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You may not be getting enough PROTEIN!

Apr 9, 2013

Here's one of my favorite responses I get when I ask a client what protein they've eaten that day: "Well, this morning I had an apple with some peanut butter." Or, there is the ever-popular, "I had a protein-energy bar before I came to workout." I know you've all fallen into one of these traps before, and it wasn't too long ago that these were staples of most folks in the fitness industry.

As a professional in this field, I find that in speaking with so many clients that they just simply aren't getting enough protein incorporated into their diets. I blame a couple of things for this, both of which I'll be delving into during my rant...oops, I mean discussion. I also want to touch on what qualifies as enough protein and what sources are going to provide you with all that you require.

First, I believe that we've been conditioned to believe that meat consumption makes us fat and unhealthy (particularly heart); therefore a lot of try to keep our meat eating to little to none. I see this a lot in female clients. You see, back in the mid to later part of the 20th century science deemed cholesterol the culprit in heart disease and early death from heart attack. Because meat and eggs are the primary source of cholesterol in the human diet, then it made sense to advise patients on cutting meat and eggs from their diets. The unfortunate truth to this is that we now know better, yet we're still trapped in this conventional wisdom that if we eat meat and eggs we will be dead of heart attack before we even finish our plates. Dietary consumption of cholesterol (i.e. eating meat and eggs) is not what affects our serum cholesterol (i.e. LDL). It's the consumption of processed sugar and carbohydrates that drive these numbers to dangerous levels. And what happens when you take out meat and eggs from your diet a lot of the time...you eat more sugar and processed foods! Funny how that worked out, isn't it?

Second, we are victims of marketing. Have you seen the commercial for a certain brand of cereal that professes "One serving of our whole grains has more protein than an egg"? Food manufacturers know that people have recently been advised to eat more protein, so just the general use of that term in their marketing campaign is bound to get you to run to the store and buy that particular brand because your trainer said you need more protein! Unfortunately, those grains they are speaking of don't supply you with adequate amounts of protein, much less the type that your body needs to do all the functions that you require of it. Food companies will add cheap protein-containing ingredients like soy protein isolate to amp up the number next to the "g" on the label, this protein is far inferior to what you can get elsewhere. The take home message: You may think you're doing the right thing by getting the cereal or the bar that has added protein, but you're paying for a lot of extra fluff in the form of processed grains and sugars with a little powdered protein sprinkled in. Your body craves more than that!

So what should your protein look like? The next time you go shopping and want to throw some protein in your cart ask yourself this: Did this protein-containing item have a mother? If the answer is "no," then put it down and move on. Where exactly am I going with this, you ask? Let's look at an example. You're cruising through the aisles and you see a shelf with signage professing "More protein than a serving of eggs." What you're staring at is a cookie-like, chocolaty, crunchy, comes-in-its-own-wrapper protein snack. Enter our question: Did this protein-containing item have a mother? The obvious answer is...you guessed it...NO! Now, repeat the same scenario at the butcher counter. You're looking at a beautifully cut, thick and meaty beef tenderloin with a window cling reading "Great source of protein." Ask your question and you'll get the right answer this time. Yes, that tenderloin came from a cow that had a mother. DING, DING, we have a winner!

Your body thrives off of natural sources of protein from animals that ate plants, not protein from plants and certainly not protein that was formulated from chemicals in a plant! Animal-based protein contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs to function, rebuild and repair--especially if you're an avid exerciser (which, if you're reading this, you OUGHT to be!).

Now you've got to figure out your estimated requirement for protein. I want to make this as simple as possible. You'll find a lot of differing opinions on the topic, including all sorts of values, percentages and decimal points. Here's for those of you that don't want to deal with numbers: Eat a serving of protein that is the size and thickness of the palm of your hand. For those of you who live and die by your food scale, that'll be between 4 and 6 ounces. Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed, and you'll meet your protein requirement for that meal. Now, when it comes to eggs, eat as many as you can comfortably fit into the palm of your hand--and DON'T throw out the yolk (remember we've been jaded thinking those are bad for us all of these years!).

As always, we want to focus on the quality of the foods that we consume. With our proteins, it's especially important. Aim to purchase grass-fed, pasture-raised and free-range beef, pork and poultry and eggs. Your next best bet is organic. You want to shy away from conventionally-raised meats and eggs, as these are given a diet that's unatural and produce meat and eggs that are inferior to their organic, free-range counterparts. With fish, choose wild-caught over farm-raised, even if buying the canned varieties. If buying fresh meat and eggs is overwhelming just for the fact that you're going to have to break down and COOK, search the web for some new recipes that will inspire you to get creative.

Now, after having taken all of this in, can you stand proudly and say that you are getting enough good quality protein in your diet on a daily basis? If you answer YES, then you're probably in the minority, but good for you if you do. If you answer NO, then you've got some work to do. Trust me, once you get enough protein in, your body will thank you by building more fat burning muscle and ramping up your metabolism. After that you'll easily shake your head at that cereal commercial that claims to have "more protein than an egg."

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