinks unless you have no other options.
Which protein supplements should I buy?
Let’s be honest here. There are basically 4-5 companies that sell wholesale protein around the world. Yes, all of your major companies are buying from those few manufactures of bulk protein. Now they sell all kinds of protein supplements in all kinds of forms. That is the confusing part, but let’s make it simple to understand that some are “isolated.” That means they digest faster, but are typically more expensive to produce, but well worth it.
The closer the actual protein content is to serving size the better off you are. When a serving size is 20 grams and the protein content is 19 grams, you are basically at 90% or better of actual protein. If a serving size is 20 grams, but the protein content is only 10 grams, this means you have only 50% protein and the rest is mostly filler. Buying a better quality protein means you are getting more protein for your dollar instead of filler. Choose proteins that are mostly protein.
Next look for companies that are established and offer self-funded university studies to back their claims. Companies such as Labrada, Gaspari, Cytotech and some others, produce excellent research to prove their products are complete proteins and absorb very well.
Lastly, and most important is taste and texture. You are not going to eat anything that doesn’t taste good and “feel” right. Proteins that mix well and are not “grainy” feeling are the best proteins to eat and you are more likely to eat them.
Last word on total calories
Calories in verses calories out, is still the golden rule. Eating more food makes you gain weight, eating less food will make you lose weight. The concern is starving your muscles, ligaments, tendons and internal chemistry.
Low carb diets are dangerous since they produce ammonia, which is toxic to your nervous system. Eat the same amount of carbohydrates as your lean body mass suggest. Hence, protein equals carbohydrate intake for the safest diet. Then add 10% for non-trans fats to round off the diet. Zero fat diets can lead to health issues, specifically in children.
To make it simple, if you have 180 pounds of lean mass, then approximately 160-180 grams of protein per day is a reasonable starting point. An equal amount of carbohydrates and then around 16-18 grams of fat is a well-balanced athletic diet.
Sure it can be more complicated than this to be exact, but trust me; you are in the right ball park if you just start off this way and less likely to have injuries or illness from a protein deficiency.