Without trying to lessen the importance of being/getting fit (after all, that’s what I’m here for!), I often talk to my clients about how diet and the quality of your eating regimen constitutes an easy 80% of your fat loss and size goals. I know. Few of you want to face that unalterable fact that food plays a gigantic role in all this and find it hard to face a lifetime of watching what you eat. Now I want to get into the nitty-gritty about protein and how important it is for all KINDS of reasons, not the least of which is your body’s ability to recover from the torture I put you through!
It’s no secret that protein is the magic bullet when it comes to everything from muscle building to beautiful hair and skin. This is not lost on health food marketing, since you can find hundreds of products packing upwards of 30 grams of protein into a single nutrition bar or a smoothie, along with a photo of a flexed bicep on the wrapper.
So when I ask you if you ingested protein BEFORE our workouts and how soon you plan to ingest it AFTER we finish, I am asking not just out of concern about your nutrition levels. I am also posing the question out of sheer concern for pain – the pain you’ll feel following a challenging workout. Why? Because well-timed protein can lessen that pain.
You may ask: what is the optimal amount, type and timing of protein needed in order to lessen training-induced soreness? Research tells is that the current dietary reference intake (DRI) for protein for persons over 18 years of age – whether they exercise or not -- is 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight per day (i.e., 80 g. of protein for a 220-pound person). But a number of sports nutrition experts have concluded that protein requirements are higher for athletes in order to promote muscle adaptation during recovery from exercise.
…aid in repair of exercise-induced damage to muscle fibers as well as the synthesis of new proteins that are involved in energy production
…facilitate the replenishment of depleted energy stores
…help you build more muscle. Protein endurance athletes are 1.2 to 1.4 g per kilogram of body weight per day, but resistance training actually requires more – as much as 1.6 to 1.7 g per kilogram of body weight per day.
I’m not telling you to down ten smoothies or eat a slew of protein bars every day. Most of the recommended intake of protein can be accomplished with diet alone and without the use of supplements. A fist size of good protein (chicken, eggs, or salmon are best) surrounded by a forest of veggies is a good way to get it. Food nutritionists tell us that age, activity level, and your size will affect your protein needs.
The average woman needs to hover her intake around 50 grams per day if she is not active, 75 grams if she works out a few times a week, and 100 grams or more if more muscle is the goal. To give you some context, two eggs have about 12 grams of protein, lentils have 26 grams of protein in a half-cup, and one cup of quinoa has eight grams of protein. But it’s not recommended to take in more than 30 grams of protein in one meal. More all at once is not better, since research tells us that too much can actually backfire because the body simply does NOT store protein! Once we go beyond the 30 grams at a sitting, it can turn into-- OMG – FAT!
So space it out. Protein is slow to absorb but spreading it out during the day can actually give you more energy. That’s why it tends to keep us more satisfied. Ideally, you should fuel your body about an hour pre-workout and no more than another hour afterward.
Some examples of pre-workout fueling include a PB & J, Greek yogurt with berries, oatmeal with low-fat milk and fruit, an apple and peanut/almond butter or a handful of nuts and raisins. You may notice that each of these include some protein as well as carbs because carbs are the fuel while protein is what rebuilds and repairs, making amino acids available for your muscles.
Post workout? It’s even MORE important, even if you’re not hungry! Your body uses stored energy (glycogen) in your muscles to power through your workout or game, but after that workout, you need to replenish the nutrients lost. So get carbs and protein immediately into your body in order to give your muscles the ability to replenish the glycogen they just lost. Help those tired muscles rebuild and repair! A post workout meal could be anything from a smoothie to a low-fat chocolate milk to yogurt to a turkey-veggie wrap.
The key is not to forget that pre and post-workout fuel. Believe me, your body will thank you for it later, and you’ll last longer as my client because you won't swear at me under your breath when your muscles are sore a day or so after our workouts....