Protein Intake; Why, How Much, How Often, and What Kind?

I generally try to derive some inspiration for these posts from my day-to-day interaction with my clients. Recently a client wanted some more in-depth explanation about protein supplementation and I felt that since I talk so much about it, a new post was warranted.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Protein is vital macronutrient that is important for growth and repair of tissues, maintenance of muscle structure, and the creation of several important enzymes (i.e. digestive enzymes) and hormones like insulin. Protein can also be used as a source of energy if need be. While proper protein intake is important for all people, it becomes even more vital to those engaging in a workout regimen due to their increased need for tissue repair and growth. When you engage in resistance training you are basically causing small tears in your muscle fibers. As these tears repair themselves they do it in a way that the new fibers are thicker and stronger than before. Protein aids in this repair and helps improve muscle recovery.

HOW MUCH SHOULD I GET?

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for adults with respect to protein is 0.8 g/kg of body weight, however when participating in a weight training program those needs are increased. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends 1.5 -2.0 g/kg of body weight per day. This range reflects the needs of those participating in a moderate strength program vs. those participating in a more vigorous program. *As a quick aside, if you are not sure how many kg you weigh, simply divide your body weight in pounds by 2.205*

When you participate in a workout program you must also be aware of proper pre and post-workout protein consumption in order to maximize your hard work in the gym. Pre-workout you want to get a good source of protein and carbohydrates. This will provide you with more energy as well as aid in minimizing muscle damage. Post-workout you want get that same combination of carbs and protein, but in a greater dose. Post workout protein consumption is even more vital that pre-workout. Immediately after you are done with your last set of exercise your muscles are very receptive to nutrient uptake, like little sponges waiting to absorb whatever is provided to them. It is at this time you need to take advantage of this 30-60 minute window by providing your muscles with a good source of protein as well as a simple carbohydrate source to also aid in replenishing glycogen stores to provide energy at your next workout. The post-workout consumption of this protein and carbohydrate mix is so important that Jeffrey Volek, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition and exercise researcher at the University of Connecticut, says "If you're lifting weights and you don't consume protein, it's almost counterproductive".

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I CONSUME PROTEIN?

In addition to the amount of protein you consume per day, thought must also be given to when you are consuming it. Daily protein intake should be spread over the course of your three main meals as well as snacks so that you are in a state of protein synthesis all day. I find that most clients only have a high protein intake at dinner, but the issue with that is your body can only utilize so much protein at once. A study done at the University of Texas found that consuming 90 grams of protein at one meal provides the same benefit as eating 30 grams, thus effectively making the other 60 grams a waste.

As an example, if a 200lb man were to follow the 1.5 to 2.0 g/kg rule that would equal 136-181g of protein per day. Spread over the course of six meals, he would consume approximately 23-30g of protein per meal.

With respect to pre and post-workout protein and carbohydrate consumption research generally says you want to aim for at least a two-to-one ratio of carbs to protein. For example, consume 40 grams of carbs and 20 grams of protein.

And despite what you may have read out there, consuming increased amounts of protein will not damage your kidneys, in absence of any pre-existing conditions of course. "Taking in more than the recommended dose won't confer more benefit. It won't hurt you, but you'll just burn it off as extra energy," says Mark Tarnopolsky, M.D., Ph.D., who studies exercise and nutrition at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario

GOOD SOURCES OF PROTEIN

Proteins are made up of compounds called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids classified as essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids are those that cannot be synthesized by the body and thus need to be consumed in your diet. A complete protein, mostly from animal sources, contain all the essential amino acids. An incomplete protein, mostly from plant-based sources, has only some of the essential amino acids, and thus needs to be combined with other incomplete proteins in order to consume all the essential amino acids. For example, while rice alone and beans alone are incomplete proteins, by combining them, you now have a complete protein source. Complete sources of proteins include things such as:

  • Meat

  • Fish

  • Dairy products (milk, yogurt, whey)

  • Eggs

Incomplete protein sources include:

  • Nuts & seeds

  • Legumes

  • Grains

  • Vegetables

Again going back to pre and post-workout protein consumption there are some things to be aware of. Due to the time needed for the body to digest and utilize whole-food sources of protein, these are often not optimal for your pre and post-workout meals. Instead, a better option is supplementing with protein powder. Whey protein powder, which is derived from milk, is a fast-digesting, high-quality protein that the body can utilize rapidly pre and post-workout. "It appears in your bloodstream 15 minutes after you consume it," Volek says. This is important when you remember that you only have a small window to supply your muscles with that much needed protein after your workouts for maximum benefit.

I hope you have found this post insightful and can use it as a way to maximize you growth and potential in the gym. You put in the hard work and effort, so make sure you are following these guidelines to make it all worth it. Until next time! - Aaron

References:

1) http://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/protein-facts

2) http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/much-protein-required-weight-lifter-2062.html

3) http://www.builtlean.com/2012/10/03/complete-vs-incomplete-protein-sources/

4) http://www.active.com/nutrition/articles/get-enough-protein-post-workout

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