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Protein: How Much & Why?

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How much protein should we be eating each meal?

Most of the time, the numbers you hear are 20-30 grams of protein/meal.  

Have you  also heard that consuming anything more than 20-30 grams in a meal is actually a “waste?”

Whether you have or not, let’s explore why it may or may not be a waste.

The following 2 studies show that consuming more than 20-30g of protein had no greater result in maximizing protein synthesis within subjects:

“The first study showed that when college-aged weight trainers drink 0g, 5g, 10g, 20g, or 40g of protein after weight training sessions, muscle protein synthesis is stimulated maximally at the 20g dose. No further increases in muscle protein synthesis occurred at the 40g dose.”

“The second study showed that when young and elderly volunteers were given 30 or 90g of dietary protein in a single meal, the 30g dose maximally stimulated muscle protein synthesis. No further increases in muscle protein synthesis occurred at the 90g dose.” 

As mentioned before, both of these studies showed that at 20-30g of protein/meal, protein synthesis is maximally stimulated.  Is this the only reason we eat protein though?  Or are there other benefits to consuming a diet rich in protein besides just protein synthesis?

ADDITIONAL PROTEIN BENEFITS:

Increased thermic effect of feeding (TEF): TEF is the amount of energy expenditure that comes from the cost of processing food for use and storage in our bodies.  The thermic effect of protein is roughly double that of carbohydrates & fat.  This means that eating protein may lead to a higher metabolic rate.

Improved weight loss profile: reducing carbohydrate ratio can increase fat loss, spare muscle mass, improve satiety & improve blood glucose management.

Reduction in cardiovascular risk: “Increasing the percentage of protein in the diet from (11-23%) while decreasing the percentage of carbohydrate (from 63-48%) lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) and triglyceride concentrations  with concomitant increases in HDL cholesterol (the good stuff) concentrations.”

Increased protein turnover: Tissues in our body (including muscle), all must go through a regular program of turnover. A balance between protein breakdown & protein synthesis (build-up) governs protein turnover.  A diet with adequate protein amounts helps aid in getting rid of old muscle more quickly so that we are able to build up new, better quality muscle to take its place.

In no way, shape, or form am I pushing you to start a high protein diet. More so, I just want to bring awareness to how much protein we should be consuming during each meal and what the benefits of that would be.  Even though studies have shown that protein synthesis is only maximized within the 20-30g/protein range, we can still gain these other benefits to consuming more.  Therefore, it is perfectly fine to consume more than 20-30g/meal.

Remember, when it comes to diet & exercise,  what works for 1 person may not work for the next.  A marathoner isn’t going to have the same diet as a bodybuilder.  Do what works for you & your body with reap the results & thank you in the process!

References:

Protein 101: How much with each meal;  John Berardi

Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men ; Moore DR, Robinson MJ, Fry JL, Tang JE, Glover El, Wilkinson SB, Prior T, Tamopolsky MA, Phillips SM

A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young elderly and subjects; Symons TB, Sheffield-Moore M, Wolfe RR, Paddon-Jones D.

Post-Workout Nutrition

Post workout nutrition has 3 specific purposes:

  1. Replenish glycogen
  2. Decrease protein breakdown
  3. Increase protein synthesis

Simply put, athletes/exercisers want to

  1. Replenish their energy stores
  2. Increase muscle size and/or muscle quality
  3. Repair the damage that was caused by the workout

It’s important to understand that during your workouts, you’re not making gains.  Instead, you’re basically just tearing your body apart; you’re damaging tissues at a microlevel & using fuel.  This sounds like it’s not a good thing but in fact it is.  This is what ultimately makes us stronger, leaner, fitter, and more muscular BUT in the short term, it requires REPAIR.

The relationship between protein breakdown & protein synthesis represents the metabolic basis for muscle growth.  During a workout, muscle protein synthesis is increased slightly (or unchanged) while protein breakdown is dramatically increased.  So all in all, wer’re doing a lot more breaking down than building up throughout a workout.

“Window of Opportunity”

You have a small amount of time after your workout to re-fuel your body.  This window opens immediately after your workout & closes pretty quickly.  Research suggests that while protein synthesis (rebuilding) persists for about 48 hours after exercise, it’s most important to get post workout nutrition IMMEDIATELY, & within 2 hours after that.  

If you feed your body properly during this window of opportunity, you’ll see benefits & results.  If you delay (even by a couple hours) you’ll be decreasing glycogen stores and protein synthesis (rebuilding).

Finally, WHAT TO EAT…

Consume food or a meal consisting of:

  1. Protein (this is to help aid in protein synthesis)
  2. Carbohydrates (this is to help replace muscle glycogen & enhance the role of insulin in transporting nutrients into cells)

Feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you have questions about specific foods/snacks to consume post-workout! : )

Reference: All About Post Workout Nutrition by Ryan Andrews

More Protein for Breakfast

Your morning meal influences your diet the rest of your day.  The American Council on Exercise lists breakfast as one of the most important meals for weight-loss. By skipping breakfast, you’re basically creating metabolism suicide.  Metabolism slows when you sleep and breakfast speeds up metabolism in the morning when you wake.  Many people who end up skipping breakfast end up just slowing their metabolism, as well as consuming more calories through out the day by having larger portioned lunches and dinners.  When grabbing breakfast though, it’s important to be sure to make smart, healthy choices.  Don’t just reach for a high-fat granola bar.  This will only offset the the benefits of eating early.  Instead, if weight loss is your ultimate goal, choose a breakfast that’s high in protein.

We all know that weight-loss occurs when caloric expenditure exceeds caloric intake.  This can be achieved through dietary restriction and exercise.  The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that dietary restriction is better than exercise alone though.  A high protein breakfast promotes weight-loss by supporting dietary restriction.  This is because protein digests slowly which helps maintain that feeling of being full.  So start making good decisions in the morning for breakfast. If you don’t eat, START & choose something high in protein such as eggs or low-fat/greek yogurt instead of a carb-loaded bagel for breakfast from here on out!

References:

American Council on Exercise: Don’t Skip Breakfast to Cut Calories

American College of Sports Medicine: Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss & Prevention of Weight Regain For Adults