Protein is an essential nutrient for the human body, a must-have for healthy organ function, to build lean muscle and strong bones, to stabilize blood sugar and regulate hormonal response. It also helps your body recover post-workout.
But how much should you have, and when? What are good sources of protein? These are some of the questions that nutritionist and fellow farmgirl Darci Barman has attempted to answer for us.
A good rule of thumb is to have at least half your body weight (in pounds) in grams of protein daily. For example: Your body weight is 150lbs; divide that number by 2, equals 75 grams of protein per day.
This number may vary depending on your activity level and specific goals. For example, if you are looking to increase muscle mass, or are highly active, you could benefit from greater amounts of protein, shoot for a gram per pound of body weight. High protein intakes can also be effective for:
But remember, more is not always better! There can be negative side effects of consuming too much protein. It’s best to consult a professional before veering too far away from the “half body weight” rule. And, make sure to drink more water—for every gram of muscle built, we need 3 grams of water.
You should distribute your protein intake evenly throughout the day. Your body can really only digest up to 30 grams of protein at a time, so don’t consume your entire daily amount in one sitting. If you eat 3 meals per day, aim for 20-30 grams of protein per meal.
This is particularly important for breakfast! It will help with that late morning energy dip. It also helps curb cravings for sugar and caffeine. Usually if you are craving sugar, carbs, or caffeine, your body actually needs protein.
Utilize pre-planned snacks to attain the rest of your daily intake. Post-workout (within 60 minutes) is the ideal time for a protein-filled snack or meal to optimize recovery by repairing damaged muscle tissue. This snack/meal should also contain fluids, electrolytes, and carbohydrates, but stay away from foods that are high in fat or fiber, as they can slow digestion, inhibiting the proteins and carbohydrates from reaching your muscles.
Most of us can get enough protein from the foods we eat, and there are lots of sources for it. It is most readily available in animal products. Although, many plants also contain protein, just in much smaller quantities. And the protein they do contain is less bioavailable than animal protein.
Of course, regardless of your source, quality is more important than quantity. Look for:
Some individuals may not be able to get their full recommended amount just from food. For example, if you are vegan/vegetarian, have an elevated protein intake, or have trouble digesting too much meat. For these individuals a protein supplement (e.g. powder/shake) might be the right solution, but again, emphasis should be placed on quality over quantity. Remember, a supplement is just that, meant to supplement an already healthy well-balanced diet. It should not be your default choice!
For more information, check out this Protein Power Flyer that Darci distributed during our Nutrition Class. It includes a more detailed list of concentrated sources of protein, and even a few snack/meal suggestions!
Stay tuned for the next topic: “Energy Balance: Are You Eating Enough”