Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Are You Eating Enough Protein?



Protein is a necessary part of every living cell in your body.  Next to water, protein comprises up the greatest portion of your body weight.  Protein substances make up your muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs, glands, nails, hair, and many vital body fluids.  It is essential for the growth, repair, and healing of your bones, tissues, and cells.  In addition, the enzymes and hormones that catalyze and regulate your body processes are comprised of protein.  So, you see the proper amount of protein in your diet is vital for your health and wellbeing.

Protein is composed of building-block chemicals called amino acids.  There are approximately 28 commonly known amino acids that your body uses to create all the various combinations of proteins needed for survival. These 28 commonly known amino acids are further classified as essential and nonessential amino acids.  Nonessential amino acids can be produced in your body, while essential amino acids cannot be produced in your body and must be obtained from the foods you eat.

The sources of protein in your diet are classified as complete or incomplete.  Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids and are mostly from animal sources such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.  Incomplete proteins lack one or more essential amino acids that your body cannot make itself.  Incomplete proteins usually come from plant- based sources such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts.  You must eat incomplete sources of protein in a combination that contains all the essential amino acids in order for your body to use them.

As mentioned, you must get your essential amino acids from your diet because your body cannot make them itself.  Some of the best animal sources of protein are fish, poultry, lean cuts of meat, and low-fat dairy products.  Some of the best vegetable sources are beans, nuts, and whole grains.

Protein’s Effect on Aging

Getting enough protein in your diet is crucial for building and maintaining muscle mass especially as you age.  As I mentioned earlier, losing muscle mass is very detrimental to your health.  Age related muscle loss known as sacopenia can begin in your thirties and accelerates with age if left unabated.  Sacopenia can lead to muscle weakness, fatigue, insulin resistance, body fat accumulation, injury, and many other problems we associate with aging.

Increased protein consumption, and strength training are two of the most effective ways to combat muscle loss.  While 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.36 grams per pound) has been the normal recommendation for daily protein intake, new studies show that 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.45 to 0.68 grams per pound) may be more beneficial in building, maintaining, and reducing muscle loss.

Protein quality, quantity, and timing of consumption throughout the day, in conjunction with physical activity, are all important to the building and maintenance of muscle mass.  The goal of protein consumption and lean muscle mass is to optimize muscle protein synthesis (the biological process by which muscle cells are regenerated).  Studies now show consuming 25 to 30 grams of high quality protein at each meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) is necessary to stimulate maximal protein synthesis.

Protein’s Effect on Weight Loss

Scientific research is now revealing that people who consume higher amounts of protein (20 to 30 percent of their daily caloric intake), while cutting back on their carbohydrate intake, tend to lose weight faster and stay leaner than those people on low-fat diets.

The reason higher protein, lower carbohydrates diets are more conducive to weight loss and maintenance is interesting.  First, high-protein foods slow the movement of food from the stomach to the intestines, meaning you feel full longer and don’t get hungry as often.  Second, protein has a leveling effect on your blood sugar which means you are less likely to get spikes in your blood sugar that lead to cravings for carbohydrates.  Third, your body uses more energy to digest protein than it does to digest fat or carbohydrates.

Getting the proper amount of protein at breakfast is especially important if you are trying to lose weight.  Breakfast is the first meal of the day and what you eat determines whether you start your day in fat burning or fat storage mode.

Eating a breakfast rich in carbohydrates and low in protein (the typical American breakfast) starts your day in fat storage mode.  The cereal, bread, fruit, and juice you have for breakfast are all carbohydrate based and are converted into sugar by your body, thus causing a spike in your blood sugar.  Then your body produces insulin to take that blood sugar and store it in your body mostly as body fat.  Then soon after your blood sugar drops and you feel famished, and crave more carbohydrate based foods which starts a cycle of blood sugar spikes and crashes and its insuring sugar cravings.

On the contrary, having a breakfast that contains the proper amount of high quality protein such as eggs, lean meat, and low fat dairy starts your day in a fat burning mode.  As mentioned earlier, consuming 25 to 30 grams of protein is necessary for maximal protein synthesis.  This building and repair of muscle cells is very energy intensive and it burns body fat mainly as fuel for this process.  Thus, having 25 to 30 grams of protein at breakfast activates muscle cell regeneration and also alleviates blood sugar spikes which lead to cravings.

Now that you know how important protein is for you, here are some good sources of protein listed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help you get the proper amount in your daily diet.

1 ounce meat, fish, poultry equals 7 grams of protein
1 large egg equals 6 grams of protein
4 ounces milk equal 4 grams of protein
4 ounces low-fat yogurt equals 6 grams of protein
4 ounces soy milk equals 5 grams of protein
3 ounces tofu, firm equals 13 grams of protein
1 ounce cheese equals 7 grams of protein
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese equals 14 grams of protein
1/2 cup cooked kidney beans equals 7 grams of protein
1/2 cup lentils equals 9 grams of protein
1 ounce nuts equals 7 grams of protein
2 tablespoons peanut butter equals 8 grams of protein
1/2 cup vegetables equals 2 grams of protein
1 slice bread equals 2 grams of protein
1/2 cup of most grains/pastas equals 2 grams of protein

Regular strength training along with proper protein consumption are two of the best ways to build strength, and maintain your muscle mass as you age.  You can download my favorite strength training programs by clicking on this link: Forever Fit and Firm.