Protein is the superstar diva of the nutrition world. Everyone talks about it, everyone wants to know about it, and people can’t seem to get enough of it. Blogs and articles discuss at length its merits and qualities. And now that you’ve started working out, you’re thinking about it, too. So what gives? How much should you really be eating, and why?
If your goal is to lose body fat, the key is to make sure you’re eating enough protein to encourage the preservation and development of lean muscle while you’re eating fewer calories. Your body actually requires more protein to maintain lean muscle mass when you’re reducing your daily calorie intake. In 2011, the Journal of Nutrition published a study that found that women who consumed a high-protein, high-dairy diet lost more body fat and gained or maintained more lean muscle than those who consumed an average amount of protein and dairy. Both groups lost a similar amount of weight, but the group consuming more protein had leaner bodies with more lean muscle in the end.
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are crucial building blocks of your muscle tissue. When a muscle is stressed and strained, as in during a workout, it can take up to 48 hours, or sometimes more, for muscles to rebuild and heal. Eating protein right after your workout, and for every meal afterwards for the following couple of days, helps your muscles to heal properly and develop to their potential.
Aim to consume around 20-40 grams of protein right after you work out, especially if you’ve done weight-training. And on an ongoing basis, a good rule of thumb is to consume about 1-1.2 (for exercising females) and 1-1.5 (for exercising males) grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.
If you’ve been shortchanging yourself and not getting enough protein, you could be experiencing some of these symptoms:
The neurotransmitters your brain needs to maintain healthy concentration and motivation levels rely on amino acids from protein.
Anxiety or mood swings
Amino acids from protein also fuel the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin that help regulate your mood.
Trouble losing weight
Forget the store-packaged low-calorie snacks. Foods that are high in protein, while possibly containing more calories, will often provide a higher degree of satiety and satisfaction, leading to overall less snacking during the day. Protein-rich foods also help stabilize blood sugar and can help reduce cravings.
Your workouts are being compromised
No matter how hard you exercise, your workouts, and your results, will suffer if you don’t refuel with enough protein. If you’re not seeing improvements, and/or feel your motivation and energy level slipping, you may need to up your protein intake.
And as far as how to get the amount you need, you know the old protein standbys, such as eggs, lean meats, seafood, and legumes, which are great and effective ways to get your daily dose. Some protein-rich foods you may have not considered include cottage cheese (14 grams per serving), green peas (8 grams per cup), nutritional yeast (9 grams per 2 tablespoons), quinoa (8 grams per cup), and hemp seeds (10 grams per 3 tablespoons).
So it turns out that protein has earned its diva status, fair and square. It’s raved about, discussed, and analyzed for good reason. If you need more ideas for how to incorporate more protein into your diet, or need clarification on just how much you should eat, be sure to ask your trainer at Fitness Together.