As we get close to wrapping up this discussion on nutrition, I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a happy holidays and provide a reminder that all the topics discussed thus far are a process. Nothing miraculous happens overnight when it comes to making important nutritional changes. Quite the opposite really. We can often become frustrated at the lack of results or at how slowly they occur. But instead of letting frustration consume you (as frustration is often all consuming), try and channel that energy into your efforts. Yes, some days will down right suck, but others will provide victories, even small ones, that make the whole process worthwhile.
So, lets get to the final, and in my opinion, most important macronutrient, protein. I think we all know that protein is important, and know we should eat plenty of it, but probably don’t really understand why. Today I want to provide some clarity as to why protein is such an important part of a healthy diet and why it should be the primary focus (for most of us, especially those who are active) of our diets.
1. Protein provides the building blocks for muscle
I am going to try and not get too technical here, but at a basic level, your body cannot create muscle without the presence of protein, which has to be consumed via diet. Sorry folks, there’s no other way. It needs to go in your mouth to be put to use by your body, there is just no getting around that. Are there work arounds if protein just isn’t your bag? Sure. But hopefully if this is you, you can start to find more ways to incorporate protein in your diet, even if only just a little bit at a time. Protein contains amino acids, which when utilized by your body, help with protein synthesis (aka muscle building). Now, if you’re still with me, you might ask, how much muscle does a person really need? And if I’m a woman, I don’t want to look like a bodybuilder/man, so maybe I need to watch how much protein I eat. First, disregard any notion you have about protein and added bulk. Protein does not equal bulk. Also, while we’re at it, disregard the notion that protein plus working out equals bulk (if you are a woman in particular). Lets lay these myths to rest. Bulk is not something that is easily accomplished by most people and is actually quite methodical to achieve. Yes it requires protein and working out, but both in excessive amounts and not in the amounts the average person would want or commit to. Lets just say, this is a special group of individuals, usually dead set on a specific physique goal. This is probably not you. Yes, you might have some generalized physique goals, like I want to lose 20 pounds or I want to gain some muscle mass, but these are not the kind of goals dictated by excessive protein and workout. These goals require an adequate amount of protein, which for most is about 1g per pound of bodyweight. Easy enough to remember, but still maybe too mathematical for most. And if you’re not the type that likes to count calories and/or macronutrients (macros), this guideline will not help you all that much. Instead, follow this easy approach. EAT PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL. This pretty much ensures you will get at least enough for your body. If you are trying to reach very specific physique goals, you may want to consider the more advanced strategy mentioned above, otherwise just stick with the basics. Most of us have enough to worry about without having to think about counting calories, let alone macros. But the more important point here is, eat protein at every meal, because protein equals muscles and muscles equal a better metabolism. And who doesn’t want a better metabolism?
2. Protein is the most satiating of all the macros
This is where bang for the buck sets in. Overall, you will get more dietary value out of consuming protein, not only based on the fact that it will enhance your metabolism, but it keeps you fuller for longer. And who doesn’t want to eat food that keeps them from eating more food an hour later? Protein requires more energy from your body to digest (yes, you burn calories digesting your food :)). So not only do you stay fuller longer, but you burn more calories doing something your body does all on its own. That’s a win win if you ask me. So next time you reach for the cookies at work, think to yourself, if I eat something with protein instead, not only will I not want another cookie in an hour, but I will burn more calories than this cookie. See, it’s all a matter of perspective. If you can start to see a new one, it makes the old one seem less relevant. It’s like you now know a way to trick yourself out of mindless indulgences, if you can employ the right strategy.
3. You don’t have to be a meat eater to get enough protein
Yes my vegan and vegetarian friends, you too can reap the benefits of higher protein consumption. Yes, you will have to seek out alternate sources of protein, but the same rules above apply. The only thing that becomes tricky for some vegans and vegetarians is that many of the good protein sources are also high carbohydrate. So if you are trying to lose weight, for instance, and are a vegetarian trying to consume less carbs and more protein, this can prove a little more challenging than your meat eating friends. This is where getting enough variety will be key. Alternate your sources frequently and be mindful not to consume too much high starch proteins (i.e. beans, legumes, tofu, etc.). Yes, these foods can be fantastic alternatives to meat, but in moderation. Same rules apply for those seeking fat loss, whether vegetarian or not, try and consume most your calories from protein, vegetable and fat sources over carbohydrates. In the future I will discuss more advanced nutritional strategies when it comes to weight loss, but for now, these are just good basics to know.
4. Protein supplementation can be great for highly active folks
First, what does highly active mean? Typically I would say anyone who exercises fairly intensely 5+ hours a week. This is likely a step above the recreational exerciser that gets in a walk here and there and maybe one group exercise class a week. For these folks, sticking to protein at every meal is usually sufficient. But those that expend a lot of energy typically need a bit more energy. And sometimes eating enough protein can get tough in this case, because you simply do not want to eat another piece of chicken breast today. Instead, play with using supplements, such as protein powder (whey, casein or plant based protein) or use BCAA supplements if you are trying to watch your calories but still want the benefit of extra protein. Utilizing this strategy can be very helpful in a pinch where you know you need to eat more protein, but just don’t want to take the time to make something or simply don’t feel like eating anything solid.
In the end, understanding how protein can help build the body you want helps you to utilize the strategies and information discussed above. None of this is rocket science, but sometimes it is so over-explained that we just do not know what to think or where to start. Hopefully I have given you a good starting point and some good information to mull over as you make adjustments to become the strongest version of yourself.
This week, take another inventory of your diet and specifically focus on your protein intake. Are you eating it with every meal? Or do you find you only eat it at lunch or dinner? Can you find healthy ways to incorporate more protein into your diet? When you reach for a high carb snack, can you make sure it also includes a good source of protein? If you can do these things, you will be well on your way to the health and fitness transformation you may be seeking.
#strongerme #forwardmomentum #fitnessfoodie #protein