Protein gets way less bad press than fats or carbs. Sometimes I think it gets too much good press actually, such as the super high protein diets that are promoted for weight loss. Truth is protein is very important since it supplies the building blocks for just about every tissue in your body. It also helps with recovery after workouts and satiation after meals, helping you to stave off hunger until the next meal or snack. However, loading up on excess amounts (beyond what your body actually needs that is) isn’t going to help out your health or fitness. I think people forget that excess protein can be stored as fat, just like excess carbs or dietary fat.
So why am I writing about protein? Because of a quote I recently read in SCAN’s Pulse newsletter that caught me off guard. The comment was regarding protein intake after exercise as it relates to muscle repair and it said “this could make a meaningful difference over the course of a year, particularly for athletes over 30 years old who slowly lose muscle as a normal part of the aging process”. Well crap. I feel I handled my 30th birthday last year relatively well, mostly by ignoring the fact that I have entered this decade in life. I’ve always said age is just a number anyway. But this comment bothered me. Whether I tell myself I have the fitness of a 22 year old or not, the reality is my body is 30 and apparently that means I’m going to start losing muscle mass. Another joy of aging! So I’ll do my best to fight it. Here’s my plan and how you can too: getting enough total daily protein, incorporating optimal amounts of protein post workout, and strength training regularly.
Post Workout Protein Recs:
According to the article (and many others on the same topic), eating optimal amounts of protein shortly following a workout can help speed recovery and prevent muscle loss, since post exercise not only do the muscles need protein but they are primed and ready to utilize it. There isn’t a lot of good data that suggests that one protein type is significantly better than another (i.e. whey, casein, soy) so pick the one you like best. If you like it, you’ll be more likely to be consistent with consuming it. This particular article didn’t give specific post workout recommendations, but generally it’s recommended to consume 10-20 grams of protein in the recovery window (within 30-60 minutes post workout).
Daily Protein Recs:
Another key point the article (which was based on a recent study) suggested was that the optimal amount of protein at meals for athletes is about 30 grams. Beyond this amount there are no additional health benefits and you run the risk of storing the excess protein as fat. Fall significantly short of this number and your muscles may not be getting as much protein as they need, which means you could lose muscle mass. The 30 grams per meal recommendation actually equates to a higher daily protein intake than what typical recommendations have called for, depending on body weight, which this study did not factor in. According to traditional guidelines, the minimum amount of protein necessary to prevent deficiency is 0.8 grams/kg of body weight per day (0.36 grams/lb of body weight). That equals 49 grams for a 135 pound person. However, that’s the minimum to prevent problems and if you are an athlete you definitely need more. The typical recommendation is for endurance athletes to consume 1.2-1.4 grams of protein/kg of body weight per day (0.54-0.64 grams/lb). So a 135 pound runner, for example, would need about 73-86 grams of protein a day, slightly less than 30 grams x 3 meals. Strength athletes need more, 1.4-1.7 grams/kg of body weight per day (0.64-.77 g/lb). Whether you go with the body weight recommendation or the 30 grams times 2 meals, these protein levels are not difficult to obtain if you are a meat eater. The key is to space your protein intake more evenly throughout the day, as it’s likely that your breakfast falls short. An egg, for example, has 6 grams of protein while a 6 oz steak has about 42. Vegetarians will have to work harder to make sure they meet their protein needs. It’s okay to add a protein powder or bars as a supplement if you are not getting enough protein from food alone but aim to meet your needs from food first, supplements second. Some good sources of protein are lean meats, chicken, fish, eggs, soy, dairy, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and beans.
Strength Training Recs
Well, the goal is 2-3 times per week. I have to admit that I have a hard time with that. There are just so many things I’d rather do besides strength training, particularly because I’d rather be outside than at a gym. However, I also recently read in Matt Fitzgerald’s book “Racing Weight” that runners should do strength training 2-3 times per week, so now that 2 people have said it I’m going to try….to do 2 times/week. According to Fitzgerald, body weight exercises are okay, so the second time won’t even be at the gym. It will be post run body weight stuff such as lunges, push-ups and core work. Hey, it’s still an improvement from where I’m at.
So there it is, my plan to fight the aging process. Obviously it’s more complicated than this, but it’s a start. Wish me luck!
Great article Jen. For post, workout replenishing, can you tell me, is there a difference between the protein I get from sources like almond milk, nuts, cheese and yogurt as opposed to meat-based protein? I am having a hard time keeping “portable” protein handy after workouts and wondered if there is an optimal choice?Laurie
Yes, but probably not enough of a difference to significantly affect your recovery. The difference would be the type and amount of amino acids that the particular protein source provides, but most animal based proteins are good sources of all the amino acids. Post exercise all amino acids are helpful, but branch chain amino acids(BCAAs)-leucine, isoleucine, and valine are taken into the muscles more readily, making them a slightly better choice. Meats, dairy, legumes, soy, and nuts are all relatively good sources of BCAA’s. As to an optimal post workout protein source, I’d say the most important thing is that you get a protein source, so whatever food you find easiest and most palatable after a workout is probably optimal. For portability, maybe try nut butters with fruit or on a whole wheat wrap/bread. Protein powder that can be shaken up with water for a shake is also an easy source. I’ve been using Generation UCAN protein shakes and like how they taste. Hope that helps!